Thursday, October 27, 2016

Twelfth Night and Christianity

Share it Please
The role of Christianity in Twelfth Night is unclear. Throughout the play, there is pagan reference after pagan reference, which contrasts Shakespeare's usual theme of Christianity. Instead of discussing heaven and hell, Viola says "My brother he is in Elysium" (1.2.4). Elysium is the heaven of the Greek afterlife, and since Viola and her brother have been separated because of a shipwreck, she assumes he is dead. Why isn't she assuming that he is in the Christian heaven?
The farther in to Twelfth Night you get, the more pagan references there are. In my discussion with Garrett on slack, we noticed this contradiction between Twelfth Night and other Shakespeare plays. Why does Shakespeare decide to reference Greek mythology rather than Christianity? Eventually, mother Eve is mentioned as well, putting the pagan alongside the Christian.
If I were to write a paper about Twelfth Night, the religious aspect is one I would want to deeply explore. I want to do more research on the presence of Greek mythology in Shakespeare's England and in the context of Twelfth Night, and try to understand Shakespeare's motives a little better. Because this theme is so prevalent, I don't think it will be too difficult to find articles and blog posts related to this topic. Does making the play more pagan than Christian add to the storyline? Or was it just a way for Shakespeare to mix things up?


  1. Oh very nice, I would be interested to see you talk about how this play stands out from the others, or is one of a couple that explores paganism instead of Christianity. I think you could also turn to "A Midsummer's Night Dream" there are several allusions to Diana (Roman equivalent to Artemis, the goddess of maidenhood, the moon, etc.). In addition, that play also revolved around the actions of fairies who control some aspects of nature and provide a contrast for the Christian narrative of God's presence in Nature. If you are interested, let me know and I can recommend segments of the play for you to focus on.

    1. I love the idea of looking at "A Midsummer Night's Dream!" I tend to forget about that one, so that could provide a lot of interesting parallels.

  2. I don't know a lot about Greek mythology, so your paper would be an interesting one to read, for sure! Those little references in the text can go a long way, and I think you'll be able to utilize them well. In regard to Christianity, this article may be able to help you. It looks like a unique insight into how pervasive Christian references were in the play.

  3. That's interesting! It seems like that happens a lot in his plays. Measure for Measure referred to Greek Gods, but had clear themes of mercy. King Lear refers to pagan Gods, but has many Christ figures. I'm curious why too now.

  4. This is really interesting! I think you might find this article interesting. It references the historical and Christian aspects of the phrase/title "Twelfth Night" and its traditions historically. It might help with a Christian theme or to see how it got away from that theme like you were mentioning!

  5. Some excellent suggestions for directions you could go. The Christian/pagan presence in the play is valid, but a bit familiar. It would help to take a different approach, such as making a claim as to how we read/understand the play better if we see it from a specific religious point of view.