The key to the meaning of Twelfth Night is in the title. Twelfth Night is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays to have an alternative title: the play is actually called ‘Twelfth Night, or What You Will’. Critics are divided over what the two titles mean, but 'Twelfth Night' is usually considered to be a reference to Epiphany, or the twelfth night of the Christmas celebration (January 6), as in the popular song “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It marks the Feast of the Epiphany, a culmination of the Christmas period, a holiday in Western Christian theology that celebrates the day that the magi (a.k.a. the three wise men) presented gifts to the newborn Jesus. It represents the manifestation of Light, or Truth, to those who have enough understanding to perceive it. This revelation of Light, or Truth, is the subject of the play, with Viola eventually revealing her true identity as a woman.

Critics argue about whether or not the play was written specifically for the Twelfth Night. Leslie Hotson argues that Twelfth Night was performed for Queen Elizabeth and her guest, Count Don Virginio Orsino, on January 6, 1601 (Orsino, of course, is Viola's love interest in the play). Some argue that the play was written later, but even those who refute Hotson's argument acknowledge that the world of the play celebrates the spirit of Twelfth Night festivities. Twelfth Night, in Shakespeare’s day, was a holiday celebrated by a festival in which everything was turned upside down. Elizabethan communities often appointed young boys as "Lords of Misrule"; it was a chance to play king for a day - much like the upside-down, chaotic world of Illyria. This rebellious spirit is reflected in figures like Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, alongside Feste's singing and comedy.

Some theorize that the second part of the title was an afterthought: when someone asked the playwright "the name of the play, Shakespeare replied, "Urm, Twelfth Night, or what you will" (as in, "I don't know – whatever"). The second title seems to invite the audience to make "what [we] will" of the play – what it means, and why it matters (if it matters at all) -  it is entirely subjective.

Some directors of the play have taken the title literally, paying close attention to the Elizabethan rituals related to Twelfth Night; others have disregarded it entirely, and set the play in the sunny Mediterranean, where the historical "Illyria" is located or, as we have done, in 1920s England.

rashmeet chhabra
10/2/2014 10:51:38 pm

good one... it helped me to summarise my answer.. :)

3/9/2017 05:30:08 am

you are correct

12/5/2017 10:43:57 am


11/25/2014 06:06:33 pm

comedic devices in "Twelfth Night, Or What You Will" and examples from text?

some one
3/9/2017 05:28:10 am

shut up

bts kpop band
8/18/2018 06:41:34 am

you shut up

11/6/2016 01:11:50 pm

This is word-for-word from

12/18/2017 09:03:15 am


3/9/2018 09:44:00 am

Makes me sick, because its true, look on the website and you will find out the truth me and Mr.Plagiarism had to be disappointed by.

4/28/2017 02:52:12 am

the alien in american dad is it based on feste ?

parsa kiran
12/30/2017 11:34:14 pm

its is good one..

what's your flavia
3/28/2018 12:16:13 pm

I totally and heartily agree! @falstaff the alien is 10/10 Feste! How did you figure that out??? My life is changed and my mind is blown. Who knew that this Shakespeare class would be worth anything!!?

P.S. plagiarism is disGUSTING YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER THAN THIS what has our culture come to?? You are a disgrace to your mother but even more so... to Jesus. 12th night is celebrating him after all!! >:(

1/11/2020 05:27:29 am

this content has been taken from

1/18/2022 07:38:37 am



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    Jacob Chanter

    Our fantastical Twelfth Night jazz-age Shakespeare lit student researcher - answers any questions you throw at him.


    December 2012
    November 2012