A Study of William Shakespeare’s Comedy Twelfth Night from a New Historicist Perspective

Yakut Melikzadeh Akbay

Until the second half of the 20Th century, the framework of traditional historicism was commonly applied to the study of literary texts excluding the multiplicity of historical contexts. Hence, any kind of literary research was carried out by limiting a particular literary text to a single historical context. This approach changed after the second half of the 20th century with the emergence of such literary theories as New Historicism, Cultural Materialism and Poststructuralism. These approaches shed new light on Shakespeare’s plays challenging the conventions of the Elizabethan period and reinterpreting them in accordance with contemporary history of the critic. This article aims to examine Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night from the viewpoint of New Historicism based on the literary criticism of Stephen Greenblatt. The research is mainly built on the concept of swerving, which Greenblatt has recently introduced within the framework of New Historicism. In this respect, the issues characterising Shakespeare’s comedies, such as confused identities, cross-dressing, social mobility, Elizabethan gender and sexual norms are under scrutiny. In addition, the role of language, at which Shakespeare excelled his contemporaries, will be dealt with to reveal and interpret the implied meanings of the particular words and expressions in the play.

Keywords: Shakespeare, Elizabethan society, conventions, confused identities, sexual confusion, class, authority, subversion