Sorting Hat Saturday: Twelfth Night

This past Thursday was Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas (ie. the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany). It’s not a big deal now, but in Shakespeare’s day, it was a day of widespread revelry and celebration, and his play Twelfth Night is thought to have been written for the holiday. So, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, that’s what I’m doing for this week’s Sorting Hat Saturday.

Viola: Ravenclaw. When she finds herself stranded in a foreign land, having lost everything, Viola does not hesitate to come up with a clever but unorthodox solution: disguising herself as a man and seeking employment at Count Orsino’s court. Throughout the play, she shows herself to be intelligent, capable, and creative, even in the face of confusion, mistaken identity, and the absurdities of Shakespearean comedy. I’m almost tempted to put her in Slytherin, but she doesn’t have any well-defined goals or ambitions; she’s just reacting creatively to her circumstances. If there’s a fine line between Slytherin cunning and Ravenclaw ingenuity, I feel she falls on the Ravenclaw side of it.

Olivia: Slytherin. Olivia manipulates circumstance and emotion to her benefit. Her dramatic show of mourning is too overdone to all be genuine, especially since she uses it as an excuse to avoid Orsino and drops it as soon as she finds someone she does want to marry. She’s skilled at using every tool at her disposal to get what she wants, whether that’s to get rid of Orsino, to see the disguised Viola again, or to convince Sebastian to marry her. She is not especially ambitious, but she uses her wits to get what she wants, and that’s a very Slytherin quality.

Orsino: Gryffindor. Orsino has no subtlety and is not used to being told no. Despite being Viola’s love interest and the play’s lead male role, he actually has a lot of Gryffindor flaws. On a more positive note, his openness about his feelings could be described as a sort of emotional bravery, and he’s certainly not shy about making his opinions or desires known. One could argue that his refusal to back down from what he wants could make him a Slytherin, but even there, he doesn’t use subtlety and cunning to pursue them, just stubborn persistence. On the other hand, Hufflepuff doesn’t fit because his persistence is not a matter of work ethic or loyalty, just refusal to give up on something he wants. There’s no indication he would be a Ravenclaw.

Sebastian: Gryffindor. Sebastian is a flat character compared with his twin sister, but they are similar in many ways. Even their storylines mirror each other; they both believe the other to be dead, find a way to move forward in the land where they’re stranded, eventually find happiness, and are reunited at the end. We do not see him engaging in intellectual pursuits or put in a situation where he has to rely on wit and creativity, so it’s hard to say whether he could be a Ravenclaw or not. There’s nothing particularly cunning or ambitious about his actions, and while I thought about making him a Process of Elimination Hufflepuff, I think Gryffindor might fit him better. There’s bravery in choosing to pick up the pieces and keep going when something horrible happens.

Malvolio: Hufflepuff. You might assume otherwise, but then, this is hardly the first time I’ve sorted an unpleasant character into Hufflepuff. Malvolio is ambitious (seeking to marry above his station), but certainly not cunning. In fact, he’s pretty gullible. A Slytherin (or a Ravenclaw) would have known better than to fall for Maria’s prank. Common sense tells you that a woman who’s in mourning would not want her steward running around in a ridiculous costume and grinning constantly. If anything, Malvolio embodies Hufflepuff values taken to an unhealthy extreme: blind loyalty and obedience at the expense of common sense; hard work taken to the extreme of looking down on anything enjoyable; and “justice” warped into a haughty, judgmental attitude.

Maria: Gryffindor/Slytherin. There’s a fine line between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and while Harry himself could have gone either way, there’s an entirely different kind of character that blurs the lines between the two houses: the mischief-maker. On the one hand, Maria is reminiscent of the Weasley twins and the Marauders: someone who plays an elaborate prank on an unpleasant man who probably deserved it. There’s an element of bravery in choosing to oppose Malvolio, as well, since he’s the steward of the household where she works and in a position of authority over her. However, she’s the brains of the operation; while the other characters enjoy the mischief, she’s the one who comes up with the idea and organizes the details. She’s nothing if not cunning. Twelfth Night is basically the story of three clever women and the men who get caught up in their schemes.

Feste: Ravenclaw. The so-called “fools” are often the wisest characters in Shakespeare, and Feste is no exception. He’s not book-smart, but he’s intelligent and insightful. Witty, perceptive, and observant, he always seems to be more aware than any of the other characters of what’s really going on around him (especially if you buy the interpretation that he knows Viola’s a woman all along).


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