The Meaning of Twelfth Night

What does the title of the play, Twelfth Night, mean? Twelfth Night is the twelfth day after Christmas, or January 6. This is the traditional day of The Epiphany, the day on which the three Wise Men (Magi) visit Jesus soon after he is born. During medieval times, Christmas was celebrated for twelve days (there is a famous song titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas”), and the last day was the most festive.

A group of lawyers paid Shakespeare to write a play that was set to open on January 6, 1601, but there is nothing about this holiday in the play.

Shakespeare gives another title to his play, a sub-title, called What You Will. “Will,” in this case, means “desire.” So the play’s subtitle means, whatever you desire. Like some of his other comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It, the titles suggest trivial things, unimportant stories made for entertainment. “Whatever you desire.”