Context of this quote:
The quote “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” appears in William Shakespeare‘s play “Twelfth Night.” To understand the context, let’s delve into the specific scene in which this quote appears.
In Act II, Scene V of “Twelfth Night,” Maria, a smart and mischievous servant, writes a fake letter. She pretends the letter is from Olivia, the lady of the house, and gives it to Malvolio, who is Olivia’s steward.
The letter is part of a larger plot to play a prank on Malvolio devised by Maria and other characters. It was written to convince Malvolio that Olivia is romantically interested in him.
The letter makes Malvolio feel good about himself by flattering him. However, in reality, it also tells him to do silly things that make him look ridiculous and annoys Olivia the most when he follows the instructions. The quote appears in the forged letter.
Malvolio, being a character with aspirations of rising in social status, eagerly accepts the letter without question. In his interpretation, the words “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” are a testament to his own perceived greatness. He believes that Olivia, who he thinks wrote the letter, sees him as a person born to greatness.
The irony here lies in the fact that Malvolio’s understanding of the quote is entirely self-centered and delusional. In reality, the letter is merely a ruse, and the greatness he perceives is a result of his own imagination.
The quote becomes a catalyst for his exaggerated and self-important behavior.
Let’s break it down in the context:
- Born Great: Malvolio believes he is “born great” and that Olivia recognizes his inherent greatness.
- Achieve Greatness: He sees the instructions in the letter as a means to “achieve greatness,” hoping that by following them, he will win Olivia’s favor and elevate his social status.
- Have Greatness Thrust Upon Them: Malvolio thinks Olivia is interested in him. He feels like he has suddenly achieved a greater status, which he calls “greatness thrust upon him.”
The funny part of the play becomes even more humorous because Malvolio thinks very highly of himself, but the people playing the prank have entirely different plans and intentions.
Malvolio’s misunderstanding of the quote leads him to engage in absurd actions, thinking he is fulfilling Olivia’s desires and achieving greatness.
This scene adds a layer of satire to the play, as Shakespeare uses Malvolio’s character to highlight the folly of self-glory and the humorous consequences of misunderstandings.
It’s a classic example of Shakespeare’s skill at weaving comedy into his plays, even when tackling deeper themes and exploring human nature. This interplay between the quote, the fake letter, and Malvolio’s actions add depth to the comedic elements in “Twelfth Night.”
In a broader sense, the quote reflects the complexity and unpredictability of life, where greatness can result from various factors, inside and outside of one’s control. However, the quote is often cited outside the context of the play.
Path to Greatness is Not Linear
As we unravel the layers of Shakespeare’s timeless wisdom, we find not only a glimpse into the comedic genius of “Twelfth Night” but also profound insights into the nature of success itself. From the playful illusions of Malvolio to the broader canvas of life’s unpredictability, our journey through greatness has been one of self-discovery.
Here are some lessons we can draw:
- Diversity of Paths to Success: Just as characters in Shakespeare’s play navigate different paths, so do we in our pursuit of greatness.
Some individuals inherit advantageous circumstances, while others achieve greatness through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Moreover, unforeseen opportunities or challenges can propel someone to greatness.
Have you ever noticed how social media algorithms can turn an individual into an overnight sensation? It’s unbelievable how a single change can significantly impact someone’s life.
- Self-determination: The quote acknowledges the significance of self-determination in achieving greatness. Those who reach greatness do so through their own efforts, emphasizing the importance of self-initiative and persistence.
- The Unpredictability of Life: The notion of “having greatness thrust upon them” underscores the unpredictable nature of life. Unexpected events, challenges, or opportunities can significantly impact one’s success.
For example, losing a job can be an unfortunate and devastating experience. However, sometimes it can lead to positive outcomes. For instance, the person who lost their job may decide to start their own business – something they’ve always wanted to do. Through hard work, determination, and perseverance, they attract the luck they need to succeed. Eventually, their business thrives, becomes more self-sufficient, and puts them in a better position than before.
That’s how crises or challenges can thrust greatness upon people who don’t give up on their abilities during times of need.
- Humility and Perspective: The quote, especially in its original context within “Twelfth Night,” also carries a humorous and satirical tone.
It reminds us not to be too self-assertive and to maintain a sense of humility, as perceptions of greatness can be subjective and prone to misinterpretation.
In the words of Lily Tomlin, “The road to success is always under construction.” Every setback or roadblock contributes to the masterpiece of our lives.
As you reflect on the words of Shakespeare and the wisdom of those who have walked this path before us, remember that success is not a destination but a journey. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. It’s all about a mindset—an ongoing pursuit driven by passion and perseverance.
So, dear reader, as you navigate the maze of your ambitions, take heed of Shakespeare’s lesson. Embrace your uniqueness, persist in your endeavors, and be open to the unexpected greatness that may unfold along your extraordinary path.
May your journey be filled with self-discovery, triumphs, and a profound sense of fulfillment.