William Shakespeare - Twelfth Night

Freshman (College 1st year) ・English ・MLA

A research of the society indicates that a majority of society members often disguise their gender to achieve specific goals. Similarly, in the play, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, the three characters, Olivia, Orsino and Viola correctly help in the manifestation of the theme gender uncertainty and the challenges, which result from the decisions to conceal one's gender. From, the play above, it is evident that gender uncertainty used to be prominent in the ancient society, but the characters had been cautious whom about the people they declare their affections to lest they become victims of homoerotic love, which was unacceptable in the community in the 1600s. In the Shakespeare's play, homoerotic love is evident among the major characters and one can observe the presence of affection in the activities the characters undertake. Viola is a female but deceives her master (Orsino) that she is a man, by the name Cesario. An examination of the behaviors of Viola indicates that she is in love with Orsino but does not want to tell the latter because she feels that her decision to express her love to the latter will not be appropriate. Specifically, Viola's decision to show her love to Orsino will be inappropriate because the latter perceives the former to be a man and such an action will lead to homoeroticism. Similarly, Orsino significantly admires Viola (Cesario) although he is aware that the latter is a male hence cannot confess his love for him. In one circumstance, Orsino reiterates that: "For they shall yet belie thy happy years/That say thou art a man. Diana's lip/Is not more smooth and rubious, thy small pipe/Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound, /And all is semblative a woman's part" (Shakespeare I.IV.33-37). Therefore, it is evident from the statements above that Orsino has affections for Cesario even though he perceives the latter to be a male but conceals his intentions.

As a way of concealing his intents for Orsino, Cesario narrates a story to the latter by pretending that his sister fell in love with a man but did not dare to express her affections (Shakespeare II.V.122). Cesario's use of analogy to explain the situation of her sister and the man she loved is an important strategy that Shakespeare used to promote the theme of gender uncertainty in the play Twelfth Night. For instance, Orsino would have discovered Cesario's real gender if the latter had not used an analogy to express his love for his boss indirectly. Also, the use of analogy helps in the manifestation of the pretense that people use in the modern society to voice their concerns when they fear that a given action would lead to unfavorable consequences. Therefore, it is evident from the situation between Orsino and Viola that gender uncertainty is a significant challenge to the welfare of society members but not a precursor for improper sexual relationships such as homoeroticism. Notably, Orsino has romantic feelings towards Viola but cannot efficiently declare his intentions because of the societal restrictions. Similarly, Viola (Cesario) loves Orsino but uses an analogy to express her love due to the need to conceal her real gender.

Gender uncertainty in the play Twelfth Night also aids in the process of indicating that the roles and capabilities that people attach to a particular sex are not static and instead changes in various circumstances. Specifically, Orsino employs Cesario, who is a female to take care of the former's household because he perceives the latter to be a male. Moreover, Orsino sends Cesario to deliver a love letter to Olivia because Orsino is aware that the society does not allow him to engage in a sexual relationship with Cesario, in the latter's male persona. The issue of gender identity between the characters in Shakespeare's play also emerges in the duel between Cesario and Sir Andrew whereby the characters significantly confront one another without the consideration of the differences in their sexes.

The theme of gender uncertainty in the play Twelfth Night is also prominent in the relationship between Viola and Olivia. Notably, Olivia sees Viola (Cesario) and behaves in a manner that shows that she is in love with him. Furthermore, Olivia says: "Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, /soft! /Unless the master were the man. How now? /Even so quickly may one catch the plague?" (Shakespeare I.V.297-301). The statements by Olivia indicate that she confuses Viola for a man while in real sense she is not. On the contrary, Viola knows that they are both women and the society does not permit homoeroticism thus she dismisses Olivia by saying: "Poor lady, she were better love a dream. /Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness" (Shakespeare II.II.24-25). Through Viola's statements, it is evident that the characters' social norms only permitted hetero-eroticism.

The confusion that exists concerning Cesario's sex is the major contributor to the gender uncertainty in the play that Shakespeare composed because it is evident from the conversations between the characters indicates that apart from the readers, the characters in the Twelfth Night are also suffering immensely. Orsino at some points keeps addressing Cesario in a manner that shows that the former is suffering from the problems that have resulted due to gender uncertainty. For instance, even after the revelation of Viola's womanhood, Orsino still says: "Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times / Thou never should'st love woman like to me" (Shakespeare V.I.260–261). The statements by Orsina indicate that he is uncertain of Viola's sex thus keep addressing her as a man. Also, Orsino says "Cesario, come— / For so you shall be while you are a man; / But when in other habits you are seen, / Orsino's mistress, and his fancy's queen" (Shakespeare V.I.372–375). Therefore, readers develop gender uncertainty and cannot establish whether Orsino is in love with Viola or he is attracted to the latter's male persona. However, there are no circumstances where the characters above engaged in a sexual relationship before knowing each other's sex.

An extensive analysis of the play Twelfth Night indicates that although gender uncertainty affected various relationships, people who engaged in homoeroticism did not succeed in their undertakings. Some of the prominent characters who show that the society only approves of hetero-eroticism are Antonio and Sebastian. The previously mentioned minor characters are in love but do not formally marry one another. On the other hand, Viola and Orsino's relationships only prosper after the latter has revealed her real gender. In summary, an extensive examination of the events in the play Twelfth Night indicates that the society, in the 1600s, only allowed hetero-eroticism but not homoeroticism and people made deliberate efforts to ensure that they did not contradict the social norms.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William; H. E. W. R. Twelfth Night. London: Oberon Books, 2015. Internet resource.

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