Twelfth Night (c. 1600-01) is a complicated play which deals with the nature of love, gender role and the intricate comic and tragic experiences of love. The characters have multiple layers of gender roles and sexual attractions which makes the issue of gender identity more complex. For example, Viola, the heroine of the play is dressed as a male, Cesario, throughout most of the play. As a male, Viola woos Olivia for Orsino, resulting in Olivia falling in love with Viola-as-Cesario. At the same time, Viola, dressed as a man, falls in love with Orsino.
STATUS OF WOMEN IN THE ELIZABETHAN (RENAISSANCE) SOCIETY
The Renaissance society to which Shakespeare belonged viewed the role of women and men in the society as varying greatly.
Men were generally seen as having the ruling voice as fathers, husbands, masters, teachers, preachers, magistrates, soldiers and lords. A public life was practically impossible for a woman and even if a woman had some public reputation she was vulnerable to fall prey to some kind of scandal or the other. The stereotypical ideal woman was one who was submissive and obedient. Women were valued on the basis of their physical features and beauty and obedience, quietude, sexual chastity, piety, humility, fidelity, patience etc. were the standardised attributes that were expected to be possessed by the “virtuous” women. Women who did not emulate these conventions were regarded as objects of criticism by the male dominated society and this,