Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

1100 WordsSep 29, 20155 Pages
Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night” provides a great deal of insight into gender roles, gender identities, and desire in Elizabethan society. In Shakespearean times, women, and to a much lesser extent, men, were subject to a variety of arbitrary limitations based solely on gender. For example, women could not become actresses, and were practically required to have guardians and protectors. Additionally, both men and women were strictly held to separate sets of explicit standards, expectations and values. These roles that people of each gender were held to were very important to developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Those who violated these norms would have generally been looked down upon, or even insulted, especially by…show more content…
In “Twelfth Night” a number of relationships exist and develop between the various characters. Unbeknownst to most of these characters, at least until the final scene of the play, there are a few people among them who are not as they appear. Viola, a woman shipwrecked in a foreign land without a protector, disguises herself as a man, and begins calling herself Cesario. This disguise fools everyone she meets in Illyria. In fact, it fools one woman, Lady Olivia, so well that she eventually falls in love with Cesario. Some might argue that she actually loves Viola, however this is not the case. Olivia is in love with her perception of the man Cesario. She does not love the reality of the woman Viola. When it is revealed that Viola is a woman, Olivia directs her affection towards Sebastian, who fulfills her desire to be with a man. To further explain why Olivia loves Cesario and not Viola, consider the letter Maria wrote for Malvolio. Maria tricks Malvolio into thinking that Olivia loves him. Analogously, Viola tricks Olivia into thinking she loves Cesario. Obviously, Malvolio does not think that Maria loves him, even though she is the author of the letter, and likewise, Olivia does not think that she loves Viola, even though Viola is the one pretending to be Cesario. Count Orsino similarly faces the reality that
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