Viola and Beatrice in Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing

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Viola and Beatrice both take on men's roles, Viola that of a manservant and Beatrice that of the perpetual bachelor and the clown: "I was born to speak all mirth and no matter," she says to Don Pedro [II.i.343-4]. They appear to be actors and manipulators, much more so than their female predecessors, who are mostly reactive and manipulated, such as Hermia, Helena, Titania, and Gertrude. None of these women seemed in charge of her own destiny, but tricked by the schemes of men and later scorned or humiliated as a result of male machinations. Viola and Beatrice, although they both seem fiercely independent and comfortable in a man's world, reveal themselves to have only the trappings of manhood, and not its full capacity for action. …show more content…
Viola is disconcerted at being confused with Sebastian in Twelfth Night's final acts, but this confusion is not one plotted by men. She and Beatrice remain two of Shakespeare's few undeceived women.



Beatrice lives the jocular life of a bachelor man, but will not take on the "man's office" of killing Claudio. In the same way, Viola wishes to retain the freedom and anonymity that life as a man grants her, but balks when it comes to drawing swords. Both attempt rely on the subtler feminine tools at their disposal instead of steel, but in doing so confine themselves to the frailer role of woman. Beatrice maneuvers Benedick into promising to right Hero, and Viola attempts to talk her way out of a swordfight.



Viola complains of women's frailty [II.ii.32-3] with respect to Olivia, but her own weakness also prevents her from taking direct action to undo the love triangle in which she has become a corner. She concludes the scene with, "O time! thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me to untie!" [41-2] Beatrice and Viola both have a hard time untying the knots they have made, although they are not the victims of manipulation in the same manner that Shakespeare's other women have heretofore been. Viola does not wait for anyone to rescue her at the shipyard, but hatches her own scheme to go underground into the service of the Duke -- however, she does not plan through to the end. It is only…