William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Essay

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William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

The use of genre in any literary work assist the responder in understanding the text, as prior knowledge and past experience are used by composers to construct certain expectations due to characteristics that are recognised. Shakespeare, in his play 'Twelfth Night' uses the Romantic comedy genre and it's conventions of strong themes of love and a series of obstacles and misunderstandings concluded with a harmonious union of the lovers to explore gender issues, particularly those of women in society. This is explored through the two main female characters: Viola and Olivia. Viola, who spends the majority of the play masquerading as a man, and Olivia, a
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The characters of Viola and Olivia are used by Shakespeare to explore the position and rights of the female in society, in comparison to their male counterparts. Viola especially is used to illustrate this comparison. Stranded on the shores of Illyria, a land she does not know, with no means of support, and no one to assist her, she devises a plan to dress as a man and seek employment with the Duke Orsino. It is when she is dressed in her male attire, posing as the eunuch Cesario, that comparisons between male and female independence are made.

Dressed as a man, the character Viola has freedom as a man that she could not possibly display when she reverts to her female self in act 5 of the play. When dressed as Cesario, Viola is able to speak her mind freely and speak to both Orsino and Olivia, both socially superior to Cesario (but not Viola) as equals, without fear of repercussion, a privilege certainly not extended to women. An example of Viola taking advantage of her 'male' right to speak freely and without consequence appears in Act 2 Scene 5, when Orsino tells Cesario that men's love is more intense than women's:

Viola: Ay, But I know-

Orsino: What dost thou know?

Viola: Too well what love women to men may owe:

In faith, they are as true of heart as we.

(II.iv 103-106)

As Cesario, Viola is able to argue with Orsino, a liberty
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