In Yet once slept with – the woman’s

In comparison centuries later in the Elizabethan era with Queen Elizabeth on the throne, regarded as the highest power in the country, the views of women in theatre had scarcely changed. Female characters were still played by males or young boys decorated with wigs, makeup and costumes; yet females, if they could afford it were, now allowed to watch performances. Twelfth Night questions the equality of the sexes and gender when, shipwrecked twins Sebastian and Viola are separated and Viola dressed as Cesario, a male and becomes servant to the Duke Orsino.

Within the play Viola’s disguise as Cesario causes her to become part of a complex love triangle between Lady Olivia and Orsino as Olivia falls for Cesario unexpectedly. “Viola: Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we, For such as we are made of, such we be. (2.2.31-32)” Here Viola states that Olivia falling for Cesario is too be blamed on female frailty, affirming that women are frail physically – and emotionally because that’s what a woman’s soft body and mind consists of. Viola criticises her own gender and consciousness as a female by belittling women when she is dressed as Cesario.

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Can it be said that when Viola plays Cesario she loses herself and falls into a male mentality by conforming to male attributes of the period, or is she gaining a new perspective of women and learning about her gender? It can be argued that when cross dressing as a male Viola feels more valued by Orsino and Olivia as they take her council and company into consideration; Viola is able to express her strong wit and sharp mind without question as Cesario, compared to as if she was was asserting herself as a woman. “Orsino: (..

.)For women are as roses, whose fair flower,Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour. (2.4.42-45)” This expression further highlights gender inequality in the play as it appears men express their ideas of women to be only of value due to a women’s beauty and sexuality. Yet once slept with – the woman’s beauty begins to fade. Nevertheless a male can share a bed with as many women as he pleases, and still can be received as dignified, attractive and without reputation. Twelfth Night explores the complexity of gender and how the definition of the sexes may be socially constructed and easily impersonated by the use of fashion, voice, stature and idiosyncrasy.

The relationship shared by gender and presentation in the play is highly complicated due to, as the previously mentioned, rules of Elizabethan Theatre; women were unable to act on stage in order to protect their religious and physical modesty. Therefore Viola is played by a young boy impersonating a female, who deceives the other characters in the play, by dressing as a young, attractive male. Allowing Olivia to fall for the facade and Orsino to acknowledge the charming features Cesario possess. This hypocrisy questions sexuality and gender preference as Olivia falls in love with a woman dressed as man and Orsino being attracted to Cesario’s feminine features.

“Orsino: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. (1.4.

32-37)” Orsino’s sensuous depiction of Cesario, almost could become disturbing for a shakespearean audience as Orsino is describing the appearance of a boy actor. Stephen Greenblatt in the book “Shakespeare’s Negotiations” notes that this section of Twelfth Night “(…)Captures the gender confusion of Orsino in an unintentionally ironic description of his young page.” Implying that gender is socially manufactured by the influence of art, theatre, inspirational individuals and law by controlling the actions of a specific gender, not allowing androgyny to be attractive.


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