Shakespeare/Twelfth Night Comedy term paper 12654

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The Twelfth Night is a Shakespearean romantic comedy that is filled with plenty

of humor and lots of deception. It is frequently read as a play about masking,

about the conscious and unconscious assumption of false identities and about

levels of self-knowledge and self-deception; this theme is played out

prominently through Viola’s transsexual disguise (Kahn 43). The play is

comprised of five acts and numerous scenes. However, I am only going to touch on

one of these scenes in my paper. The scene I chose to write about is act V scene

I. I chose this scene because it is the one that interested me the most, and I

feel that it is also the scene with the most hidden meanings. Act V scene I, in

my opinion, is a very complicated scene. I am going to discuss the part of the

scene just before Sebastian enters, with Viola disguised as Cesario. Viola, in

this part, is surrounded by many people all of whom think she is someone other

than the person she actually is. This is where Viola/Cesario speaking to Olivia

protests undoubtedly her love for Orsino by saying, “After him I love, More

than I love these eyes, more than my life (Twelfth Night 5.1. 134).” Olivia,

after hearing this, is confused and protests to Viola that they are married by

saying, “Whither, my lord? Cesario, husband, stay (Twelfth Night 5.1. 141)!”

Viola/Cesario denies this and is shocked by the accusation. Olivia continues to

press the issue by getting the priest to confirm the marriage. It is at this

point, when Orsino hears and believes the priest’s confirmation of the

marriage, that I feel he expresses signs of homosexuality towards Viola whom he

still believes is Cesario. Orsino becomes filled with anger and jealousy towards

Viola/Cesario saying, “Farewell, and take her, but direct thy feet where thou

and I henceforth may never meet. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 166-167).” At some level,

Cesario is a homosexual object choice for both Olivia and Orsino; at another, a

heterosexual one (Kahn 44). I believe that at this part of the scene Viola/Cesario

is experiencing some form of an identity crisis. Although she is a woman who has

deceived everyone into believing she is a man, she is now becoming bewildered by

a strange turn of events. She’s being accused of denying having known Antonio

and having beaten up Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew. She is being accused of acts

that she has not done and has no recollection of ever doing. The reason she

denies all of these wrong doings is because her brother, Sebastian, is

responsible. This casts doubt in her mind as to who she really is and what is

happening. Sebastian enters the scene and his entrance, in a way, relieves Viola

of all the accusations she has endured. It was Sebastian who Antonio has been

looking for; it was Sebastian who beat up Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew, and

finally it was Sebastian who has married Olivia. We come to realize this when he

says: I am sorry, madam, I have hurt your kinsman: But had it been the brother

of my blood, I must have done no less with wit and safety. I do perceive it hath

offended you: Pardon me, sweet one, even for the vows We made each other but so

late ago. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 207-213) Antonio! O my dear Antonio, How have the

hours rack’d and tortur’d me, Since I have lost thee! (Twelfth Night 5.1.

216-218) At this point everyone is stunned not knowing who is who. In a sense,

everyone feels as if they are seeing double. It’s ironic since Sebastian and

Viola are twins. Once Viola and Sebastian realized they were brother and sister

Viola feels as though she is free to cast off her masculine disguise and let

everyone know that she is really a woman as she talks about putting back on her

feminine clothes or her “maiden weeds (Twelfth Night 5.1. 253).” Karen Greif

says that the recognition of identity is at first an experience involving only

the reunited twins; but, as the facts of their kinship are brought forth, the

circle of awareness expands to include Orsino and Olivia. They appreciate for

the first time their shared folly in desiring the unobtainable and both discover

true love in unexpected forms by sharing in the recognition of the twins’

identities (53). Sebastian then turns to Olivia in an attempt to explain exactly

what was going on and he says: So comes it, lady, you have been mistook. But

nature to her bias drew in that. You would have been contracted to a maid; Nor

are you therein, by my life, deceiv’d: You are betroth’d both to a maid and

man. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 257-261) What he basically was saying was that Olivia

mistook Viola for a man and almost married a female servant. Instead, she

married Sebastian who will also serve her and who is a man. Nature’s bias is

usually regarded as a heterosexual one, but the line is actually ambiguous;

“nature’s bias (Twelfth Night 5.1. 258)” can mean that Olivia followed

nature in loving a woman, for a short and perhaps necessary period, before

actually marrying a man (Kahn 45). Similarly, Orsino perhaps needed to see Viola

as a girlish boy before he could accept her as a real and ardent woman (Kahn

45). However, the chain of events that has brought us to this point in the play

has proven to be beneficial to Olivia and Orsino. Olivia’s mistaken marriage

has already given her the right husband, and Orsino’s unconscious love for

Cesario has made it clear where he is to find an adoring wife (Williams JR 43).

My first impression of Olivia was to categorize her as a lesbian for falling in

love with Viola/Cesario. I felt this way because although Viola was disguised as

a man, she was portraying the personality of a female and that’s what Olivia

fell in love with. As I read on through the play, my feelings on that matter

changed. By the end of the play, I felt that Viola was imitating her brother’s

personality and that is who Olivia really fell in love with and that is the

reason she stays married to Sebastian at the end of the play. Coppelia Kahn’s

interpretation of Viola is similar to mine. He says that Viola copes with the

supposed loss of her twin brother by, in effect, becoming him; when she

disguises herself as a man, she is another Sebastian, her twin’s twin (Kahn

42). I find Orsino’s expression of love to Viola interesting. He knows that

Viola loves him because as Cesario she has declared her love to him numerous

times Yet Orsino says to Viola, “Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times

thou never should’st love woman like to me (Twelfth Night 5.1. 265-266).”

Viola re-confirms her love for him again and Orsino decides to shift his

feelings of love from Olivia to Viola. Although Orsino now knows Viola’s

secret of being a woman, he still refers to her as Cesario, her male name, which

can be seen in the last line of the play. Cesario, come; For so you shall be

while you are a man; But when in other habits you are seen, Orsino’s mistress,

and his fancy’s queen. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 384-387) This still adds some

question of Orsino’s sexuality. The fact that he claimed Viola as his mistress

indicates a physical attraction to her, which leads me to believe that he was

also attracted to her when he thought she was a man. Now he can openly express

his interest and love for Viola because she is a woman and he no longer needs to

suppress his true feelings.


BibliographyGreif, Karen, Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York,

New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publisher, 1987 Kahn, Coppelia,

"Choosing the Right Mate in Twelfth Night,” Modern Critical

Interpretations. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea

House Publisher, 1987 Williams, Porter JR Twentieth Century Interpretations of

the Twelfth Night. Ed. Walter N King. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968

Shakespeare, William. The Twelfth Night Ed. J.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik. London:

Methuen & CO. LTD, 1975

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