The theme of disguise is heavily used in the 12th night, and at some point, almost all the character end up wearing some disguise or other with the most overt example being Viola who convinces everyone that she is a man by dressing like one. The focus of this paper will be on how the change in her gender alters the perception of the other characters and what this connotes about t,heir understanding of love.
The result is a great deal of sexual confusion and a bizarre love triangle, evidently Shakespeare chooses to dress his protagonist as a man with the intention of proving the delusional and manipulative nature of romantic attraction (Shakespeare 23). The plot is centered on the confusion that characterizes the play action as various characters disguise themselves and assume genthe der role of the opposite sex.
Voila wh,o arrives in the city after a shipwreck pretends to be a man “Cesario,” but ends up falling in love with Duke Orsini who is in love with Olivia. Olivia, on the other hand, falls in love with Cesario, whom she assumes is a man and thus the highly intricate love triangle is created.
Viola had initially changed her gender identity in the hope that she stood a better chance of getting a job as a man, she did this by dressing, carrying herself and even trying to talk like a man (Lamb 12). Olivia perceives Cesario, as an attractive young man when she interacts with him as “he” delivers messages from Orsini (Shakespeare 20).
Olivia’s attraction for Cesario becomes so great that; when she encounters her twin brother, he immediately and capriciously proposes marriage to him never mind that, at the time; she thought he was the type of a man who had been desperately courting her. However, one cannot fail to notice the homoerotic subtext in the fact that both Orsini falls in love with a “man” and Olivia with a woman.
The scene where all is revealed is particularly interesting given that, despite the fact that the Duke now knows Cesario, is a woman, he continues to address her as if she was still a man (Lamb 21). In addition, there is the question of how he came to fall in love with her as a woman in the first place considering that all through their interaction they had been as two men.
Olivia’s situation is also very important for pointing out the fickle and delusional nature or love as aforementioned in that while one may be made to understand that love is a powerful feeling that attracts an individual to another person, she is just as quick to love Sebastian as Cesario. It is apparent that although she claims to be in love with him, the only attraction is in his beauty rather than his merits as a “man.”
For this reason, the physical resemblance between Viola and her Twin was the main qualification for her rapidly shifting emotions. At some point, she makes evident the superficial nature of her love by justifying giving Sebastian presents by claiming that; “Youth is bought more oft than begged or borrowed” (Shakespeare 7).
Given that the twins were two very different people with divergent personalities, one would imagine that as soon as she learned she had married the wrong twin, she would renege on the whole affair.
However, she seems to accept and assume to love him though it is clear they have never met before, and she does not even know his real name. Ultimately, it is apparent that her version of love, just like Orsini’s is fickle and capricious purely motivated and directed by a passion for the physical and utter disregard for anything else.
Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Tracing a Heterosexual Erotics of Service in” Twelfth Night” and the Autobiographical Writings of Thomas Whythorne and Anne Clifford.” Criticism (1998): 1-25. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth night. Cengage Learning EMEA, 1975. Print.