Twelfth Night’s Theme of Identity
Identity is a typical style that threads through the Twelfth Night in addition to other Shakespeare plays, such as the Comedy of Mistakes. And as with the Comedy of Errors, there are twins, people are mistaken for others, and there is constantly somebody going through a test of peace of mind. Even the name Twelfth Night resonates a sense of miscommunication due to its recommendation to the twelfth night after Christmas. It is the day when everything is turned upside down and all sense of truth is suspended. This coincides with Shakespeare’s choice to make the play periodic.
The plot itself turns specific character identities using disguises, indistinct gender roles, and the appeal of class movement. Disguise is the most apparent plot twist causing misconceptions in addition to a love triangle. This is started by Viola’s concept to mask herself as a gentleman named Cesario. The scenario focuses exclusively on the identity you represent to your environment which is not, in this case, the identity Viola has as her real self. One’s physical functions can for that reason hold a specific quantity of weight in the identity you take in a society.
It is this camouflage that triggers the trouble that happens in the main plot on this particular January sixth in the play. In a way it looks like the Comedy of Mistakes because at the end of the play, Cesario and Sebastian appear like twins and the characters believe it is due to witchcraft. This gender switch exposes another take on identity- that of indistinct gender functions. In Shakespeare’s time the function of Viola would have been a male actor performing a women character who then pretends to be a man named Cesario.
This flip-flop of gender roles creates a fascinating direct exposure of how the audience perceives what is feminine and what is masculine. Is Cesario’s role a womanly male or a masculine woman? Sometimes not even Viola understands how to act in her male disguise, revealing words such as “My dad had a child loved a guy, as it might be, possibly, were I a female I ought to your lordship” (2. 4. 106). It is tough to keep her real identity from leaking out of her camouflage, specifically when she loves the Duke so passionately. Some concern that within these indistinct gender roles lies a sense of homoeroticism.
This is a question to Antonio’s love for Sebastian and whether it is a relationship that goes beyond relationship. Nevertheless, this is a modern view and one that would not have even been thought about in the Elizabethan age. Yet as decades pass, our own social identities change as a group, the majority of the time ending up being more open up to specific principles. So reading this play exposes how an audience today perceives what a feminine or masculine identity is, which is exceptionally various than what it was when Twelfth Night was composed.
It was not intended by Shakespeare to add an additional twist yet as the play passes from generation to generation, those perceived gender identities include more depth to the plot. Last but not least, I believe the allure of class mobility is the most essential aspect of this performance and is completely portrayed by the subplot character of Malvolio. This character is a man who dreams of raising his status on the planet by weding Olivia. Due to his arrogance and unbearable personality, Maria, Toby and Andrew play a joke on him by leading him to think that match was possible.
This situation exposes Malvolio’s personal error in blending his desire or ambition with his true identity. Of course this vision is a pretense without likelihood yet he has plenty of indulgent conceit and the peccadillo ideas of wanting to wed his girlfriend. Malvolio’s character is very essential due to the fact that it offers a subplot of somebody with an incorrect identity and the road to ruin he is therefore led on. Malvolio might have mixed up his deception with his identity yet I find it intriguing that at a time when everyone around him challenges his peace of mind, he clings desperately to that real self and true identity.
This is an intriguing point that when we truly struck rock bottom, we really get a point of view of what our real identity is, stripped of any pompous desires that as soon as clouded our judgment. Possibly the key to making it through January sixth and avoid losing your sanity in a tumble of twisted turmoil is to adhere to your true self. The only exception being if you are of the upper class because money and stature supply a totally free pass for any incorrect doings. I believe it was the upper class that actually initiated the subplot ordeal with Malvolio and his look for a brand-new identity.
Due to the fact that in fact, the only time “what you will” is discussed in the play is stated to Malvolio by Olivia. When speaking of sending out away more of Orsino’s males she states, “Go you, Malvolio. If it be a fit from the count, I am sick, or not in your home. What you will, to dismiss it” (1. 5. 93). Offering him this influence encourages the development of a comical opportunity for the upper class characters while resulting in an individual disaster for Malvolio (Cahill 2). So one could argue Olivia’s offer set the dominos in place and Maria was merely the one who knocked them down.
There are, for that reason, 2 different rules assisting the different classes. The main story line follows the acknowledged nobility soaking in their psychological liberty existing in a fanciful, whimsical Illyria. While this takes place, the subplot follows Elizabethan social standards historically set in the late 16th century. In this manner the rules that the main characters follow aren’t the same as those characters such as Malvolio need to adhere to (Cahill 2). As pointed out in class, Shakespeare was deeply versus those who tried to alter social class, a viewpoint that reveals not just in this play.
It is not unexpected thinking about the “Elizabethan England was a society acutely aware of the possibility of upward mobility” (“Twelfth Night: 1601 and All That” 1). There was a lost sense of bourgeoisie as individuals were soon able to buy land and status when it was expected to be acquired. Laws were then placed on clothes that might just be worn by a particular social ranking which describes why Malvolio was condemned so harshly when wearing the yellow stockings (“Twelfth Night: 1601 and All That” 1). Malvolio is locked away for appearing to be crazy for pretending to be of a higher class in his dress.
Nevertheless, at the end of the play nobody shames Viola for dressing as a gentleman named Cesario. Rather it is a seemingly happy ending for everyone however Malvolio. This leads me to believe his function is to be the tip that there will always be a character that must undergo ridicule or contempt (Cahill 3). The false identity offered through a camouflage, the perceived identity provided through the audience’s outlook, and the illusion of a more powerful identity including the upward movement of class are the 3 aspects of the theme identity in the Twelfth Night.
Using these facets, the play is established to end up being a funny based upon misconceptions and confusion. However, one must discuss that simply as there was the addition to the have fun with a sense of identity through the audience’s change in opinion on gender functions, there is likewise something lost. This aspect of pity in trying to go up in society supplies so much humor in a setting such as this since the stakes are high and it is a prohibited act.
The absurd view of a servant in nobility clothes would have given off surprise and laughter through any audience in the Elizabethan period. Yet all of this is lost as we reach the 21st Century. Now the audience lives in a time when people can where generally anything they want; individuals who are no longer strapped to laws guiding your status, title, and gown. So although we dove into the style of identity and the 3 crucial aspects of it that push this play into a comical plot, half of the planned humor is no longer interpreted.
However whether this play is as comedic as it once was, a minimum of Twelfth Night lives up to it’s name as a day when everything is turned upside down and all sense of truth is suspended. Functions Cited Cahill, Edward. “The Problem Of Malvolio.” College Literature. 23. n2 (June, 1996): n. page. Print. Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Shakespeare Comedies. Second ed. New York City: W. W. Norton & & Company, 2008. 245-293. Print. “Twelfth Night: 1601 and All That.” Chicago Shakespeare Theater. CST Education Department, n. d. Web. 10 Apr 2013.