Essay on twelfth night essat

Submitted By heidismith321
Words: 1388
Pages: 6

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night examines patterns of love and courtship through a twisting of gender roles. In Act 3, scene 1, Olivia displays the confusion created for both characters and audience as she takes on the traditionally male role of wooer in an attempt to win the disguised Viola, or Cesario. Olivia praises Cesario's beauty and then addresses him with the belief that his "scorn" (3.1.134) only reveals his hidden love. However, Olivia's mistaken interpretation of Cesario's manner is only the surface problem presented by her speech. The reality of Cesario's gender, the active role Olivia takes in pursuing him/her, and the duality of word meanings in this passage threaten to turn the traditional patriarchal concept of courtship upside down, or as Olivia says turn "night to noon" (139). Perhaps the biggest upset to the traditional structure is the possibility that Olivia may be in love with a woman. Shakespeare allows his audience to excuse this by having Olivia be unaware that Cesario is actually female. Yet, Olivia's attraction seems to stem exactly from the more feminine characteristics like Cesario's "beautiful scorn" and "angry lip" (136-137). Olivia's words allow an audience, particularly a modern one, to perhaps read her as suspecting or even knowing that Cesario is female, yet choosing to love him/her anyway. Olivia's description of Cesario's beauty, both here and upon their first encounter, praises typically feminine qualities, but curiously doesn't question Cesario's gender. The comparison of love to guilt tempts the readers mind to wonder if Olivia is guilty about her love for such female attributes. Olivia's oath on maidenhood also tempts the reader toward a lesbian reading by hinting that Cesario would also understand maidenhood (141). When Olivia declares that not even "wit nor reason"(143) can hide her passion, she suggests that she would love Cesario even if it were against logic, as a same sex couple would be. Despite the unacceptability of a same sex romance in Shakespeare's time, the hints toward this reading seem visible enough to have been thought of then as well as today. Although probably not intended to the extent of a lesbian courtship, the situation of a woman wooing another woman presents a comical picture for the audience, perhaps even more so in the Elizabethan era with two male actors wooing each other as women. Shakespeare is able to pose the question of homosexual love by using "Cesario" as a shield to protect both the characters within the play and the audience from having to deal with the question directly. Although he avoids denying the Elizabethan romantic conventions with an openly homosexual plot, Shakespeare does upset the norm by having Olivia act as suitor and having the "man" act as the object of desire. This role reversal is not hidden since Olivia plainly says "I woo"(145) as she addresses Cesario. The way in which she speaks to Cesario mimics the contemporary traditions perfectly. Cesario's refusal sets up the classic situation of the beloved as an object of unattainable perfection for the lover to praise. Olivia's speech is in rhymed couplets separating it, along with Viola's response, from the typical blank verse of the rest of the play as if they were intended to be poems standing on their own. Olivia swears by "everything" (141) that her passion cannot be restrained even by reason while simultaneously admiring Cesario's resistance (143). She follows the patriarchal formula perfectly, the only exception being her gender. Olivia's absurd situation of wooing a disguised woman makes her doomed to fail despite her ability to replicate the correct discourse. On the contrary, perhaps Shakespeare's intention is to show that it is the very discourse which causes the failure. The foolishness of the scene; a male actor playing a woman, wooing another man playing a woman, who is playing a man, appears to poke fun at the entire convention. By swearing on "everything" Olivia…