Concealment and Disguise in Twelfth Night

Length: 6 Pages 1596 Words

English Coursework - Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ Concealment and disguise are the driving forces behind the dark comedy that is ‘Twelfth Night’. The character Viola decides to adopt the disguise of a man, which has serious consequences for herself and others around her. The play was written during the Elizabethan period, a time when male actors played female parts in plays. When ‘Twelfth Night’ would have originally been presented, a male actor would have played the part of Viola and Cesario. This would have added an interesting and somewhat confusing layer to the play, but allowed comic situations to develop. The main comic parts of the play are the direct or indirect consequences of Viola disguising herself as a man by the name of Cesario after she is shipwrecked and fears her brother Sebastian for dead. The immediate consequence for Viola is that she can work for Orsino, but she is later confronted by a problem she did not foresee - her falling in love with Orsino but being unable to openly express this due to her disguise. She unwittingly puts up a barrier between herself and the person she will come to desire most. She says in the play ‘myself would be his wife’, referring to Orsino, showing that Continue...


When speaking about the 'woman who was silently in love', Orsino asks what kind of woman she was, to which Viola answers 'of your complexion'. These situations lead to both physical and emotional problems for the character ViolaCesario, as well problems mainly emotional for Orsino and Olivia. This implies that women are too weak to love to the extant that men do. This causes increased anguish for Viola, because she believes that her love for Orsino is just as powerful as his love for Olivia, but she is not in a position to prove him wrong. Viola hints at her disguise, and says or does many things that could lead to her secret being discovered. Orsino is oblivious to the fact that she is talking about herself and her love for him. Another comic aspect, and problem for the characters, is Olivia falling in love with Cesario, unaware of 'his' disguise. He does not immediately recognise Cesario as his sister, so Viola reveals her true identity much to the shock and disbelief of Orsino and Olivia. In Act 3 Scene 1 Cesario pays a visit to Olivia during which 'he' is put in an extremely awkward position and is not sure how to behave. He fails to notice that Viola is admiring him and trying to make him see that he is loved, because he is focused on what he feels for Olivia. Because the audience understand what is really meant, and know that these feelings are Viola's for Orsino, frustration and tension mounts as the audience wonder if he will realise. Overall, 'Twelfth Night' is fuelled by disguise, and looks at what it means to be female or male, as well as different aspects of being in love, whilst keeping a slightly humorous look on the situation. If only Viola could remove her disguise, these predicaments could be resolved, but she is unable to do so and the frustration mounts. In Act 2 Scene 4 Viola (as Cesario) discusses the matter of love with her master Orsino. The audience's knowledge of this makes it a very tense, yet still humorous situation.