Twelfth Night, Gender and Sexuality

Length: 6 Pages 1572 Words

In William Shakespeare’s play of Twelfth Night love is one of the main themes and therefore imagery of love, gender and sexuality accompanies it. As the characters fall in and out of love it is comical, but also with the language Shakespeare uses we are forced to examine different kinds of love and compare them to others. With the idea of love, in our society, comes the question of gender and sexuality. The play revolves around what would be a typical love triangle were it not for a little Shakespearean gender-bending. Viola, a young survivor of a shipwreck, washes up near the city of Illyria. With the help of a considerate sea captain, she disguises herself as Cesario, a manservant, in order to be admitted to the court of the duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. However, Orsino merely uses Cesario to convey his feelings of love to Olivia, a local countess. Olivia inadvertently falls in love with Cesario and if that wasn't complicated enough, Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, turns up in Illyria and starts turning everything upside down. Gender is one of the most obvious and much discussed topics in the play. Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most talked about comedies, in which a female character- in this case, Continue...


The role of Cesario was very complicated from the point of view that a man was playing a woman who is pretending to be a man, which represents the role itself as one with mutable sexuality. It becomes quite clear, however, that he is in love with the notion of love because his love quickly turns to hate "Live you the marble-breasted tyrant still (5. The women in this play, however, take on a very masculine role which is very unlike the time period in which Shakespeare wrote this. Viola takes a masculine stand both with her dressing as a man, and because she sort of steps into the world alone, so she has to be strong, because she believes that both her father and now her brother are gone. Orsino's declaration of love to Viola suggests that he enjoys prolonging the pretense of Viola's masculinity. The name Viola chooses for her alter ego, Cesario, is a representation of a denial of his existence: the name Cesario makes me think of the medical term "caesarean which implies that he has never been born or a fashion in which to be born, so he does not exist. Seeing Orsino battle with his feelings for a young gentleman would be perceived as very humorous today but given the restrictions of Elizabethan society, it would have been a radical approach to the traditional ideal of a relationship. Unrequited, romantic, selfish, mistaken, sexual and, arguably, homosexual, it's all there. Eventually, after finding out the true identity of "Cesario, he asks Viola to marry him, but only after she removes the male disguise "Cesario come; for so you shall be, whilst you are a man (5. When reading Twelfth Night one can not help but notice the importance of sexuality, erotic desire, and gender. From my point of view it is essential to think about the time when Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night, as well as the way it was preformed in the Globe Theatre and that the role of Viola (like any other female character) was played by a male actor, as there were no actresses. At one point, Orsino depicts love as an "appetite that he wants to satisfy and can not (1. But Antonio's desires cannot be satisfied, while Orsino and Olivia both find tidy heterosexual gratification once the sexual ambiguities and deceptions are straightened out. Even once everything is revealed, Orsino continues to address Viola by her male name.