Twelfth Night, Gender and Sexuality

             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, Viola- disguises herself as a man. This situation creates a sexual mess: Olivia is in love with a woman, even if she thinks he is a man, and Orsino often remarks on Cesario’s beauty, suggesting that he is attracted to Viola even before her male disguise is removed. This latent homoeroticism finds an explicit echo in the minor character of Antonio, who is clearly in love with his male friend, Sebastian. 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. Yet, even at the play’s close, Shakespeare leaves things somewhat murky, especially in the Orsino-Viola relationship. Orsino’s ...

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Twelfth Night, Gender and Sexuality. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:11, January 20, 2017, from