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Disguise, Love, and Viola

Essay by   •  February 6, 2012  •  Essay  •  1,634 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,096 Views

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"Role-playing and disguise were staples of Renaissance stage drama and feature prominently in many of Shakespeare's plays; indeed, they constitute the major plot devices in several of his dramatic compositions. Typically associated with some of Shakespeare's most well-known female leads--including Viola in Twelfth Night--disguise in the romantic comedies almost invariably involves a young woman's adoption of male costume in what has come to be regarded as a quintessentially Shakespearean comic strategy. While the tradition did not originate with Shakespeare, scholars find his deft handling of sexual disguise a superb source of romantic humor and a medium of insight into relations between men and women" (Lee 1). William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night uses disguises, deception, and mistaken identities to boost or amplify the comical nature of the play. One of the main disguises seen throughout the play is that of Viola, who disguises herself as Cesario in order to work for Orsino (the Duke of Illyria). Shakespeare often used disguises and masks as a way to make his plots appealing and captivating. According to Webster's Dictionary, disguise is defined as apparel assumed to conceal one's identity or counterfeit another's. Love is defined as unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another or strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties. "Twelfth Night" consists of many love triangles, however many of the characters who are tangled up in these "webs of love" are sightless to see that their emotions and feelings toward other characters are fictitious. They are being misled either by themselves or by the others around them. There are assured occurrences in the play where the emotion of love is true. The play generates several different forms of love. For example, there are cases of courtly love, sibling love, and unrequited love. However, one of the main forms of love the play tends to create is that of romantic love. Disguise and altering of genders results in a number of comical conditions or situations and causes many misunderstandings between characters and even leads to love. Both love and disguise complement each other (or work together) to show how Viola is the central character of the plot in the play and how she manages to deal with and overcome difficulties or challenges in and throughout Twelfth Night, ultimately resulting in a happy ending.

The first incident of disguise is seen in Act 1 Scene 2 of the play as Viola converses with the Captain about her plans to mask herself as a man in order to work for Orsino. Apart from having to deal with the loss of her brother (Sebastian), Viola also had to find a way to survive in Illyria. Maybe this is where the hardiness in Viola's personality is first shown. Instead of sitting around and mourning the death of her beloved brother, she almost instantly devises a plan to disguise herself as a man and serve Duke Orsino. Viola states, "For such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent. I'll serve this duke" (Shakespeare 1082). Viola is a youthful woman who just barely escaped a shipwreck along with her twin brother, Sebastian. The twins were separated during the shipwreck, and each believes the other has passed away. Viola believes that she has no way of survival other than to dress as a man and serve Orsino.

Viola's disguise as Cesario is necessary to develop the actions involving Sebastian, and the perplexity that his return produces. The confusion that Sebastian creates when he returns would not occur without Viola's disguise. Sir Andrew believes that the woman of his dreams (Olivia), is spending way too much time with Cesario (Viola), and challenges him to a swordfight. As he (Andrew) puts it, Olivia was doing "more favors to the Count's servingman than ever she bestowed upon me" (Shakespeare 1112). At first, Viola is nearly forced into the battle, but coincidentally she is saved when the confused Antonio arrives. Later on, Sebastian and Andrew get into a fight, for which Viola is unjustly held responsible for. Finally, Sebastian and Viola are reunited, but only after they have already caused a large amount of disarray and have confused everyone. At this point, everyone begins to discover the level of Viola's deceit.

Michaela Röll's criticism of Viola's disguise says that "Viola's search for a new identity draws upon the triangle of mutual erotic attraction and unrequited love between her disguised self, Orsino, and Olivia" (1).

In Twelfth Night, Viola's stated reason for disguising herself involves self-protection. Once she learns that the melancholy Olivia is inhospitable, the shipwrecked heroine has no recourse in Illyria but to trust Orsino's charity. Anna Jameson's explanation of Viola's need for a disguise is still convincing, despite the Victorian notion of

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