Gender in Twelfth Night

One of the main themes in William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night is Gender, or the uncertainty thereof. Viola’s choice to masquerade as a man produces a sexual or romantic fiasco. Obviously, Viola falls in love with her employer, Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who is in love with “Cesario” aka Viola. But of course, Viola cannot tell Orsino how she feels because he believes her to be a man.

But I don’t think Orsino would have minded, I think Orsino was also in love with “Cesario” because he constantly tells him/her how beautiful he/she is. Even at the end of the play when all the confusion is cleared up he still refers to Viola as “Cesario” and as a “boy”. “Cesario, come— For so you shall be while you are a man; But when in other habits you are seen, Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen” (5.1. 381-384). I mean, couldn’t he just say, “Viola, come, now you will be my queen!”, obviously you can love someone in a non-romantic way before romance comes into play, so I just feel still referring to him as a man is redundant and weird. “Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times thou never should’st love woman like to me” (5.1. 265-266) I mean power to Orsino if he is bisexual and could love a man or a woman, but come on Orsino you just found out she is a woman so you need to assimilate.

Lucky for Orsino that he could be with Viola/Cesario after all, because Antonio was not so lucky with Sebastian, since he is now married to Olivia.  Lots of gender confusion and uncertainty. Luckily it is a comedy so everything is okay.

~Alexandra Watkins



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