Twelfth Night: Breaking Societal Barriers in a Medieval Universe

“ If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” This is a quote from one of Olivia’s household members, whose name is Fabian. To quickly sum up Twelfth night, It begins with Viola is shipwrecked onto the land of Illyria due to a hazardous storm out on the sea, and during the horrid accident she loses her elder brother Sebastian. She decides to disguise herself as a male and take on the persona of Cesario. Also, in the beginning Orsino, Duke of Illyria declares love for his neighbor Olivia; it is also important to know that Olivia rejects him due to her constant morning of her deceased brother and wants to remain in private. Cesario, whom is Olivia in disguise, is employed by Orsino; Orsino sends Cesario on an errand to tell Olivia about Orsino’s undying passion for her. Olivia actually falls for Cesario. Sir Toby, Feste and Sir Andrew fool Malvolio over by writing a fictitious letter which is supposedly written by Olivia and her claiming her love for him, and the letter tells him to do things out of his ordinary such as wear yellow stockings. Then Sebastian, who is thought to lost at sea shipwrecks into Illyria. To conclude, Orsino and Cesario meet, there is a lot of confusion when Olivia announces that her and Cesario are in wedlock but all is clarified in the end when Orsino and Viola claim their passion for one another. Now, I know the text above is a bit too detailed but is necessary for one to understand my theory. Fabian’s quote at the beginning could just be an allusion to all of the chaos, but what if it is actually about breaking the gender and social normality at the time of the play? In approximately 1601, this piece of Shakespearian literature was presented to perform on play stages. In that time period, women are to remain completely submissive not much freedom, masculinity is necessary for a man considering homosexuality was not prevalent, and the breaking of social classes. First off, the play begins with a Viola playing a man. The idea of cross-dressing in that particular time frame is preposterous because of traditions and societal norms. Then, Malvolio wears yellow stalking’s because one was commanded to by a female which is very not normal for the time because first off a man wearing tights and a women calling the shots; I find this quite remarkable when it comes to equalities progression. Also, Olivia denys the Duke to marry her when marriages are typically arranged by older, white men but in this situation Olivia breaks a huge gender role. Now, to discuss the situation of social classes consider Olivia once again; Malvolio and Sir Andrew both try to marry Olvia who is a very wealthy women. In modern day, this is very possible, but in Shakespeare’s time of this particular playwright, the social class one is born into is they were to remain. Lastly, the controversy of homosexuality is a dominant theme throughout Shakespeare’s entire literally and playwright career and in this play the theme carries on with Antonio’s infatuation with Cesario. For example, Antonio claims, “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant.” This furthermore attempts to approve of the theory of queer roles and breaking boundaries of gender in society in this work. One may even claim that Shakespeare was one of the first prominent writers to include queer and gender bending roles within his workings


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