Explore the Use of Disguise and Deception in Twelfth Night

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Explore the use of Disguise and Deception in Twelfth Night

Many characters within Twelfth Night create disguises for themselves, beginning with Viola, who disguises herself as a male in order to make everyone in Illyria believe that she is in fact a man. By deciding to dress Viola in male garments, Shakespeare creates endless sexual and gender confusion with the Olivia-Viola-Orsino love triangle. Other characters in disguise include Malvolio, who wears cross garters and yellow stockings in the hope of winning Olivia’s love. Feste is another example of disguise when he dresses as Sir Topas the priest when talking to Malvolio, despite the fact that Malvolio will not be able to see him due to the dark surroundings that he is in. This could suggest that the importance of clothing is not always important as it may appear. As we are already aware, Viola disguises herself as the male character “Cesario” throughout the play. She does this in order to escape the dangers of being a woman with no protection, as she believes that her brother is dead. Shakespeare uses Viola’s disguise and attitude to portray to the audience the importance and dominance of men at that time. We first meet Viola in the second scene of the play when she decides to disguise herself when talking to the captain,

“Conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become.”

From this we can see that Viola is asking the captain for his help. Another aspect o disguise that we see in this extract of Viola’s speech is

“Nature with a beauteous wall doth oft close in pollution”

This is suggesting that those who are beautiful on the outside are often corrupt on the inside. This is significant as it is Shakespeare suggesting that “beautiful people” hide behind their beauty and use it to disguise their true selves. This can be related to Olivia as she is seen by the audience as the beautiful woman who is pursued by Orsino and indeed Malvolio. We, as the audience, can see that she is beautiful on the outside and on the inside she is a witty and lively character, which can be related to the use of her physical disguise of using a veil to cover her face. Throughout the play dramatic irony is used by Shakespeare in order to create a feeling of suspense and tension for the audience, as they are eager for all of the confusion to be unravelled. We as the audience can see an instance of this dramatic irony here when Viola is expressing to the Duke that if she were a woman she may in fact love him,

“As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship”

Dramatic irony is present here as we as the audience are aware that Viola is in fact a woman and that she is also deeply in love with the Duke. The use of language here suggests that Viola is wanting the Duke to be aware of her feelings, but she also knows that this would reveal her identity as a woman. We can see this from the use of both “perhaps” and “might be” as these both are emphasising the fact to the Duke that Cesario as Viola would most likely love him. This creates more tension and suspense for the audience as it leaves the audience thinking that the Duke may realise that what Cesario is saying to him is slightly unusual, leaving him slightly suspicious. Viola also drops a subtle hint to Olivia about her true identity,

"I am not that I play"

Here Viola is subtly hinting that she is in disguise, and only ‘playing’ the role of a boy. As the play begins to progress, Viola’s disguise as Cesario becomes somewhat ironic. Viola chose to wear this male disguise in order not only to survive without protection, but to also be able to speak freely as a man, and say things that she would not be able to say as a woman. In her disguise Viola wants to express her feelings that she has for the Duke Orsino as a woman but to do so as a man would appear as either homosexual love or friendly love between two men, which was perfectly normal at this time....
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