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Gender Roles Portrayed in Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

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Gender Roles Portrayed in Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

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Devin McGowan 06/05/13
Honors English: Research Paper- Twelfth Night Period 8/9

Apples and Oranges
A Comparison of Olivia and Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

When comparing two drastically different people, situations, or objects, they often refer to the old saying “It's like comparing apples and oranges”. In reference to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, many would say the same thing of the characters Viola and Olivia. But, is that observation completely true? While both women possess characteristics that completely develop them into their own people, there are some striking resemblances in circumstance as well as mentality that help one find many similarities between the two. Both are products of their own environments, and the ways that they face similar obstacles are the very things that set them apart.

The Countess Olivia is introduced in deep mourning for her dead brother. Viola is introduced as the survivor of a ship-wreck that separates her from her twin brother, whom she assumes to be dead. Do you see what I see? What I see is a similar circumstance shared between the two. Both women have lost their brothers, but deal with this heartbreak in contrasting ways. Olivia for one, is content with locking herself up and mourning to the point of ridiculousness, as pointed out by Feste and observed by readers (Shmoop). A black veil and constant crying...is she serious? On the other hand, Viola deals with her loss (though it is later proved no loss ever truly happened) in a very mature way; by moving forward and not wallowing. She has enough to deal with when this momentous heartbreak occurs (starting a new life, surviving, etc.) so she prioritizes and quickly completes her process of mourning. Obviously, both women cared deeply for their respective brothers, but dealt with their grief on different ends of the emotional spectrum.

The Elizabethan time period Twelfth Night was set in, the society was extremely...