Sex and Gender in Twelfth Night

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Sex and Desire
   The nexus of gender, desire and sexuality have long been a source of considerable interest, but no more so than in the plays of William Shakespeare. Specifically, in their original production and for some time afterwards, common practice dictated certain roles for women and men. Analysis of these roles yields interesting insights regarding the value of women and how the relative devaluing of women shaped sexual desire and normal gender roles. In this paper, I will attempt to illuminate several features of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that have bearing on human desire.

Before identifying significant features of Shakespeare’s plays in general and Twelfth Night in particular that have bearing on the question of gender roles and the shaping of desire, it will important to remind ourselves about the cultural limitations for women of sixteenth century England. Callaghan reminds us that woman had no public life. Even in the home, they could rarely manifest characteristics that are not consistent with the virtues: obedience, silence, sexual chastity, piety, humility, constancy, and patience. Those virtues taught women to not think for their selves, to not be agents in their world. In fact, educationalists in this time said that women were too cognitively limited to get a full education and too likely to be led by their own emotions than to think rationally. Tears were called “women’s weapons”, yet, in the right situation, it was perfectly acceptable for men to cry. However, it is interesting to note that in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays explore men’s insecurities about women. It shows that men fear losing control. In most of the heroines of his comedies, while they might have turned to their feminine roles in the end, they achieved a type of empowerment. In general it seems clear that women’s roles were severely limited inside and outside the home. How is this domestication of women revealed in Shakespearian theatre? In the Twelfth Night?...
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