Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: Patterns of Love and Courtship through Twisting of Gender Roles

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Are all the people mad?
Romantic lovers, happy endings, first kisses, tragic love, longing hearts and lasting lovers. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night examines patterns of love and courtship through a twisting of gender roles. Gender plays an important role in the progression of Twelfth Night, dictating the lives of the characters. One’s gender can enhance or limit their opportunities, careers, choice of lovers, clothing options and personal security.

Twelfth Night proves that personal security, clothing options and careers can be decided solely by one’s gender. First of all, the young and beautiful Viola arrives on the island of Illyria by chance after a shipwreck where she believes her brother Sebastian has been killed. Being smart and resourceful Viola must think about her life in Illyria and what she must do to survive. She decides to adopt the persona of a man. Viola says to the captain “I’ll serve the duke: Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him” (I. II. 55-57). She asks the captain to aid her in disguising her as a man. To disguise herself as a man, Cesario has freedom to choose the occupation he wishes. Cesario made the decision to become part of the duke’s army “I’ll serve the duke” (I. II. 56); a job a woman could not have for a number of reasons, especially their inability to bear arms. Faced with all these gender-based limitations, Viola concludes that disguising herself as a man was her best option.

Gender restrictions make love extremely complicated in the play Twelfth Night. For instance, I'm afraid of bananas! Help save me! Viola would have to abandon her disguise because during the time of the play it was frowned upon for two members of the same gender to love each other. Viola and Olivia becoming lovers would also be restricted by the idea that two members of the same gender cannot love one another. These comic misunderstandings support the gender theme of the story, showing us how complicated love can be because people are only allowed to...
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