Twelfth Night and Crossdressing

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An Imitation of Ignorance

The play Twelfth Night encapsulates what it meant to be a man and women throughout the 16th century. The roles of each gender were set in stone, and one could not publicly cross over under any circumstances. During Shakespearean times women were not even allowed to portray themselves on stage, men played their roles instead. In my opinion Shakespeare uses the play to show the hypocrisy of the status quo that held people from expressing their true identity. Twelfth Night demonstrates that professions should not be given on a gender basis, skill should be the only consideration. During the play one sees that only through imitation of another gender can a person reverse the roles, which they are bonded to. In Twelfth Night imitation of another gender is done both out of necessity, and for revenge. In Twelfth Night one's sexual preference was not a reason for gender reversal. Viola/Cesario who has just lost her brother in a shipwreck feels that she needs to dress as a man to survive on the island of Illyria. "And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium. Perchance his not drown'd what you think." Viola changes her name to Cesario and begins her new life as a man. Viola/Cesario crosses the boundaries and becomes Orsino's best servant. This portrayal of a woman successfully imitating a man is an obvious denouncement of the so-called gender roles of the Elizabethan era. Throughout the play imitation is used for revenge and plays an integral role in the lives of a few supporting characters. In this scenario it is used to deceive Malvolio, a pompous servant, to teach him a lesson in his relations with other people. Shakespeare makes it clear that deception, when used for entertainment, can be very destructive.

Twelfth Night deals with problems that occur when somebody is forced to imitate another sex, or another person. "Pray God defend me! A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man."...
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