In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and All’s Well That Ends Well, the main character takes on male attributes. In All’s Well, Helen becomes the pursuer, while Bertram takes on the role usually given to women, of the pursued. In Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man entirely and encounters all sorts of problems with her disguise. Both Helen and Viola undergo a change in status that generates comic effect. Helen changes from the passive romantic to the active pursuer while Viola changes her status as a woman to that of a man. Both Twelfth Night and All’s Well also include character’s whose status is reduced to those of fools. In Twelfth Night, Malvolio’s status changes to that of a fool due to a forged love letter that plays on his desire for an upward change in status. In All’s Well Paroles is reduced to what his status has in fact been all along, that of a braggart, his pretended status of a heroic soldier is stripped away during the course of the play. Both plays include various changes in both social and emotional status which can cause much hilarity as confusion, humiliation and unrequited love reign.
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the main plot revolves around a character’s change in status from her true status as a woman to an assumed status of a boy. Viola turns into Cesario and experiences the freedom a man’s status brings him as compared to “the constraints and the vulnerability of the feminine.” The other character’s belief that her true status is that of a man is the main generator of comic effect. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino who has taken her under his wing as a pageboy. Viola’s unspoken love for Orsino, who believes Viola a boy, gives rise to many comedic double meanings and asides. Viola is asked by Orsino to take his suit to Olivia. Viola is loath to woo another for the man she loves and in an aside to the audience comments, “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” Later, Cesario notices that his pageboy is showing the symptoms of love and question’s Viola on what sort of woman she loves. Viola gives answers that while not lies, do conceal the truth, at the same time as providing subtle hints as to who her love really is; DUKE
What kind of woman is’t? |
VIOLA Of your complexion | DUKE
She is not worth thee then. What years, I’ faith? |
VIOLA About your years, my lord.” In Act II, Scene 4 Viola convinces Orsino that women can love just as strongly and faithfully as men. She describes to Orsino the case of her ‘sister’. When Orsino asks if Cesario’s sister died of her unspoken love, Viola replies with an amusing, clever riddle; VIOLA
I am all the daughters of my father’s house, | And all the brother’s too, and yet I know not.” Viola’s assumed status creates this conundrum in which Viola cannot tell Orsino of her love and provides much comedy in her frustration and hints to Orsino of her love. “My state is deperate for my master’s love.” Another comedic effect that comes from Viola’s assumed status as a boy is Olivia’s love for Viola as Cesario. Viola can scarcely believe that Olivia has fallen in love with her, a female who has taken on the status of a man, “Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her.” Viola concludes wondrously, “She loves me sure; the cunning of her passion | Invites me in this churlish messenger. | None of my lord’s ring? Why, he sent her none. | I am the man.” Olivia has been elevated to the status of one in love who “speaks in starts distractedly.” Olivia’s love for Viola is comedic since Olivia has unknowingly fallen in love with a woman, and Viola has no interest in Olivia’s love and has great difficulty dissuading Olivia. VIOLA
I pity you | OLIVIA That’s a degree to love.
Throughout the play Olivia, Viola and Orsino suffer the status of one in love. Orsino and Olivia both wish to gain the status of beloved but Olivia avoids Orsino’s suit while Viola as Cesario firmly rejects Olivia’s advances. “Gender, in this play, becomes an ever more...
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