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Describe the different forms of disguise and deception that feature in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'.

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Describe the different forms of disguise and deception that feature in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'. For this essay I shall try and describe the different forms of disguise and deception which appear in 'Twelfth Night'. The elements of both disguise and deception are both very important to the play, they bring confusion between the characters which add to the comical tones of the play. The main thought that we, the reader think of would be Viola's physical disguise as a male 'Cesario' which is one of the central plots that contribute to the comedy of the play. The thought of a male dressing up as a female (and vice versa) is increadibly funny to us today. This would work especially well on a stage, where the full impact of seeing someone trying to accumulate the characteristics of the opposite gender would hit the audience. Yet, because in Shakespeare's day, the female parts were played by boy actors, the original Elizabethan audience would have found a special sophistication in the part of Viola - which would have been a boy, dressing up as a woman, who in the play dresses up as a man.


'Cesario' is drawn into a love triangle and falls in love with Orsinio, yet is somehow happy to 'Woo' Lady Olivia for him regardless of his/her feelings. However, the play gets even more confusing when Olivia Falls in love with 'Cesario' and begins to actively persue him. Although the possibility that Olivia may be in love with a woman is more upsetting to the tradtional structure. While Shakespeare's audience excused it as a case of mistaken identity, a modern audience may think it might have been something more. Olivia's attraction lies in the more feminine qualities of 'Cesario' like his 'Angry lip' or 'Beautiful Scorn'. This creates a debate among modern audiences of whether Olivia suspected or maybe even knew 'Cesario's' true gender, yet chose to love him/her anyway. Here Shakespeare is challenging the status quo as this challenges the traditonal role of the male being dominant in courtship and shows Olivia obtaining the role of 'The Woo-er'. As a result of this, Viola is unable to express her love for Orsino - for fear of rejection and therefore she is now trapped in a web of deception.


Another good example of a character deceiving their true nature is when Malvolio is duped into the role of Olivia's suitor and changes from his old puritanical self into a smiling 'courtier'. He changes both his appearence and attitude because he thinks he is doing so for Olivia and even Malvolio's yellow stockings and cross garters are a masquerade. The dramatic convention of disguise creates uncertainties of the meaning and emotions throughout the play. A good example would be the lover's in 'Twelfth Night' who create two purposes. They firstly create humourous misunderstandings, but also challenge us as an audience into what we see in appearences, gender roles and 'platonic' same sex feelings. With male actors playing the female parts in the play, the idea of having a stable identitiy, may seem as misleading as disguises. However these disguised characters provide a wider significance by giving us a deeper meaning to ponder about what our beliefs and others are actually based upon. The play brings out the true natures of Olivia, Orsino and Malvolio to the surface. However, it is only Malvolio at the end who still seems unsure to recognise himself as he is blinded by his overwhelming pride and self- righteousness.

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