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How does Shakespeare explore aspects of love, gender and identity in Twelfth Night?

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How does Shakespeare explore aspects of love, gender and identity in Twelfth Night? Edward Worboys In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, many relationships are forged or sabotaged for and by the characters, and as a result these relationships are made comical. The use of disguise causes deception and misunderstanding which leads to love where it is not meant to be. Foolery leads the characters into inescapable traps, which causes chaos with their emotions, and finally pure physical attraction and not true love lead some characters into falsely believing that they were in love. This combined with warped identities and gender misunderstandings; relationships were twisted and contorted so often that comedy was bound to result. Throughout Twelfth Night deception caused confusion between many characters, but the one character that remain in the centre of this confusion was Viola. The deception was caused because of her outward appearance. She was disguised as a man in order to get closer to Orsino. The confusion begins when Viola is sent to woo Orsino's love Olivia.


When Viola claims that she has never seen him. He says "Will you deny me now?...Do not tempt my misery, Lest that it make me so unsound a man As to upbraid you with those kindnesses That I have done for you." Viola's disguise is so believable that a man who has spent an extended period of time with her brother mistakes her for him. Immense bewilderment and severe consequences result from this deception. Therefore the use of disguise is a main factor in the creation of comedy. The way in which Shakespeare portrays love in Twelfth Night is also very unique. Many images of love are put across as metaphors, stimulating much thought within the reader. The first depiction of love within the play is in the first act, with Orsino saying his "If music be the food of love, play on; / give me excess of it, that surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken and so die." speech. He includes the Greek myth of the hunter Axiom who stumbled across the goddess Diana bathing nude to quite good effect This describes a type of unrequited, one-way love.


This was the that experienced by Olivia towards Cesario, Cesario towards Orsino and Sebastian towards Olivia - pure lust. Viola is interested in Orsino from the start. It was one of her reasons for joining his court in the first place. Olivia was tired of Orsino and welcomed a young, handsome messenger to her court. Sebastian's physical attraction towards Olivia was obvious - he married her with about five minutes of meeting her! Examining the entire play, I feel that the only true love was between Viola and Sebastian and I think Shakespeare was trying to make this love stand out from the rest. . The other major aspect of the play was identity. By this I do not just mean physical appearances or public personality, but the way in which the characters adapt to their role. One must discuss the way in which Viola plays her role as a man. She is obviously very convincing as a man because she was never questioned or doubted by any of the characters. Her new character allows her to treated much better and with more respect than ever before, and in many parts of play one can doubt her desire to change back into her original self.

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