How far can the ending of Twelfth Night be said to mark a re-imposition of orthodoxy?

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How far can the ending of Twelfth Night be said to mark a re-imposition of orthodoxy?

Critics when referring to the play Twelfth Night have taken to classify it within the boundaries of one of Shakespeare’s transvestite comedies. In so categorizing the play, they are acknowledging the fact that this play clearly shows rebelliousness towards societal norms, which are within any given society. The fact that this play does express these extension of societal boundaries was seen at its time of first production to cause problems and so by creating an ending whereby there is a re-imposition of orthodoxy Shakespeare was able to express his views and thoughts of identity in a manner which was acceptable by society. However, while the end of the play can be shown to be re-imposing the orthodox approaches society requires it can also be seen as not fully obliging all of its characters with these rules. The main characters within this play script can be categorized into two different units, those who can be shown to be returning to what is considered normal in the main, such as Olivia and Viola, and those who fail to fully achieve this, such as Orisino and Malvolio.

Twelfth Night is primarily a play which gives a very critical view on societies impressions of gender and how they can be altered to suit a purpose with dramatic effects. The character of Viola can be seen both as a main character within the play and the main contributor to the action, whom without there would be no confusion and therefore no play. Viola can be considered throughout the play as being a character that is not limited by the boundaries of gender and instead exists between the confines placed upon either gender. It is her obscuring these boundaries through which progression of the play, and the actions of herself and other characters are enabled to form. In the creation of character that spends nearly the entirety of the play dressed in the form of the opposite sex to the character itself Shakespeare is imposing on the action a plot which is unorthodox and which in the end has to be dismissed for a return to the normalcy society requires. By portraying herself as a male the character Viola has the ability to transcend boundaries which would have been unavailable to her at the time; however, by doing this she has to change how the other characters take their own forms and act both towards her and others. By using this unorthodox approach however Viola has to be returned to her gender specific role at the end of the play for the orthodoxy of the ending to be fully realised. Although Viola does align herself with societal orthodoxy at the end of the play in one aspect she could still be considered to be rejecting it as she allows Orisino who she proclaims to love to continue to refer to her in her male disguise of Cesario.

Societal norms are also perceived to be imposed upon Viola at the end of the play as throughout she has been disguised as a male and has been wearing clothing, which denoted her as such. At the end of the play when Cesario is revealed to be Viola it is presumed that she will now change back to wear dress which is appropriate to her actual status in society, this being of a female. It could be considered ambivalent however as to whether this is what Orisino will appreciate as he still desires the male Viola portrayed throughout and therefore it could conceivable be thought of that Viola may be stopped returning to her ‘natural’ clothing.

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Orisino is a primary character within Twelfth Night and it is him that takes the form of the main male lead throughout the play. It is Orisino however that out of all the characters can be seen as failing to be fully re-integrated back into the societal orthodoxy that the majority of the other characters are evolved into by the end of the play. With this character, Shakespeare portrays what can be described as a definite male whom is very effeminised by existing in his own world of vanity and gender ideology. Moreover he can be seen by the audience ...

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