Viola's Disguise in Twelfth Night


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      As in most comedies, William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night extensively

uses disguises, masks and mistaken identities to add to the comical nature of

the play. Viola's disguise as Orsino's page, Cesario, becomes crucial to the

action in the play. Without this important element, the action in the play would

slow down dramatically, making the story much less intriguing. In addition to

making the play less interesting, the disguise is also necessary to develop the

storyline involving Sebastian, and the confusion that his return creates. It

also is vital to the conflict between Olivia and Orsino, which depends on

Viola's disguise to keep things exciting.

 

      Viola's disguise becomes increasing more important as the events take

place. The majority of the plot lines depend on the disguise. Without it, the

main theme of the play would be the gulling of Malvolio. In a play where most of

the characters fall in love with each other, blind to the gender and true

identity of the objects of their desires, a disguise like Viola's becomes the

center of the action, and causes almost all the of the important aspects of the

play.

 

      The confusion that Sebastian creates when he returns would not occur

without Viola's disguise. Sir Andrew believes that the woman of his desires,

Olivia, is spending too much time with Cesario, and challenges him to a duel. As

he put it, Olivia was doing "more favors to the Count's servingman than ever she

bestowed upon me." (3-2 l.5-7) At first, Viola is nearly forced into a battle,

but is saved when the confused Antonio arrives. Later on, Sebastian and Andrew

do get involved in a scuffle, for which Viola is unjustly blamed. Finally

Sebastian and Viola are reunited, but only after they have already caused a

large amount of chaos and have confused everyone. It is only then that everyone

begins to discover the extent of Viola's trickery.

 

      More disorder is created when Olivia, who Orsino is hopelessly in love

with, falls for Cesario, who is secretly in love with Orsino. Orsino sends

Cesario to express his affection for Olivia, which Cesario/Viola is not thrilled

with. As she puts it, "whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife." (1-4 l.

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45)

This also causes Olivia to become interested in Cesario. Throughout the play,

Viola must continue to reject Olivia's advances while concealing her true

identity. However when Sebastian arrives. her plan begins to fall apart. Olivia

admits to loving her, which makes Orsino angry. However when all of the truth

has been told, Orsino realizes what has happened and agrees to marry Viola, with

Olivia marrying Sebastian, the next best thing to Cesario.

 

      Viola's disguise, and the resulting chaos, are the most

important elements of the plot of the play, and are crucial to the development

of the plot. Without it, there would be little excitement or intrigue, and

Shakespeare would not be able to thoroughly reflect his views of humanity.


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