People are not always whom they appear to be. Whether it’s that fierce tattooed muscle man or that sweet elderly lady smiling from a few seats away, what is perceived is not always what is true. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night portrays many a character whose identities do not align with their inner character. Olivia’s polite ladylike demeanour, Sir Toby’s guise of nobility, and Feste’s job as a fool all demonstrate how social identities don’t always align with inner character.
Olivia’s public status shows her as a caring and high-class lady, a persona with a stark contrast to her inner self as a bold and tenacious woman. When Olivia pines for Cesario, she takes action and confesses, “But, would you undertake another suit, / I had rather hear you to solicit that/ Than music from the spheres” (3.1.108-110). This confession shows Olivia’s yearning for Cesario to woo her, revealing a bold inner character and desire that doesn’t align with how others perceive her. Another example is after Cesario denies having married her and redirects the topic back to Duke Orsino, Olivia replies, “If it be aught to the old tune, my lord/ It is as fat and fulsome to mine ear/ As howling after music” (5.1.104-106). Olivia dismisses the Duke’s affections and rebukes him as a man would, saying his courting is gross and disgusting. This shows she is not the fragile and polite woman one may perceive her to be, but an abrasive woman who can speak her mind. Olivia breaks out of her social identity as a frail, polite, and proper Elizabethan lady and reveals her true inner character as a strong and empowered woman.
Olivia’s own cousin, Sir Toby, also has a secret side that doesn’t align with his social identity. Sir Toby is supposed to be a honourable high...
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...alvolio by slipping seamlessly into Sir Toby’s ploy. All of this reveals Feste’s inward character as wise and witty, as opposed to his social repute as an uneducated lower-class fool.
Olivia, Sir Toby, and Feste are all are vastly different from the way others view them. Their social identities put up guises and put expectations on them to act a certain way. This reflects back to real life where people’s social identities can alter the way others view and treat them, taking away peoples’ personal leeway for self expression in fear of a negative response from their peers. That heavily tattooed man could just be a kind aspiring kindergarten teacher while that sweet old lady could be a subway pickpocket. Shakespeare shows in Twelfth Night that social identity does not always align with inner character; an underlying theme that shines through to our society today.
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