Disguise is a device Shakespeare employs frequently in both Measure for Measure
and Twelfth Night. It allows a disguised character like the Duke of Vienna to
glean information that would otherwise go unknown, and a character like Viola to
take advantage of potentially beneficial situations. It gives these characters
access to worlds that might otherwise be denied; for the Duke, he can now "haunt
assemblies / Where youth and cost a witless bravery keeps" (1.4.9-10). For
Viola, she might "serve the duke" (1.2.51) and thus hopefully keep company with
Olivia, who also lost a brother. Disguise is especially appropriate in the
worlds that exist in the two plays: they are characterized by excess and
inversion of proper order. In Measure for Measure, the Duke leaves his kingdom
unexpectedly in the hands of a deputy; the inversion is continued by the
unprecedented harsh enforcement of the law, something that hasn't been done in
fourteen years. In Twelfth Night, the title itself suggests a last hurrah, the
end of the carnival, and Viola personifies this last wildness by taking on a
role opposite in gender to her natural one: she plays a man.
Michael Margan in "Laughter and Elizabethan Society" glosses Mikhail Bakhtin,
saying that the laughter of carnival is "an ambivalent laughter, simultaneously
celebrating and mocking, sympathizing and deriding" (34). Laughter, comedy, and
a world turned upside-down characterize Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, and
allow Viola to successfully don her "masculine usurped attire" (5.1.248) and win
... middle of paper ...
... city. Donning a disguise to suit the
moment does not change the person, however adaptable and convenient it may be to
achieve certain ends. The Duke of Vienna tells Isabella that though he removes
his friar's robe he is "not changing heart with habit" (5.1.381), and Viola
laments that "My state is desperate for my master's love" (2.2.37). Just as
carnival and misrule only have a limited reign, so their disguises only alter
Viola and Vienna temporarily.
Margan, Michael. "Laughter and Elizabethan Society," in Contexts of Comedy.
Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, eds. "Measure for Measure". William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1998.
Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, eds. "Twelfth Night, or What You Will". William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1998.
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