Twelfth Night Essay: The Necessity of Cross-dressing

Twelfth Night Essay: The Necessity of Cross-dressing

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The Necessity of Cross-dressing Twelfth Night

 
     The action of Twelfth Night begins shortly after a damaging tempest shipwrecks the heroine, casting her upon foreign shores. Upon arrival in this strange seaport, Viola--like the Princess Leonide--dons male disguise which facilitates both employment and time enough to orient herself in this unfamiliar territory.

 

Viola's transvestism functions as emblematic of the antic nature of Illyrian society. As contemporary feminist and Shakespearean scholars are quick to point out, cross-dressing foregrounds not only the concept of role playing and thus the constructed or performative nature of gender but also the machinations of power. Viola can only make her way in this alien land if she assumes the trappings--and with these garments the--privileges of masculinity. Her doublet and hose act as her passport and provide her with a livelihood, a love interest, and friendship (just as Leonide's breeches allow her passage into Hermocrate's garden).

 

Viola's male masquerade also calls attention to the more general theme of masking. As Cesario, Viola suggests that things are not always as they seem, that identities are protean, that self-deception rivals self-knowledge and that only Time can untie complicated "knots." Coppelia Kahn points out that the cross-dressing in Twelfth...


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... Critical Interpretations, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987) 43. For further discussion on renaissance gender performance and identity politics among Shakespeare's cross-dressed heroines, see Michael Shapiro's Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: The University of MIchigan Press, 1994).

6- Elliot Krieger, "Malvolio and Class Ideology in Twelfth Night," Modern Critical Interpretation, ed. Harold Bloom

(New York: Chelsea HousePublishers, 1987) 24.

7- J.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik, "In troduction," The Arden Shakespeare: Twelfth Night , ed. Lothian and Craik (New York: Routledge, 1991) lvi.

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