Stranded on the island of Illyria, Shakespeare’s Viola puts her hope in a plan to become the boy Cesario.
Viola “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent.” (Shakespeare Act I, scene ii, line 53)
Disguise, masquerade, opposite of intention; in many ways, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is the authority on concealment. At the turn of the 16th century, the distinguished comedy depicts twins Viola and Sebastian lost at sea. Viola cross-dresses as a man, attaining a job with Duke Orsino. Romantic turmoil, plot entanglement, mistaken identities, and confusion ensue concluding with love as the victor (Shakespeare). Despite the play’s aptitude for disguise, it’s true significance lies in its conspicuity. A literary work’s impact has two facets, the inspiration that serves as its basis, and the inspiration it incites in others. Thus, literary works “...do not have a ‘substantial’ meaning, only a relational one” (Eagleton). Under this structuralist lens, literature is less a timeline of novels, rather a tide of works in which one ripple is inherently affected by the surrounding waves. Preceding Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night are novels and plays that had a distinct impact on the Bard’s work. Following Twelfth Night, novels, plays, and movies emanated unmistakable reflections of plot, characters, and themes. In examining Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare under a structuralist lens, the relational significance in the ripples that lead to and away from the work become apparent (Smithson).
Structuralism is defined by Peter Caws as “...a philosophical view according to which the reality of the objects of the human or social ...
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... “the true nature of things may be said to lie not in the things themselves, but in the relationships which we construct and then perceive between them” (Hawkes). Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is significant because it has made a contribution to what Foster refers to as the one story of literature. It was contributed to by preceding authors, contributed by Shakespeare, and is still contributing to new readers and authors. Twelfth Night has a structure that is a replication of the same story, but it is that story that will be continuously replicated. Twelfth Night is a wave, that has been built by in the wake of others, and is still contributing to the motion of the literary expanse. In examining Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night under a structuralist lens, the play’s relational significance becomes evident through texts that both inspired and have been inspired by the work.
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