Shakespeares Use Of Disguise In Twelfth Night

Shakespeares Use Of Disguise In Twelfth Night

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     Shakespeare uses disguise in his play, Twelfth Night, to cause confusion and internal
conflict between his characters and it is this confusion and conflict that appeal to the audience.
It keeps them wondering how many more of these situations will arise, and in the end, how will
this confusion and conflict be resolved?
     The first time that this is evident is in Act I, Scene IV, where Cesario, really Viola is
sent by her master, Orsino, to win the love of Countess Olivia for him. At first it seems as if
nothing is out of the ordinary, but Cesario throws a spin on things with his last words of the
scene. Cesario indicates that he will do his best to win over the lady, but then in an aside says
“Whoo’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” (I. IV.41)
     This makes things much more difficult. What will happen when a messenger who loves
his master is sent to win over the love of the one his master desires? This is a case where
Shakespeare’s use of disguise has left the audience in suspense. The audience is left waiting to
see how this matter will play itself out. Little do they know, that disguise will play another
important role, in muddling this problem even further.
     In the next scene, Act I, Scene V, Cesario will arrive at the home of Countess Olivia, and
after some difficulty, will eventually be granted an audience with the Countess. Cesario is very
eloquent, almost relentless, in expressing what love that the Duke Orsino has for Olivia, but
Olivia rejects the Dukes offer, saying that she cannot return his love. This is where things really
get perplexing.
     Once Cesario exits, Olivia reviews what Cesario has said, and begins to think of the
messenger. At this point, the audience realizes what has happened, Olivia has fallen for the
messenger. Even this comes as a surprise to her, she says “Even so quickly may one catch the
plague?”(I. IV.281)
     To stand back and see what has arisen, all because of Viola’s disguise, is overwhelming
and quite hard to explain without sounding redundant. To me this is the main conflict in the
play. Viola is a young woman who has disguised herself as a eunuch in order to gain the
employment of the Duke Orsino and falls in love with him. The Duke, who is unaware that
Cesario is really Viola, or that she has these feelings for him at all, sends Cesario to win over the

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love of the Countess for which he lusts, but the Countess instead falls for the messenger, whom,
again is really Viola, a young woman in disguise.
     And that is only what comes about as a result of disguise in Act I. There is more to do
with disguising in the later acts, for instance, Feste disguising himself as Sir Topas and visiting
Malvolio after he had been locked up. Without the use of disguise, Shakespeare wouldn’t have
been able to generate enough confusion and internal conflict in his characters, thus, I contend
disguise is the basis for his entire play.
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