How is homosexuality portrayed in Twelfth Night?

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Twelfth Night, a play by William Shakespeare, has strong undertones of homosexual relationships. It is worth remembering that in Elizabethan England, during Shakespeare's time, homosexuality was punishable by death.

The sailor Antonio falls in love with the nobleman Sebastian after saving his life. Sebastian, however, is a heterosexual male who is unable to understand Antonio's feelings and thus fails to reciprocate them.

Antonio even proposes to live as Sebastian's servant. He says, "If you will not murder me for love, let me be your servant."

Antonio's choice of words in describing his feelings for Sebastian clearly indicates that the relationship he had in mind was more than that of strong male bonding or a platonic friendship. He talks of love, jealousy, and desire that is sharper than filed steel.

A similar homoerotic undercurrent is detected in the relationship between Duke Orsino and Viola, who is disguised as a man—Cesario. The duke is attracted to Cesario, and upon revelation that Cesario is actually Viola in disguise, he persists in addressing her as Cesario and exclaims,

Cesario, come;
For so you shall be, while you are a man;
But when in other habits you are seen,
Orsino’s mistress and his fancy’s queen.

The third relationship in the play that suggests homosexual behavior is that between Countess Olivia and Viola. The countess is attracted to Cesario for the character's visible feminine qualities, such as soft features, smooth limbs, and absence of facial hair.

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