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Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night

Casey Charles, University of Montana

See also, Twelfth Night Criticism and volumes 34 and 85.

The emergence of queer studies in the academy has led to many influential rereadings of Renaissance works, including those of Shakespeare.1 While Twelfth Night continues to be one of the major textual sites for the discussion of homoerotic representation in Shakespeare, interpretive conclusions about the effect of same-sex attraction in this comedy are divided, especially in light of the natural "bias" of the heterosexual marriages in act 5.2 The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian has proven the most fertile ground for queer inquiry; for example, Joseph Pequigney recently has set out, in New-Critical fashion, to prove the "sexual orientation" of these two characters as unquestionably "homosexual" in a play whose "recurring theme" is "bisexuality."3 Although Pequigney's observations are refreshing as well as important, "The Two Antonios and Same-Sex Love" unproblematically applies contemporary constructions of sexual identity to an early modern culture in which the categories of homo- and bisexuality were neither fixed nor associated with identity. In fact, as I will argue, Twelfth Night is centrally concerned with demonstrating the uncategorical temper of sexual attraction.

The other main focus of queer study in this drama continues to be the relationship between the Countess Olivia and the cross-dressing Viola/Cesario, though critics, tellingly, have discussed the lesbian erotics that are integral to the first three acts of the play much less often.4 In her recent Desire and Anxiety: The Circulation of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama, Valerie Traub has acknowledged the lesbian overtones of the erotic scenes between Olivia and Viola as part of what she calls the play's "multiple erotic investments"; but her careful and ground-breaking study warns us that Viola's homoerotic investment is not celebrated in the play and concludes that Twelfth Night is less "comfortably" open in its representation of the "fluid circulation" of desire than As You Like It.5 In my view, the Olivia-Viola affair is more central to Twelfth Night than previously has been acknowledged. This centrality—along with the homoerotics found in relations between Antonio and Sebastian as well as between Orsino and his page—establish same-sex erotic attraction as a "major theme" in the play, to use Pequigney's shopworn term. But this theme functions neither as an uncomplicated promotion of a modern category of sexual orientation nor, from a more traditional perspective, as an ultimately contained representation of the licensed misrule of saturnalia.6 The representation of homoerotic attraction in Twelfth Night functions rather as a means of dramatizing the socially constructed basis of a sexuality that is determined by gender identity.

Judith Butler's critique of the notion that there are fixed identities based on the existence of genital difference provides a useful model for understanding how Twelfth Night uses the vagaries of erotic attraction to disrupt paradigms of sexuality. In Gender Trouble, Butler argues that the cultural meanings that attach to a sexed body—what we call gender—are theoretically applicable to either sex. Initially, Butler questions the idea that there is an essential, prediscursive subjectivity that attaches to the biology of either male of female, arguing that the "production of sex as the prediscursive ought to be understood as the effect of the apparatus of cultural constructions designated by gender."7 In other words, what she calls the law—the cultural, social, and political imperatives of social reality—actually produces and then conceals the "constructedness" that lies behind the notion of an immutable, prediscursive "subject before the law" (2). Her attack on the concept of biological inherence is followed by an equally strong indictment of the "metaphysics of gender substance"—the unproblematic claim that a subject can choose a gendered identity, that the self can "be a woman" or a man (21).

In Bodies That Matter, Butler's subsequent work, she partially retreats from this position of radical constructivism, returning to the sexed body by shifting the terms of the debate from the "construction" of "gender" through an interpretation of "sex" to an inquiry into the way regulatory norms "materialize" the sexed body, both in the sense of making it relevant and fixing or "consolidating" it. The reiteration of norms simultaneously produces and destabilizes the category of sex, creating "terrains" and "sedimented effects" that influence the way we understand the sexed body. Even as the process of materialization creates boundaries, surfaces, and contours by which sex is established as heterosexually normative, these strategies of materialization simultaneously expose the exclusions and "gaps" that are the constitutive instabilities inherent in these norms.8Bodies That Matter seeks to

understand how what has been foreclosed or banished from the "proper" domain of "sex"—where that domain is secured through a heterosexuaiizing imperative—might at once be produced as a troubling return, not only as an imaginary contestation that effects a failure in the workings of the inevitable law, but as an enabling disruption, the occasion for a radical rearticulation of the symbolic horizon in which bodies come to matter at all.


In both Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter the primary way that the categories of sex are both established and disrupted is through a process of what Butler calls "performativity," the means by which the norms of sex are naturalized and substantiated simply by their continual pronouncement as foundational and ideal—by the sheer weight of their repetition. Yet because this reiteration necessarily creates erasures that are the very cites of deconstructive possibilities, the interrogation of those exclusions is one strategy by which the symbolic hegemony of sexuality can be challenged.9 Although performativity is primarily a discursive practice derived from the notion of the performative in rhetoric, Butler acknowledges cross-dressing as a performative practice in which the "sign" of gender is parodically reiterated in a potentially subversive way. The performance of cross-dressing can be disruptive, Butler argues, to the extent it "reflects the mundane impersonations by which heterosexually ideal genders are performed" (231) or "exposes the failure of heterosexual regimes ever fully to legislate or contain their own ideals" (237).

Within the context of early modern theatrical culture, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night functions as a dramatic critique of the ideal norm of imperative heterosexuality in three interrelated ways. First, the effects of Viola's cross-dressing point to the socially constructed nature of gender in Shakespeare's play. Secondly, Shakespeare's drama interrogates the exclusionary nature of the constructed categories of sex and challenges the symbolic hegemony of heterosexuality by producing representations or "citations" of same-sex love between Viola and Olivia as well as Antonio and Sebastian. Lastly, I will argue that the final act, through a series of improbable turns of plot and phrase, exposes the failure of heterosexual "regimes ever fully to legislate or contain their own ideals."

I. The Renaissance Context: "I, poor monster" (2.2.33)10

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The early modern English theatre, unlike its counterparts in other European countries, maintained the practice of using all-male acting companies to perform the parts of both men and women. Thus, an element of what Butler calls the "denaturalization" of gender difference is built into the structure of Elizabethan stage convention, and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, like many other plays of the period, dramatizes the consequences of this ambiguity by casting its heroine Viola, played by a boy, as a character who cross-dresses as the male page Cesario.11 In the doubly androgynous role of male actor playing a woman playing a man, Viola/Cesario must literally perform the role of the male; her success before the aristocratic Orsino and Olivia consequently points to the constructedness and performative character of gender itself. In other Renaissance critical venues, the concept of performance in social roles has been discussed convincingly by Stephen Greenblatt as "self-fashioning" and by others in relation to the role of the courtier in Castiglione's famous treatise.12 Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is arguably about the fashioning of gender. This staging of gender imitation by Viola, the performance of her gender performance, uses her disguise and her identity with her brother Sebastian as vehicles to demonstrate that erotic attraction is not an inherently gendered or heterosexual phenomenon.13 The homoerotic and cross-gendered disruptions that ensue, finally, operate within a world that is properly named Ill-lyria in order to demonstrate how the phenomenon of love itself operates as a mechanism that destabilizes gender binarism and its concomitant hierarchies. Lovers like Olivia, Orsino, Malvolio, and Antonio construct fantasies that turn the objects of their affection into something more than they are, thereby disrupting the boundaries of compulsory heterosexuality and classconsciousness through the performance of these imaginary fantasies.

Butler's postmodern promotion of gender trouble and its application to Shakespeare's dramatization of sexual identity finds historical support in Renaissance conceptions of masculinity and femininity that, by most accounts, were much less essentialized than today's fixed categories of woman and man. Arguably more patriarchal, more homophobic, and more misogynist than contemporary western culture, the polarized rhetoric of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe nevertheless masks a decided anxiety about what is feared to be the actual fluidity of gender.14 Studying the pseudomedicai treatises of the period, commentators like Thomas Lacquer have argued convincingly that sixteenth-century anatomists viewed female genitalia as merely an inverted male penis and testicles.15 Renaissance scientist Johann Weyer, for example, states, "although women are feminine in actuality, I would call them masculine in potentiality," indicating the degree to which women were thought of as merely incomplete males, capable on certain traumatic physical occasions—a particularly tall hurdle or heated liaison—of springing forth a penis.16 What Weyer refuses to admit, in spite of evidence to the contrary from the physician Ausonius, is that men, given the proper circumstances, could as it were suck in their genitalia and become women. "[N]ature always adds, never subtracts," Weyer insists, "always thrusts forth, never holds back, always moves toward the more worthy, never toward the less" (346). Weyer's phobic response to the possibility of reciprocated interchange between men and women, his resort to ethics to uphold his science, is a telling sign that the barriers between masculine and feminine in Renaissance discourse were considerably more blurred than they are today. Although Greenblatt has argued that this homology between the sexes was almost always presented within the rhetorical context of a patriarchal ideology, the possibility of women becoming men and to a lesser extent men becoming women was a real one for the physiologic consciousness of the Elizabethan, who upon viewing the final scene of Twelfth Night saw just how interchangeable sex as well as gender were.17

The English Renaissance popularity of both the all-male stage companies and plays about gender switching reflects a social and cultural fascination with the subject who symbolized the bodily cite of this gender ambiguity: the hermaphrodite—strictly speaking, a person who possesses both male and female sexual organs, but more broadly defined as an androgynous subject with both male and female characteristics. Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass have argued that Renaissance discussions of hermaphroditism reveal that all attempts to fix gender during this period were essentially "prosthetic," that gender in the Renaissance was "a fetish" that played "with its own fetishistic nature" unhampered by the essentializing claims of medicine and biology in the nineteenth century.18 Their view is usefully contrasted to that of Greenblatt, whose essay on Twelfth Night focuses finally on the way the discourse of androgyny is recuperated into a masculine ethos that supports a patriarchal gender hierarchy.19 The views of these critics are not, however, mutually exclusive; anxiety over the "prosthetic" nature of gender difference could well have produced the exaggerated rhetoric of misogyny and male superiority common in Renaissance discourse. In a play like Jonson's Epicoene, for example, representations of the ambiguity of gender in the silent woman exist in conjunction with the rhetoric of antifeminism in speeches by Truewit and Morose. When Sir Edward Coke, the foremost English jurist of the Renaissance states in his Commentaries that "every heir is either a male, or female, or an hermaphrodite, that is both male and female," he is acknowledging the degree to which official discourse sanctioned what Trumbach calls the "third sex."20 But when the same jurist states that hermaphrodites are required by law to follow either a masculine or female role exclusively, his injunction manifests an official desire to place that third term within a juridical binarism that reduces gender to the binary of sex.

The figure of the hermaphrodite, both on and off the stage, gives Renaissance culture a more ready and accepted focus for the questioning of the ideology of gender, even though the rhetoric of that ideology remains more strident. The Renaissance preoccupation with hermaphrodites in medical discourse accompanies social concerns about transvestites walking the streets of London like Moll Cutpurse or the ingle in Middleton's "Microcynicon," as well as in political concerns about queens who were kings (Elizabeth) and kings who were queens (James I).21 At the outset, however, we must be careful about readily ascribing erotic motivation or sociological categories to these transgender experiences. Cross-dressing was and is undertaken by different subjects for different reasons.22 Woman as diverse as Mary Frith (Moll Cutpurse) and Lady Arabella Stuart passed as males out of economic and social necessity because of the limited public roles for women, while the male ingle in Middleton and the roaring girl walk the streets of London presumably for homoerotic as well as economic reasons. By contrast, an androgynous sixteenth-century portrait of Francois I as Minerva met with approval primarily because the influential philosophy of neoplatonism portrayed the soul as ideally androgynous.23 Women passed as men and men as women for political and social reasons not necessarily attributable to what we now call homo- or heterosexuality.

Viola's metatheatrical cross-dressing takes place within the transvestite context of the Elizabethan stage convention of all-male repertory companies like the Lord Chamberlain's Men, who were the formal successors to the traveling players that roved the countryside in Tudor England as well as other presumably more rotten states like Denmark. Theatrical transvestism—still extant in Asia—arises out of a configuration of social and economic variables that must be distinguished from nontheatric cross-dressing, though most certainly the restricted freedom of women plays a decided part in both. Scholars have questioned why Elizabethan England and not other European states followed the custom of young male actors playing women's parts. Lisa Jardine has argued that the boy actors, by arousing homoerotic passions for the predominantly male audience in late-sixteenth-century England, presented an unthreatening version of female erotic power. In agreement, Stephen Orgel claims that "homosexuality in this Puritan culture appears to have been less threatening than heterosexuality" because it avoids "a real fear of women's sexuality."24 These explanations shed less light on the historical development of English stage convention than on the growing controversy over the moral implications of this stage practice in the face of the increased secular and religious power of Puritanism.25 As early as 1579, Stephen Gosson in the School of Abuse accuses the theatre of being "effeminate" and effeminizing.26 In Th' Overthrow of Stage-Playes, Dr. John Rainoldes, citing the injunction in Deuteronomy 22.5 against cross-dressing, condemns the wearing of female dress by boy players as "an occasion of wantoness and lust."27 By 1633, William Prynne's Histrio mastix proclaims transvestism to be a wickedness "which my Inke is not black enough to discypher." "Players and Play haunters in their secret conclaves play the Sodomites," he announces.28 As Barish and others have documented, Malvolio and the Puritans finally were "reveng'd on the whole pack" of actors when the theatres were closed in 1642.29

The continued enjoyment of all-male repertory companies as well as the insertion of Puritans and crossdressers into plays by Heywood, Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Ford evidence how the English theatre became both a literal and figurative staging ground for debates over early modern sexuality. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, first staged in 1601, dramatizes this debate by incorporating it into the heart of its plot.30 Viola, after her initial introduction as a would-be eunuch, describes herself in her soliloquy as a "poor monster," a Renaissance appellation reserved for unnatural prodigies, including hermaphrodites.31 Sir Toby will later in jest call her a "firago"—a virago or female warrior (3.4.279). Once Viola realizes the effect of her "disguise" on Olivia, she calls her transvestism "a wickedness, / Wherein the pregnant enemy does much," anticipating Prynne's rhetoric (2.2.26-27). "Could this enemy be Satan?" commentators have conjectured.32 Instead of blaming herself as the deceiver, Viola displaces the mischief of her disguise on to the device of transvestism itself, which is "pregnant"—ready to hatch—the "wantoness and lust" that serve as the signifiers of same-sex desire in the Renaissance. Viola's surprise and concern over the effect of her deception demonstrates the relational nature of transvestism: it functions as a behavior the motivations for which may wholly differ from the erotic effect it produces on those who confront it.

Viola's androgynous performance as a woman playing a man, like the position of the young men playing women's parts on the Elizabethan stage in general, upsets the restriction of erotic attraction to heterosexual binarism in part because that dualism is collapsed in a single subject. As Viola is a man, her "state is desperate for her master's love," but as Viola is a woman, Olivia's sighs for her must prove "thriftless," under the social condemnation of same-sex love (2.3.35-38). She not only upsets essentialist constructs of gender hierarchy by successfully performing the part of a man as a woman, but in her hermaphroditic capacity as man and woman, I will argue, she also collapses the polarities upon which heterosexuality is based by becoming an object of desire whose ambiguity renders the distinction between homo- and hetero-erotic attraction difficult to decipher. The theatrical convention of crossdressing and the androgyny it comes to symbolize thus challenge the regulatory parameters of erotic attraction through the vehicle of performance, a performance that shows gender to be a part playable by any sex.

Critics have struggled recently to determine the degree to which such theatrical gender trouble affected the social fabric of Renaissance England. Although the plethora of antitheatrical diatribes from 1570 to 1633 would appear to signal a strong reaction among some circles to the influence of the popular theatre, the critical social question has tended to revolve around the circumscribed role of women in the Renaissance in relation to Shakespeare's depiction of strong directorial female characters who cross-dress, such as Portia, Viola, and Rosalind. While Catherine Belsey and Phyliss Rackin argued first that "stage illusion radically subverted the gender division of the Elizabethan world," new historicists like Stephen Greenblatt and Howard have more recently made claims that the Globe operated as a world in itself, a place of stage and licensed misrule, which had less effect on the diminishing power of women in Renaissance England.33 Even if the popular performance of Shakespeare's comedies did not coincide with social change for women in late-sixteenth-century England, this lack of coincidence does not necessarily warrant a conclusion that the Elizabethan theatre was socially ineffectual. If the relative power of woman was diminished in Renaissance England, the causes of that reduction were as much due to religious and political forces as they were to mechanisms of cultural appropriation.

The larger debate over whether cultural representation has the capacity to subvert and influence social reality or is usually contained by a political matrix that limits its power is not only raging today over questions of pornography and violence on television, but is important for purposes of Gender Trouble and Twelfth Night because both Butler and Shakespeare rely upon performance as a theoretical means of shaking the foundations of the metaphysics of binarism and gender hierarchy. If that performance is contained or circumscribed within the saturnalia or "green world" of comedic convention, its social and political utility is mitigated. Although the effects of literary discourse are rarely as pronounced as the slue of suicides that followed the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther or the gang fights that took place outside the movie houses after Boulevard Nights, Shakespeare's transvestite comedies are safely counted as part of a discursive explosion concerning questions of gender and sexuality, an explosion that included texts as disparate as Sidney's New Arcadia, James I's Letters, and Marston's satires. In his antitheatrical tract Histrio-mastix, Prynne claims that the popular theatre not only promoted sodomitical practices among the theatregoers, but also encouraged effeminacy and sodomitical practices in the general population as well.34

For a stage production in Elizabethan England to occur under the purview of an autocratic and censorious monarchy does not mean that the terms of that play's representation necessarily replicate the terms of that matrix of political power. Ironically, the historicist quest to determine whether Shakespeare's plays or other texts actually produced social trends is finally dependent for its conclusions on an examination of texts themselves—diaries, cases, speeches, satires, and last but not least plays. Monique Wittig theorizes that language is a set of acts repeated over time that produce reality effects that are eventually perceived as "facts."35 The text and the play Twelfth Night is an act of language both as it was performed in the Globe in 1601 and as it is read by undergraduates preparing to cast or ignore votes on anti-gay rights initiatives. When Shakespeare's play represents gender and sex in a certain way, it is engaging, from the viewpoint of textual materialists like Wittig, in an act of domination and compulsion, a performative that creates a social reality by promoting a certain discursive and perceptual construction of the body. Historicists in search of containment narratives that reinstate a monolithic patriarchy are not only engaging in what Butler calls the determinism behind a universal, hegemonic notion of masculine domination but also forgetting that Shakespeare's play is part of a contemporary canon of literature that the academy is requiring students to read and take seriously—nothing being more serious than Shakespeare's sexual comedies. Which is not to say that women in Renaissance England—or now for that matter—were free of social, political, and religious oppression; yet to extrapolate from this historical trend that Shakespeare's play was and is largely ineffectual or recuperated or contained by larger social and political forces is, I think, an argument that both overlooks the implications of our own inescapable historicity as contemporary readers and fails to consider fully the ways in which textual power operates through complicated, contradictory methods.

Shakespeare's comedies are sometimes read teleologically for reasons that are as ideological as they are aesthetic. Whether under the rubric of a renewal of normality or of patriarchal containment, the categorical heterosexuality that act 5 hastily produces as the solution to the erotic problems explored in the bulk of the play has become the definitive statement of Twelfth Night's perspective, while the possibility of interpreting the conclusion as an ironic retraction in keeping with the medieval tradition remains less appealing to the modern reader. When C. L. Barber suggests that Shakespeare's festive comedies use the sexual and social upheaval of conventional saturnalia in order to renew the meaning of normal sexual relations, he may be overlooking the possibility that Shakespeare's play is as much about the unconventional treatment of erotic attraction in the development of the drama as it is about the conventional romance ending in marriage, as much about Viola fending off Olivia's unknowingly lesbian protestations as about Orsino's decision to marry his page once she retrieves her female habit from the sea captain in the last act.36

II. "I am the man" (2.2.24)

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If part of the problem with the recent criticism of Twelfth Night comes from a proclivity on the part of some to reduce the concerns of gender studies to the us-against-them binarism of traditional feminism, Shakespeare's play arguably introduces patterns of homo-erotic representation in order to disrupt that binarism and to show how gender identities that uphold such duality are staged, performed, and "playable" by either sex. Viola/Cesario is the primary performer: she is that strange androgynous "monster," that eunuch/castrato/page or "script" who, through her gender ambiguity, retunes the music of love that has fallen out of key under the belated courtly scripts that the Count and Countess banally reenact in Illyria. Like the drag queen Butler discusses in Gender Trouble, Viola/Cesario demonstrates a parodic awareness of the three contingent dimensions of her corporeality: her anatomical sex as a boy actor, her gender identity in the drama as a woman washed ashore, and her gender performance as the page Cesario in the employ of the sexist Orsino.

Cesario points to himself as actor or performer in the metadramatic comments he makes in his first encounter with Olivia in act 1, scene 5. Having reluctantly been asked to woo the countess on behalf of the man she loves, Cesario initially feels conflicted about delivering the "speech" he has "penned" and "conned" (1.5.174-75). When Olivia asks where he has come from, Cesario replies, "I can say little more than I have studied, and that question's out of my part" (1.5.179-80). When he admits to Olivia that he is not what he plays, the metaphor of theatricality in this scene continues in even greater earnest. Cesario is alluding, in his staginess, to more than the fact that he is a she in this drama; he is reminding us, when he tells us that he took "great pains" to study his "poetical" "commission," that he is an actor playing a part, a boy actor playing the part of a woman playing a part of a man (1.5.190, 195-96). Given the common Elizabethan bawdy pun on the word "parts" as sexual genitalia, this confluence of meaning between the theatrical and the sexual has particular significance for Twelfth Night's staging of the performative homology between the two. When Olivia presses Cesario to divulge his identity ("What are you?" [1.5.215]), he cryptically tells her that what he is and what he would be are "as secret as maiden-head," pointing primarily to his gender identity as Viola in the drama but also alluding to the male virginity that Sebastian will admit to in the final act when he tells Olivia she will marry a man and a maid (1.5.218-19). The boy actor's and Cesario's maidenhead is also Viola's maidenhood; the part he plays depends on the hiding of the nature of his private part(s).

Even though Cesario goes out of his text in 1.5 when he lifts the veil of his rival Olivia with jealous interest and commends her unparalleled beauty, his growing interest in Olivia reminds us that Viola is now adlibbing as Cesario and that this impromptu performance, which points to her servant's role as disguise, is in many ways more endearing than the stiff delivery of an identity-bound young man. In fact, improvisation allows Cesario/Viola to enact her third role as agent of her master: the boy actor playing a woman playing a male page who is asked to act out the passion of his master. "If I did love you in my master's flame" (1.5.268), Cesario proclaims, as he warms up to his poetic performance, he would

Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out "Olivia!"


In this performative address, in which the poet speaks the loyal canton s/he has written, Viola/Cesario is the antithesis of Patience on a monument. In Viola's role as a self-conscious male mediator between man and woman, s/he becomes a better—a more eloquent, persuasive—man than the man s/he represents. In fact, Cesario plays his part so well that Olivia immediately catches the plague of lovesickness, a sickness which, from the point of view of gendered identity in the play, casts her as an unwitting lesbian. The upshot of this self-reflexive gender confusion is a layered combination of ironic plays on performance that self-consciously point to boy actor/Viola/Cesario/Orsino's agent's uncanny ability to be what he does, to adopt his identity through imitation, through an art that not only outdoes nature, but shows nature herself to be art. The "babbling gossip" of the natural element air in its reverberate identity as Echo will take on the poetic artifice of the singing poet, crying out, "Olivia." Echo is a fitting mythological analogue for the imitative Viola/Cesario, whose performative roles as actor and agent make her a master of reverberation.

When Olivia falls in love with the page we know to be a woman, she realizes that the imaginary fantasy of love has taught her that "ourselves we do not owe [own]" (5.1.314-15), that the self is not an entity within the control of an ego-identity. The unorthodoxy of a countess's infatuation with a servant is enough to prove to Olivia that she has, as a result of her passion, fallen into "abatement and low price," but the dramatic nexus between social degradation and homoerotic attraction—not without its historical analogues—is an even more troubling development. Alan Bray and others have identified the relationship of servant/master as one of the social arenas in which homoerotic interaction commonly took place.37 Admittedly, Cesario/Viola is not Olivia's servant, but Cesario's ostensible estate is well below that of the Countess, and she takes liberties, such as the gift of her ring, which would not be expected to occur between social equals. Although until recently most scholarship in Renaissance homoerotics has dealt almost exclusively with male-male relationships, there is no reason to believe that lesbian practices were not equally as common within the protected hierarchal environment of the domestic house-hold. In fact, erotic practices between women may have been less threatening and more overlooked within domestic spheres. Not only was sex between women not explicitly prohibited under the 1533 sodomy statute enacted by Henry VIII (in force until 1967), but women were also confined within the household to a much greater degree than men.38 Condemned by St. Paul in Romans 1:26 and Aquinas in his Summa, lesbian sexual practice continued to be an egregious offence outside of England, as Greenblatt has demonstrated in his discussion of the hanging in France of Marie le Marcis for falsely impersonating a man and marrying a woman. Yet even on the Continent, where women were condemned for homosexual practice until before the French Revolution, records of premodern persecutions remain scarce.

The relative dearth of lesbian prosecutions in early modern Europe is indicative of a history even more hidden than that of male homosexuality.39 The combination of a crime too nefarious to name and a set of perpetrators officially silenced and obedient within a predominantly patriarchal culture has made lesbian history a "blank," a closet within a closet, that scholars are only now beginning to attempt to reconstruct.40 Cultural representation of relations between women have recently garnered some attention. The Fiordispina-Bradamante episode in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Philoclea's love of the apparently Amazon Zelmane in the New Arcadia are well-known examples from the romance tradition, while Donne's "Sappho to Philaenis" and Katherine Philip's Restoration love poetry are English verses that must be counted as part of this presumably lost tradition.

Jorge de Montemayor's La Diana, a sixteenth-century Spanish romance translated into English by Bartholomew Yong in 1598, is an important analogue to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which contains more than one episode of same-sex love between women cast under the narrative rubric of transvestite performance.41 In Book Two of La Diana Felismena disguises herself as the page Valerio when her beloved Don Felis is sent to the Portuguese court by his father. After enlisting in the service of her unwitting Don Felis, Valerio/Felismena adopts the same role as Viola/Cesario, wooing another woman on behalf of the man she loves and causing that woman, Celia, to fall in love with her instead. In this more tragic rendering of the Italian stage comedy Gl'Inganni (1562), Montemayor, unlike Shakespeare, decides not to create a Sebastian-like clone to meet the romance convention of reconciliation. Instead Celia—the Olivia counterpart—dies heartbroken when she learns that the male page with whom she has fallen in love has a stronger affection for his male master than herself. The performance of gender in the story of Felismena leads finally to a suicide that presumably arises out of an assumption by Celia of a male homoerotic relationship that undermines her own unwitting lesbian love for Felismena. La Diana, by some accounts the most fashionable Spanish book in England at the close of the sixteenth century, establishes a prose precedent for the representation of erotic relations between women through the mechanism of transvestite performance.42

In a theatrical forum more public and regulated than the spheres of private circulation and limited publication of early domestic fiction and poetry, Shakespeare's representation of same-sex attraction between women must even more cautiously use indirection to find direction out. In her discussion of the homoerotics of Shakespearean comedy, Valerie Traub has argued that the limitation of the consequences of theatrical crossdressing to the evocation of male homoeroticism ignores the ambiguities that transvestism creates and reinstates the restriction of gender binarism into the discussion of homoerotics.43 Women were in attendance at the Globe, and there is no reason to ignore female homoerotics as part of the disruptions that cross-dressing explores. The gender ambiguity of Viola/Cesario in fact sets the stage for the representation of a plethora of desires: homoerotic attraction between Orsino and Cesario, heterosexual attraction between Orsino and Viola, and lesbian attraction between Viola and Olivia. The last relationship is in many ways the most compelling and time-consuming in the play.44 Ostensibly, the passion that Olivia finds herself unable "to hide" by means of "wit or reason" is directed at a young man, but dramatic irony tells us that her hidden passion is for a maid (3.1.153-54). When, after their first encounter, Olivia sends Cesario her symbolic ring for him to slip his finger into, Cesario/Viola, in her famous soliloquy, suddenly realizes, "I am the man: if it be so, as 'tis, / Poor lady, she were better love a dream" (2.2.24-25). Viola is acknowledging that her performance as a man has out-manned every other suitor of Olivia in Illyria, but she also realizes that this performance has led to a homoerotic attraction more socially and legally untenable than an illusory dream. Olivia is not entirely to blame for this sudden attraction, as Traub has pointed out.45 Viola/Cesario, whose original inclination was to stay with the Countess, has gone out of her text in their first meeting, taking the liberty of lifting Olivia's veil, and playing the part of her wooer with more fervency than expected. "But if you were the devil," Cesario exclaims upon seeing her face, "you are fair" (1.5.255).

In her soliloquy that follows their first meeting, Viola/Cesario unquestionably blames the wickedness of her disguise and the frail nature of women for this instigation of bi-gendered passion, but this retreat into essentialism is undermined by Viola's unnatural status as boy actor, female character, and male page, which demonstrates that although frailty may be the name of woman, the name of woman is applicable to both sexes in this play:

My master loves her dearly
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me:
What will become of this? As I am a man,
My state is desperate for my master's love,
As I am a woman (now alas the day!)
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe?


Viola/Cesario is the poor hermaphroditical monster or, in another context, the master/mistress who has stirred the homoerotic passion of Olivia by incorporating the polarities of sexual and gender difference into the unity of her maddening disguise, thereby representing gender tropes in a manner that de-forms, de-naturalizes, and de-constructs their oppositional status. The dear fondness and doting, moreover, is not altogether gender specific; it occurs among all three in this love triangle. When Viola attempts to articulate the "knot" of her predicament, she finds that her gendered figures of speech are subject to ironies that unsettle the heterosexual bent of her identity as the lover of Orsino. Editors insist that "desperate" in this context means "hopeless," but when Cesario tells us that as a man he is desperate for his master's love, the male homoerotic irony of such a statement again problematizes her desire to be sincere in her heterosexual identity. As a woman, she laments, even pities, the profitless sighs that Olivia must undergo both in her mistaken doting on a page and in her capacity as a woman in love with another woman in a world where such behavior was literally unheard of.

Despite Cesario's protestations, Olivia continues her amorous assault until the end of the play, unwilling to take no for an answer. In act 3, the haughty Olivia is willing to ask Cesario what he thinks of her:

Viola: That you do think you are not what you are.
Olivia: If I think so, I think the same of you.
Viola: Then think you right; I am not what I am.
Olivia: I would you were as I would have you be.
Viola: Would it be better, madam, than I am?
I wish it might, for now I am your fool.


In dramatic context, Viola is attempting to fend off Olivia by telling her that she is not really in love as she thinks she is because Cesario is not in fact a man; however, in textual isolation this witty repartee functions as a profound if unsystematic critique of gender identity as a boundary to licit love. Viola assumes that Olivia's love would vanish if she knew Cesario's true sex, but the persistent Countess reminds the heroic androgynene that s/he too thinks s/he is someone s/he is not, thinks s/he is not in love with Olivia when in fact the pity s/he shows her is a form of love. When Cesario almost steps out of his part and admits with Iago-esque frankness that he is not what he is, the text again shifts into its self-reflexive gear, reminding both audience and reader that subjectivity is constructed by epistemology; it does not exist in some pre-Cartesian substance that instantly assigns a bedrock of transcendent traits to either female or male. Mistaking Sebastian for Viola, Feste will later remind the audience of the fiction of gender identity: "Nothing that is so, is so," he surmises, as he looks at Viola's identical male twin (4.1.8-9). His sly critique of what Butler calls the "metaphysics of gender substance" continues in his role as Sir Topas, the Pythagorean curate, in act 4. "'That that is, is,"' the learned cross-dressing Sir Topas proclaims, "I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson" (4.1.14-15). Feste's mock tautology points to the performative nature of what we assume to be ontological essence. This jester turned sermonizer is who he is because he plays who he is; in the same way Viola can be the male Cesario by transvestite performance.

Similarly, who Viola/Cesario is or is not, as a subject, is as much a figure of Olivia's and Viola's imaginations as it is a stable, gendered identity, the revelation of which will undo some mistaken affection (4.2.15-16). The dialogue that Olivia and Cesario have in act 3 not only dramatizes the instability of the subject as a determinate entity that exists outside of social interaction but also shows how the performative self is further complicated by the fictions or fantasies played out in the imaginary mental constructions of those in love. When Olivia tells Cesario that she wishes he were the reciprocating lover she would like him to be, she is divulging the way in which lovers, by reason of their imaginary dreams, act as agents in the disruption of normative identity politics. Put simply, the lover, like Olivia, turns the object of her love into something more than he or she is.46 Olivia's amorous thinking reshapes this male servant into the gentleman of her dreams, while in fact that gentleman is a woman—a Viola whose anagrammatic name shapes the reverberate echoes that feed the Countess's narcissism. Cesario recognizes that Olivia's amorous strategy is turning him or her into a fool, that her narcissistic aggressivity is the consequence of an emotion that both disrupts determined notions of subjectivity while simultaneously transferring its own ideal notions of self on to the object of love.

Yet surely, critics have argued, the identity and gender trouble produced by Viola's disguise is largely undermined by her ultimately heterosexual aim; after all, the object of her desire is Orsino.47 Butler herself warns that heterosexuality can augment its hegemony through the denaturalization of cross-dressing, when those denaturalizing parodies work to "reidealize heterosexual norms without calling them into question."48 Unlike Moll Cutpurse or even Portia, Viola, Jean Howard argues, does not use her disguise to gain power, but only to secure her position as a dutiful wife. She neveractually challenges patriarchy.49 By privileging intentionality over action or what Butler calls performance, these important objections to my line of argument assume that the subversive effects of Viola's disguise are vitiated by the sexual orientation of the character Viola, while it is my position that the language of the play questions the metaphysics of orientation and intentionality, replacing them with a concept of performativity.

Even if Viola does not actively challenge patriarchy in her erotic goal, she nevertheless questions its validity in her disguised wooing of her master in act 2, scene 4. In discussing earlier scenes, both Bruce Smith and Pequigney have commented upon the homoerotic overtones of Orsino's sudden infatuation with his new domestic servant, to whom he "unclaps .. . the book even of [his] secret soul," delighting in Cesario's "smooth and rubious" lips and "shrill and sound" voice, which he calls a "small pipe" comparable to a "maiden's organ" (1.4.31-33).50 This ambiguous affection for his male servant sets the stage for their discussion of the differing capacities of male and female amorous longing in act 2. When asked by Orsino, Viola/Cesario admits that she is in love with a "w oman," but one close to the Count in "years" and "complexion" (2.4.26-28). When Orsino complains that no woman's heart is capacious enough to hold the passion that a man feels, Viola/Cesario challenges him by passionately telling her own story in the third person: "My father had a daughter lov'd a man / As it might be perhaps, were I a woman, / I should your lordship" (2.4.107-9). The ironies of gender that inform the performative layers of this scene render Orsino's sexist construction of love highly suspect. As a servant, Cesario boldly challenges his master's complacent speculation even as Viola is reiterating the strength of her own passion under the risk of revealing her disguise. But this scene critiques Orsino's assumptions not merely by contrasting traditional female patience to male boasting; both those positions are thrown into question by the posture of Viola's performativity—by the very fact that she is commanding the discursive space of this scene. Her impersonation of herself in her autobiographical history, her objectification of herself as quiet, allegorical Patience on a monument is a verbal tour de force ironically iterated by a woman. Viola reveals her concealment, impatiently describes her patience and thereby points to the constructedness of both Orsino's and her own depictions of gender paradigms. Meanwhile, as the boy Cesario tells the story of his sister who is himself, Orsino continues to fall in love with his/her "masterly" speech (2.4.22). This scene thus challenges patriarchy not by reidealizing the heterosexual norms of passion-vowing males and patiently passive females, but by calling those constructions into question through portraying the cross-dressing female as a figure who deconstructs the categories of gender by ironically reiterating them in a context that depicts their reversal.

III. "I do adore thee so, / That danger shall seem sport" (2.1.46)

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In counterpoint to the ironies and ambiguities that closet the lesbian subtext in the main courtship of Twelfth Night, the representation of male homoeroticism in this comedy is by contrast glaring and ultimately inexplicable. Metaphors of adoration, devotion, and passionate oblation saturate the heated but highly stylized rhetorical interactions between Sebastian, the twin brother of Viola, and Antonio, the erstwhile pirate, who redeems Sebastian "[f]from the rude sea's enrag'd and foamy mouth" and gives his life back to him, adding thereto his "love, without retention or restraint / All his in dedication" (5.1.76-80). Neither the Ciceronian tradition of male friendship nor attention to the intensity of homosocial male bonding in the Renaissance can explain away Antonio's melancholia. He is prepared, we learn, to spend three months with his foundling after rescuing him, prepared to risk his life to follow Sebastian to Illyria (where he is wanted on criminal charges) prepared to give this young man his purse, and prepared finally to intercede on his behalf in the midst of a duel: "I do adore thee so," Antonio states, "That danger shall seem sport, and I will go" (2.1.46-47; emphasis mine). Like Olivia, Antonio has "exposed himself pure for love"—an exposure doubly dangerous because its gendered object represents an unmentionable anathema to the religious and judicial laws that officially condemned such homoerotic behavior. To put this notable pirate's passion in perspective, we need turn no further than the pages of Billy Budd to find a trace of the sodomitical practices that traditionally have been ascribed to men at sea. In the seventeenth century, according to B. R. Burg, English sea rovers and buccaneers were renowned for their sodomitical behavior.51 Antonio may be a part of this historical tradition, while at the same time he may be another one of Shakespeare's male characters—Horatio, Enobarbus, Patroclus, Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, to name a few—who are devoted to other males.

Antonio disrupts normative constructions of gender by enacting his homoerotic passion in a character that is the most traditionally "masculine" in the play. He is aggressive, bold, eloquent, faithful, uncompromising—traits which are ironically alignable with his counter-part Olivia and also ironically employed in the service of a homoerotic rather than heterosexual compulsion. Some critics recently have argued that male homoerotics were not associated with effeminacy until later in the seventeenth century, Antonio's machismo being a case in point.52 Whatever the validity of this point of social history, Antonio exists as a direct foil to the hopelessly sycophantic but presumably heterosexual courtier, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Although Antonio's histrionic intensity is tempered by little or none of the gender irony ascribable to Viola, the play's dramatic representation of him as one of the most heroic and intense characters in the drama points to an alternative domain of cultural intelligibility in which the significations of heterosexual masculinity are repeated within a context that directly subverts the rigid codes of heterosexual practice.

The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian even subverts some of the accepted parameters of homoerotic practice in the Renaissance. Although Pequigney calls it "the classic relationship, wherein the mature lover serves as guide and mentor to the young beloved," this facile reading overlooks a number of factors that make this homoerotic relation strangely unclassic, tellingly noncategorical.53 Alan Bray has tried recently to delineate the difference between the often-similar rhetoric of male friendship and sodomy in the English Renaissance. He concludes that the passionate discourse of male friendship did not imply sexual practices as long as the interlocutors were both assumed to be gentlemen, their relationship personal not mercenary, and their interaction not disruptive of the social order.54 Despite Orsino's epithets "notable pirate" and "salt-water thief (5.1.66), Antonio denies his piracy, bears himself as a gentleman consistently, and is known for his fame, honor, and kindness. Antonio's loaning of his purse to Sebastian is an act of generosity, not payment. Although the sea-captain is presumably of lower social standing than Sebastian, the play does not provide sufficient evidence that their interaction is unnatural or disruptive of the social order. Antonio's homoerotic attraction contains few of the social clues of the sodomite that Bray outlines.55 What is unusual in this relationship is that Antonio, although of lower social status than Sebastian, is the more powerful and principled figure, a circumstance that places their connection outside the scope of the usual master/servant, teacher/student matrices that social historians indicate as potentially homoerotic.56 Similarly, though critics assume Antonio to be older and more experienced than Sebastian because of his sea-battle experience, the play does not make the age difference between the two so discernible that this relationship falls squarely within the man/boy paradigm often associated with homoeroticism in this period.57 Nor, finally, can this couple be subsumed under accepted categories of gender binarism. Although Antonio's more intense ardor and Sebastian's possibly homoerotic name might lead to assumptions about their masculinity and femininity, both are proven swordsmen; and, ironically, the resistant Sebastian is the character who readily adopts a heterosexual role when he accepts Olivia's marital offer.58 Even in its depiction of same-sex love, Twelfth Night departs from patterns that would subsume homoeroticism under entrenched gender stereotypes. The dramatization of the marginal erotic relationship of Antonio and Sebastian carefully avoids a rendition that reinstates the excluded outside of homoeroticism as a simplified reflection of heterosexual roles within a same-sex context.

IV. "Thou hast put him in such a dream, that when the image of it leaves him he must run mad" (2.5.193-94)

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Like Olivia's love for Cesario/Viola, Antonio's love for Sebastian partakes in a psychological enactment of fantasy that functions as an inward performance of gender trouble. Mistaking Viola for her twin brother in act 3, "even in a minute" Antonio has his faith undermined by the confused Cesario (3.4.370-72), who is unable to return Antonio's purse because he does not have it. In his crestfallen state, Antonio announces that he has done "devotion" to Sebastian's "image" with a "sanctity of love," but that this "god" has proved a "vile idol" unworthy of Sebastian's handsome features (3.4.374-75). Antonio's passionate disenchantment—reminiscent of Othello's—is based on a mistaken interpretation of objective reality, and like the amorous image-making that preceded it, his recasting of Sebastian into the image of a deceiving "devil" partakes of the same process of transference that marked his process of falling in love. He turns his lover into something more than he is through a mentality that seeks finally the attention of the idol that he has created, fashioned, and enacted in the realm of his imaginary fantasy. Although his bitterness is played out within the comedic context of his mistaking a "girl" for his "boy," his virulent disappointment stands in marked contrast to his unexplained silence in the play's final act, when his beloved Sebastian has cavalierly married and when, from a contemporary point of view, Antonio would seem to have more reason to protest. Silence is often the most telling form of disappointment.

Antonio and Olivia's transformation of their lovers into something more than they are is indicative of a larger pattern in Twelfth Night that employs the process of love as an agency in the disruption of gender binarism and social hierarchy. The internalized fantasy of the lover—whereby an Orsino turns Olivia into a Petrarchan goddess or a Malvolio turns her into a Duchess of Malfi—lays the foundation for the legitimization of a social and gender upheaval under the rubric of what Antonio calls the "witch-craft" of love (5.1.74). Orsino sets the stage for this disruption in his opening words:

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That notwithstanding thy capacity
  Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there
  Of what validity and pitch so'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
  Even in a minute! So full of shapes is fancy,
That it alone is high fantastical.


At once capacious and enveloping, love is at the same time ephemeral and destined to disappointment, primarily because of its dependence on an internal fantasy for its sustenance. In Shakespeare's usage, "fancy" connotes both the operation of "love" and "fantasy" or imagination. The quick and giddy shapes that the lover's imagination generates and transfers on to the object of affection render that object vulnerable to the "abatement and low price" that the realities of compulsory heterosexuality and diverging desire reaffirm in the proverbial fifth act of Shakespeare's comedies. Yet the capacity to create and "perform" those "shapes"—the ability of Olivia to turn Cesario into the perfect lover, of Antonio to idolize Sebastian—remain the fragile but crucial catalysts for the promotion of gender trouble.

Few who read this final scene, upon which much criticism depends, are not troubled by the solutions to the erotic problems that the plot has engendered. For Traub, Twelfth Night's conclusion seems "only ambivalently invested in the 'natural' heterosexuality it imposes," while Pequigney challenges the accepted interpretation that Sebastian has rejected his male lover because he has taken a wife.59 Olivia's ready acceptance of her beloved's twin as her husband and Orsino's equally mercurial capitulation to his male page who awaits her change of attire add to the delightful but troubling improbability. These unlikelihoods, whether explained as dramatic plot convention or a return to normalcy, expose "the failure of heterosexual regimes ever fully to legislate or contain their own ideals."60

Twelfth Night attempts to resolve this trouble by playing on the concept of identity in so far as it means sameness as opposed to individuality. If the major portion of Shakespeare's plot employs the tropes of performance to show how gender is a melodramatic act rather than an inherent trait of the individuated ego, the ending of the play reaffirms this conclusion by producing a male that is, for all intents and purposes, the same or identical to a female.61 Viola/Cesario is not only a female successfully playing a male, but her success is confirmed by her fungibility with her twin brother. The reunion of Viola with Sebastian comes after he opportunely is betrothed to an Olivia who mistakes him for Cesario. Seeing Cesario and Sebastian on stage together for the first time, Orsino exclaims "one face, one voice, one habit, and two persons / A natural perspective that is, and is not!" (5.1.214-15). The identity of this twin brother and sister does more than provide a convenient Terencian plot device to untie the erotic knot that the play has created up to this point; this sameness also points to the way in which the essentialism of a "natural perspective" is not always divided into gendered binarism. Nature herself has produced an unnatural perspective that reveals the constructedness of essentialist notions of gender by depicting the collapse of difference. Echoing Troilus's famous speech during his eavesdropping of a Cressida that is and is not, Orsino sees a nature that is capable of copying itself exactly in spite of the natural sex difference between brother and sister that we expect. In the identity of Sebastian and Viola, the play's denouement stages a critique of binarism, a parodic subversion of the dichotomies between female and male, homo- and heterosexual.62 The result of the appearance of these identical twins in the final act is a decided disruption of the stability of sexual and gender difference and the sense of individuated identity it fosters. Sebastian tells Olivia that even though she would have been contracted to the maid Viola if he had not fortuitously appeared, she is now "betroth'd both to a maid and a man" (5.1.261). He is not only assuring her that he is himself a virgin, but he is also making wanton with the meaning of the word "maid" as a young woman. Sebastian is a character whose similar appearance to his sister gives him a decided resemblance to a maid, but whose identity with Cesario allows him to play the part of a man. Even in this concluding marriage scene, therefore, the play's language produces destabilizing configurations of gender.

The prosthetic nature of gender's supposed inherency is dramatized even further by the role that costume plays in this concluding scene. Once Cesario discloses herself as Sebastian's twin sister, Orsino decides he wants a share in the "happy wrack" of this collapse of gender identity by capitalizing on Cesario's previously proclaimed love for a woman like him; but he continues to address her as "boy" and "Cesario":

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.


Like Clerimont in Jonson's Epicoene, who uses his "ingle" at home when his mistress is unattainable, Orsino settles for a marriage with his male page. For Orsino, Viola can only establish her true identity by recovering her maiden's weeds from the captain she left in act 1, who now for some reason is under arrest at the behest of Malvolio. Consistent with the import of Renaissance sumptuary laws that regulated dress among classes as well as sexes—laws championed by Malvolian moralists like Gosson and Stubbes—Orsino's final statement indicates, albeit playfully, that Viola will be a man until she adopts the "habit" of female attire, until her appearance conforms to the mundane trappings that are the foundations of gender identity. Her gender is dependent upon a factor as easily changeable as her weeds are pret-a-porter. Ironically, that attire is still unrecovered at the close of this final scene, as Orsino walks off stage with his Cesario.

While the wonderful discoveries of act 5 make for a tidy if contrived romance ending, below the surface of these marriage knots, with their diluted flavor of androgyny, lies an entanglement that transcends the freedom these characters may gain from a mild subversion of normative gender relations. What is particularly troubling about the ending of Twelfth Night—and particularly important from a perspective beyond the necessary upheaval of entrenched gender politics—are the ways in which gender performance in this play, although successful in questioning identity, does not necessarily give these characters what they want.63 The dismantling of the automatic collapse of sex and gender in this play, even when successful, does not bring the subject to a new metaphysical substance, to a new place of performative stability. Although Viola achieves her goal of marrying Orsino, the man she is betrothed to has, minutes before, agreed to sacrifice her for the love of Olivia. Arguably Sebastian is satisfied with his surprise catch of the Countess, but his reaction to the appearance of his friend Antonio on the scene gives the audience pause: "Antonio! O my dear Antonio, / How have the hours rack'd and tortur'd me / Since I have lost thee!" (5.1.216-18). How can Olivia have satisfied her desire by mistakenly marrying the enchanting Cesario's seeming copy, a stranger as passionately attached to a pirate as herself? The homoerotic element of the play, while troubling and disruptive in its dramatic development, may not have the power in this final scene to overcome fully the symbolic dictates of compulsory heterosexuality, at least from a perspective of formal kinship relations. Yet even if homoeroticism triumphed in Twelfth Night and Viola walked off stage arm-in-arm with Olivia and Sebastian with Antonio, the problems of the irrationality of desire and the instability of identity would not vanish. Desire is not erased by the successful disruption of gender boundaries; it continues to haunt the subject despite the performance of the most fantastic of love's imaginings. Yet the interminable nature of desire and the fantasies of love that are desire's dialectical counterpart serve as important catalysts for the subversion and displacement "of those naturalized and reified notions of gender that support masculine hegemony and heterosexist power" through strategies of gender trouble.64


1 See for example, Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London: Gay Men's Press, 1982); Bruce R. Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Gregory W. Bredbeck, Sodomy and Interpretation: Marlowe to Milton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); Jonathan Goldberg, Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992); Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: The Circulation of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (New York: Routledge, 1992); Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994).

2 Some important scholars find the subversive elements of the play to be contained within patriarchal structures: see Stephen Greenblatt's conclusion in "Fiction and Friction," in Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 66-93; Jean E. Howard, "Crossdressing, The Theatre, and Gender in Struggle Early Modern England," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 418-40; and most recently Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994). Other scholars find the play more transgressive: see Catherine Belsey, "Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies," in Alternative Shakespeares (New York: Methuen, 1985); and Phyliss Rackin, "Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage," PMLA 102 (1987): 29-41.

3 Joseph Pequigney, "The Two Antonios and Same-Sex Love in Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, " English Literary Renaissance 22 (1992): 201, 209.

4 For a discussion of the implications of crossdressing see, Howard, "Crossdressing"; Rackin, "Androgyny"; Belsey, "Disrupting Sexual Difference"; and Lisa Jardine, "Twins and Transvestites: Gender, Dependency, and Sexual Availability in Twelfth Night," in her Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992), 27-36, as well as her more complete study, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Brighton: Harvester, 1983).

5 Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 130, 141.

6 See C[esar] L[ombardi] Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959).

7 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 7.

8 Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York: Routledge, 1993), 9-10.

9 See Butler, Bodies That Matter, 12.

10 Shakespeare, The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, ed. J[ohn] M[aule] Lothian and T[homas] W[allace] Craik (London: Routledge, 1975).

11 In Gender in Play (221-23), Shapiro lists eighty-one English dramas during a period from 1570 to 1642 that portray heroines in male disguise.

12 See Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Frank Wigham, "Interpretation at Court: Courtesy and the Performance-Audience Dialectic," New Literary History 14 (1983): 623-39. For the concept of performativity in Shakespeare generally, see Emily C. Bartels, "Breaking the Illusion of Being: Shakespeare and the Performance of Self," Theatre Journal 46 (1994): 171-85.

13 My argument here and elsewhere is indebted to Catherine Belsey's discussion of the play's questioning of conventional models of gendered interaction in "Disrupting Sexual Difference," 16-17.

14 See Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, "Fetishizing Gender: Constructing the Hermaphrodite in Renaissance Europe, in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. Julian Epstein and Kristina Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), 80-111.

15 Thomas Lacquer, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 8-10.

16 Weyer, Johann, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: De praestigii daemonum (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991), 345-46.

17 Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," 78.

18 Jones and Stallybrass, "Fetishizing Gender," 105-6.

19 Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," 92-93.

20 Edward Coke, quoted in Randolph Trumbach, "London's Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the Making of Modern Culture," in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt (New York: Zone, 1994), 119.

21 In her speech to the troops at Tilbury, Elizabeth states, "I have the body but of a weak and frail woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king" (The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume One, 6th ed. [New York: Norton, 1993], 999). James's romantic letters to his favorites Somerset and Villers are evidence of his homoerotic tendencies; see his Letters of King James VI and I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). In this regard, note the Renaissance popularity of the story of Edward II and his fateful attachment to Gaveston in works such as Marlowe's Edward II and Michael Drayton's Piers Gaveston (1593).

22 See Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, Cross-Dressing, Sex, and Gender (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993); Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992).

23 See Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), 212-14.

24 Jardine, Still Harping; Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women," South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 26.

25 Bullough, Crossdressing, 98.

26 Stephen Gosson, The School of Abuse, quoted in Laura Levine, "Men in Women's Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization from 1579-1642," Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 28 (1982): 131.

27 John Rainoldes, Th ' Overthrow of Stage-Playes (Middleburgh, 1599), quoted in Jardine, Still Harping, 9.

28 William Prynne, Histrio-mastix: The Player's Scourge or Actor's Tragedy (New York: Garland, 1974), 75-76.

29 See Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

30 For another dramatization of the controversy over theatrical cross-dressing, see the puppet show in the final act of Jonson's Bartholomew Fair.

31 See Ambroise Paré, Of Monsters and Prodigies, in The Workes of Ambrose Parey, trans. Thomas Johnson (London, 1634). For the eunuch controversy, see Keir Elam, "The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration," Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 1-37.

32 See Lothian and Craik's Introduction to the Arden Edition of Twelfth Night, 26-27.

33 See Rackin, "Androgyny," 58; Howard, "Crossdressing," 439.

34 Prynne, Histrio-mastix, 208-14.

35 Monique Wittig, The Straight Mind and Other Essays (Boston: Beacon, 1992), 26; see also Butler, Gender Trouble, 115.

36 Barber, Festive Comedy, 245.

37 Alan Bray, Homosexuality, 74; Jardine, "Twins," 28.

38 See James M. Saslow, "Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behavior, Identity, and Artistic Expression," in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncy, Jr. (New York: Meridian, 1989), 95.

39 See Judith C. Brown, Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986); Louis Crompton, "The Myth of Lesbian Impunity: Capital Laws from 1270-1791," in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality, ed. Salvatore J. Licata and Robert P. Peterson (New York: Haworth, 1981), 11-25.

40 For recent scholarship, see Brown, Immodest Acts; Lillian Faderman Surpassing the Love of Men (New York: Morrow, 1981) and Playing with Gender: A Renaissance Pursuit, ed. Jean R. Brink, Maryanne C. Horowitz, and Alison P. Condert (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991).

41 For an even more developed lesbian subplot in La Diana than the analogue to Twelfth Night, see the story of Selvagia and Ismenia in Book One (Jorge de Monte-mayor, A Critical Edition of Yong's Translation of George of Montemayor's Diana and Gil Polo's Enamoured Diana, ed. Judith M. Kennedy [Oxford: Clarendon, 1968]).

42 See Dale B. J. Randall, "The Troublesome and Hard Adventures in Love: An English Addition to the Bibliography of Diana," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 38 (1961): 154-58.

43 Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 121.

44 Shapiro, Gender in Play, 151-54.

45 Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 130.

46 In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981), Jacques Lacan remarks that narcissistic gratification is love's primary motivation. Comparing the processes of analysis to the interaction of lovers, he concludes that the lover turns the beloved into a subject supposed to know, someone who can answer all his questions about what he wants (267). This transference is actually undertaken by the lover as a strategy of narcissism, in which the beloved, flattered by the lover, eventually recognizes and pays attention to the beloved (253). This imaginary and narcissistic fantasy called love necessarily seeks to close off the unconscious and the lack that is desire. The motto of the lover in approaching the beloved is always "in you more than you," a phrase that summarizes this process of imaginary overestimation for purposes of avoiding desire (263).

47 See Howard, "Crossdressing," 431.

48 Butler, Bodies, 231.

49 "Despite her masculine attire and the confusion it causes in Illyria, Viola's is a properly feminine subjectivity; and this fact countervails the threat posed by her clothes and removes any possibility that she might permanently aspire to masculine privilege and prerogatives" (Howard, "Crossdressing," 432). For Howard the truly transgressive female in the play is Olivia, but she is "punished, comically but unmistakably" by her love for Viola/Cesario (432). But what characters do not fall into "abatement and low price" because of their erotic attraction in this play? Howard's reading of Twelfth Night usefully illustrates one way in which the concerns of feminism can collide with the aims of gender studies, in so far as the latter attacks power through parodic deconstruction of its categories while the former seeks to work within those categories of power by searching for women who gain masculine "privilege."

50 See Smith, Homosexual Desire, 151; Pequigney, "The Two Antonios," 207.

51 B[arry] R[ichard] Bury, "Ho-Hum, Another Work of the Devil: Buggery and Sodomy in Early Stuart England," in Historical Perspectives on Homosexuality, ed. Salvatore J. Licata and Robert P. Peterson (New York: Haworth, 1981), 69-78.

52 See Trumbach, "London's Sapphists," 133; Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 134.

53 Pequigney, "The Two Antonios," 204.

54 Alan Bray, "Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England," History Workshop Journal 29 (1990): 10-11.

55 Admittedly, one of the historian's main points is that these clues were growing more and more ambiguous at the end of the sixteenth century.

56 Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England, 74.

57 See Saslow, "Homosexuality," 94.

58 The "homoeroticization" of St. Sebastian is evident in Renaissance art and carried forward in Derek Jarman's recent film. See, for example, Antonio and Piero de Poliamolo, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (1496?), National Gallery, London.

59 Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 138; Pequigney, "The Two Antonios," 206.

60 Butler, Bodies, 237.

61 See Karen Grief, "Plays and Playing in Twelfth Night," Shakespeare Survey 34 (1981): 121-30.

62 Although Greenblatt ("Fiction and Friction") argues that the sameness is a maleness since both characters are dressed as men at the end of the play, Viola's central performance throughout the play has already shown that clothes do not necessarily make the man, that masculinity is a role played most successfully by a woman.

63 See Barbara Freedman, "Separation and Fusion in Twelfth Night" in Psychoanalytic Approaches to Literature and Film, ed. Maurice Charney and Joseph Reppen (Cranbury: Associated University Press, 1978), 96-119.

64 Butler, Gender Trouble, 34.

Source: "Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night" in Theatre Journal, Vol. 49, No. 2, May, 1997, pp. 121-41.

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