How is disguise utilized in Twelfth Night?

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In Twelfth Night, a zany, gender-bending comedy, disguise is used for comic purposes when Viola disguises herself as Cesario and Feste disguises himself as a priest. Shakespeare, however, also uses these disguises to raise deeper questions about the nature of identity.

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After she is shipwrecked off the shores of Illyria, Viola disguises herself as Cesario, a young man, and becomes a servant of Duke Orsino. Shakespeare uses this disguise to fire off a series of comic mishaps. The duke sends Cesario to woo Olivia for him, thinking someone young might...

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have more success than he has. Olivia, however, falls in love with Viola/Cesario, while Viola/Cesario falls in love with the duke. This gender-bending central plot sets the play's tone of zany, madcap comedy.

In a parallel plot, Malvolio is tricked into attempting to cross class lines when he is persuaded to woo Olivia in a crazy way. Olivia thinks he has actually gone crazy and has him locked up. Sir Toby convinces Feste to disguise himself as a priest and visit Malvolio so that Sir Toby can carry off a mock exorcism. Feste agrees to this deception.

On one level, disguise is used for comic purposes. It raises laughs, largely because it puts the audience in the superior position. Shakespeare employs liberal doses of dramatic irony, which is when audiences know what characters in a play do not. We know about the characters' disguises and therefore can laugh at the confusion that they cause.

But Shakespeare has a deeper purpose. In his gender-bending depiction of Viola/Cesario, he raises profound questions about what it means to be male or female. Does our essential nature change when we change our gender presentation? Do people fall in love with a person's gender or with a person's soul? Shakespeare suggests in the play that gender is simply a costume we put on and that, in the end, who we are is something that goes far deeper.

This same question is raised when Feste agrees to disguise himself as a priest. He says:

I would I were the first that ever dissembled [lied] in such a gown.

By this he means that too many priests pretend to be holy by putting on the outer garments of the priesthood. In a seemingly light comedy, this, with Viola's disguise, raises questions about the nature of self and the damage disguises can cause.

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Discuss the function of disguise in the play Twelfth Night.

In Shakespeare's romantic comedy Twelfth Night, Viola, a young woman and the protagonist of the play, goes in disguise as Cesario, a young man.

The disguise is intended to protect Viola and allow her to search for her brother, Sebastian, in Illyria, the country on the coast of the Adriatic Sea where they've been shipwrecked and separated. The disguise is meant to help Viola to make her way in a male-dominated society.

VIOLA. Who governs here?

CAPTAIN. A noble duke, in nature
As in name. ...

VIOLA. Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke ... (1.2.24–25, 56–58)

Shakespeare uses this same device and reasoning in As You Like It. Rosalind, the protagonist, is ordered by her uncle, Duke Frederick, to leave his dukedom. Rosalind's cousin, Celia, suggests that they go to the Forest of Arden to be with Rosalind's father, Duke Senior, who has also been banished.

ROSALIND. Why, whither shall we go?

CELIA. To seek my uncle in the Forest of Arden.

ROSALIND. Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far?
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.

CELIA. I’ll put myself in poor and mean attire,
And with a kind of umber smirch my face.
The like do you. So shall we pass along
And never stir assailants.

ROSALIND Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man? ... (1.3.112–123)

The theme of a woman making her way in a male-dominated society also occurs in The Merchant of Venice. Portia, a wealthy heiress, disguises herself as a male lawyer in order to defend the merchant, Antonio, against the money-lender, Shylock.

In Twelfth Night, Viola, as Cesario, finds employment with Duke Orsino, who orders Cesario to woo the Lady Olivia on the Duke's behalf.

It's during her service to Orsino that Viola realizes that her disguise can also lead to unfortunate consequences. Instead of falling in love with Orsino, Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Olivia uses the excuse of allowing Cesario to woo her on Orsino's behalf to woo Cesario herself.

VIOLA. ... She loves me, sure ...
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness ...
[M]y master [Orsino] loves her [Olivia] 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 man,
My state is desperate for my master's love;
As I am woman,—now alas the day!—
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time! thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie! (2.2.24–40)

In As You Like It, a similar consequence arises. Once in the Forest of Arden, Rosalind meets Orlando, a young man with whom she fell in love before she was banished by Duke Frederick. Now disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind chooses not to reveal herself to him, and, as Ganymede, she convinces Orlando that Ganymede can teach him how to woo Rosalind properly and win her for his wife.

Rosalind, as Ganymede, also helps Silvius, a shepherd, pursue his love for a local countrywoman, Phebe. Unfortunately, Phebe disdains Silvius, and she falls in love with Ganymede instead.

ROSALIND. [as Ganymede] ... I pray you, do not fall in love with me,
For I am falser than vows made in wine. (3.5.77–78)

Complications naturally ensue, which, as in Twelfth Night, are eventually resolved. Those who are in disguise reveal their true selves. Merry mix-ups are straightened out, order is restored, and everyone—except Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Silvius in As You Like It—live happily ever after.

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Write an in-depth explanation about the function of disguise in Twelfth Night.

At the beginning of Twelfth Night, Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario when she finds herself marooned in the foreign land of Illyria. She does this for the standard reasons common to Shakespeare's cross-dressing heroines: to protect herself from sexual predators and to give herself more opportunities to support herself that she would be denied as a woman. However, once Viola starts working for Duke Orsino, her disguise takes on further complications, raising questions about the nature of identity.

Viola's disguise complicates her love life: she yearns for Orsino, but as Cesario she must pretend not to feel as she does. Instead, she is told to woo Olivia in Orsino's stead and gains Olivia's romantic affection for her pains. She becomes trapped in her disguise, which threatens to swallow up her original Viola identity and destroy her hopes for romantic union with Orsino.

Other characters don disguises as well. For example, Feste dresses as a priest coming to visit the "mad" Malvolio when Sir Toby and Maria lock him up. This is part of the ploy to convince Malvolio he is going crazy and does not realize it, to erode his sense of identity as a sane person. Like Viola's Cesario identity, Feste gains power when he puts on the priest disguise, almost as though clothes matter more than what is inside a person when it comes to social respect. This carries over into love as well when Olivia marries Sebastian, believing he is Cesario, then does not regret her choice when the truth is revealed. In Twelfth Night, the extensive use of disguise suggests identity in this world lays more in how society perceives one's identity than anything else.

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