Is it difficult for Viola to maintain her Cesario disguise in Twelfth Night?

Quick answer:

Yes, keeping up her disguise as Cesario is difficult for Viola, but she perseveres in hopes of finding her brother, Sebastian. The difficulties are compounded when the young woman falls in love with Duke Orsino, whom she has sworn to serve. Viola is deeply conflicted between her own love for Orsino and her loyalty to helping him win Olivia. The disguise becomes a burden when Olivia develops a crush on Cesario and Viola falls in love with Orsino.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Twelfth Night, after being shipwrecked, Viola disguises herself as a man, using the name Cesario. She thinks it will be easier to move about the unfamiliar territory of Illyria that way than it would be as a young woman. Assuming the identity of a man also facilitates her entering the service of Duke Orsino. She did not predict that a wealthy and beautiful woman would develop a crush on the youth she is pretending to be. Maintaining this false gender identity proves difficult primarily because of the attention that this woman, Olivia, lavishes on Cesario.

Maintaining the disguise grows much more difficult when Viola develops feelings for Orsino and must keep them hidden. Cesario’s loyal service to Orsino requires him to fulfill the mission of courting Olivia for Orsino’s sake, so Viola is challenged to set her own emotions aside. An advantage, however, is the freedom that Viola enjoys as Cesario to debate ideas of love and gender with the duke, including speaking out in favor of female passion.

The complications of the disguise are intrinsically connected to the close relationship that Viola has with her brother, Sebastian. While disguised as a man, the sister is virtually identical to the brother. This strong resemblance creates a series of complications that endanger Sebastian while also leading to his betrothal to Olivia. Only when her brother is reunited with her is Viola’s dilemma resolved.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial