What distinguishes men from women in Twelfth Night?

Expert Answers

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

Truth be told: nobody's a hero, nobody's perfect, and everyone is infatuated. There aren't any real differences between the characters that are owed to gender; differences in motive, however, play a key role. Viola and Sebastian are twins, so in some ways they are similar, bound by blood. Because they look similar, Olivia ends up mistaking one for the other late in the play, and Sebastian pledges to marry her after just meeting her. Sebastian is a lost soul; he simply wants to be reunited with his sister and to figure out his place in the new world. Viola is in love with Orsino but can't express her love because she's pretending to be a man. She wants to tell Orsino how she feels and keep Olivia from falling deeper in love with her. Orsino desperately wants Olivia to marry him, but, naturally, she won't. She takes a liking to "Cesario" instead, who is actually Viola in disguise. Olivia wants Cesario/Sebastian, but does everything she can to keep Orsino at bay. All of this, of course, gets resolved, but not before chaos ensues. Malvolio is probably the one character in the play who walks away empty handed and cast out; life doesn't treat him very well in the play, nor do the people in Olivia's house. None of the men are perfect matches for the wives they choose; Olivia barely knows the man she's marrying, and Orsino is convinced he is in love with another woman right up until Viola reveals herself.

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