The Purpose Of Disguise In Twelfth Night

1149 words - 5 pages

Theme of Disguise in Twelfth Night

The notion of disguise is very important theme within Twelfth Night.  From my point of view I feel that the crux of the play is primarily based on this concept.  Indeed "there's something in it that is deceivable" summarizes this point precisely.  Disguise runs like a thread through the play from start to end and holds it all together just as tightly as thread would fabric.  Yet, paradoxically as the plot progresses there are many problems, deceptions and illusions, which provide a comment on human behavior and creating the needed escape of comedy.

The place of women within the theatre is well known, that being that they had no place within the stage.  Women's parts were played by young men in Shakespeare's day, so that the audience would have found sophisticated in Viola's part:  a boy dressing up as a woman who, in the play disguises herself as a man.

The first example of the use of disguise in the Twelfth Night is Viola's disguise as Cesario.  As aforementioned this notion is central to the plot.  I think it is clearly evident that the fluctuation in attitude to the dual role and the situations and tribulations imposed upon the character Viola/Cesario, ends up creating a better understanding of both sexes and thus, allows Viola to have a better understanding of Orsino.  Viola learns whilst acting the role of Cesario, which she has to be quick on her feet and defend the probing questions and statements as to her love and others love for her.  As well as this she acquires the skill to bide her time, until the time was right, lest she reveal her true self or intentions.  However, there is also the use of emotional disguise as well as the physical:  Olivia thinks she really wants to cut herself off from the world and Viola pretends she wants Orsino to marry someone else.

Also, perhaps Viola is in disguise herself.  She can see through other people's disguises or flaws, that not even they are able to spot.  Some characters are deceived about their true nature.  An example of this is that Orsino sees himself becoming "one self same king" of Olivia's "sweet perfections", fulfilling her sexual desire, thought and feeling "liver, brain and heart".  He naively believes that he is in love with Olivia when he has never really conversed with her.

Another example is the way in which Olivia adopts the pretence of mourning and the puritanical Malvolio is tricked into the role of Olivia's suitor and becomes a smiling courtier.

 There are many examples of disguise and Viola / Cesarios disguise alone enables her to work for Orsino as a messenger, it causes Olivia to fall in love with her and it causes both of them to disguise their feelings from each other.  From "I prithee tell me what thou think'st of me" to "Would it be better, madam, than I am?" Viola and Olivia spin in a web of doubt about disguised identity and emotions.

The disguise also prevents Viola from expressing her love for Orsino, it...

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