Examining Viola's Character in Twelfth Night
"I may not be a lion, but I am a lion's cub, and I have a lion's heart" . These words are said by one of the most celebrated and authoritative women in the 16th century Elizabeth I. Even though the authority was at woman's hands at that time, a dominant woman was unnatural in the society itself. The presence of such a powerful female figure creates an interesting situation for dramatists and playwrights in terms of depicting women's status at that time. By using the psychological concept ,liminality; I am going to examine Viola's character with referring to her two main parts in her life: her private life as Viola and her public life as Ceaserio , her speech in both two parts and the authority of the society.
The liminality it can be defined as a psychological states when a character wavers between two worlds. The character's life is both destructive and creative while one identity dies and another is born. Thomas Coryat , English traveller , wrote in his Coryat's Crudities in 1611, a travelogue ,about his experience in Venice "I saw women acte, a thing that I never saw before, though I have heard that it hath beene sometimes used in London". In the 16th century, women were not allowed to act on the stage. If they have done so, they would have been scorned by society and considered to be lewd and immoral. Women at court ;however, performing in private performances for Elizabeth and her guests. Therefore, in such a public space like a theater boys or young men acted the women's parts.
The uncertainty of the sexual identity was one of Elizabethan stereotypes. Thus, performing twelfth night could double the humor by letting a boy play viola's role disguised as a boy as well as causing sexual ambiguity on the stage. Furthermore, the boy players' clothes on the stage indicate the role of the characters they were playing. For example , if a character was wearing velvets, furs, silks or lace would be immediately recognized as a member of the Upper Class. But if he was wearing a cheap fabric such as Cottons and taffeta, he would indicate a much lower status.
The role of male actors in the theater brings into account women's role in the society itself as well as contradicts women's cross dressing in the society . In 16th century, women were subservient to their fathers, brothers, or guardian and subsequently to their husbands. Their s reputation is protected by them. Their role is to be fit for homemaking and child-bearing and ;moreover to accept her lesser status. If a woman was marked dressing as a male she will be punished and scorned by the society. These conventions in the theater and in the society contributes to the development of Viola's character as female who finds herself alone in an unknown place.
As Viola's sexual ambiguity deceives other characters , her state of mind is uncertain. She is between...