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As You Like It And Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

1291 words - 5 pages

Shakespearean subtext has been of interest for centuries, to professional scholars and English students and Shakespeare fanatics alike. To most, the subtext is just as important as the writing itself, and this is understandable. Two plays in particular—As You Like It and Twelfth Night—rely significantly on subtext. The audience’s interpretation is based entirely on what is shown to them, including the subtext, and this is on both the playwright’s and the actors’ parts: how it is written, and how it is played. Throughout the ages, implications of homosexual desire have been a matter of dangerous controversy. In the modern world, the gay community is of course more tolerated, and becoming more and more accepted as the struggle for equality continues. In William Shakespeare’s time, there was no such thing as the concept of homosexuality (or sodomy, as it was called back then) being acceptable in any sense—except, perhaps, in comedy. Shakespeare exploits this opportunity quite successfully in the “transvestite comedies” aforementioned, if it is at all indicated by the attention received for the blatant plot twists such as cross-dressing and lovers confused about whom it is that they actually love, and the more subtle, perhaps not even intentional but certainly open-for-interpretation exploration into human nature regarding sexual and/or romantic attraction. Within these themes are distinct similarities and dissimilarities—the former being other women falling in love with the gender-bent characters, and there being happy endings albeit with certain twists; the latter being the specific differences in the relationship dynamic between Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night and everyone else’s dynamics.
In both As You Like It (AYLI) and Twelfth Night, there is a female character who discards of her femininity in favor of donning a pair of pants for her own safety, first and foremost. Rosalind in AYLI has been banished by her uncle Duke Frederick and is undercover as youth Ganymede, and Viola in Twelfth Night becomes known as Cesario since she has been recently shipwrecked and needs to protect herself and have the same opportunities as men do in order to survive in safety. However, a neon sign of a similarity can be found when one compares Phoebe’s attraction to Ganymede (AYLI) and Olivia’s to Cesario (Twelfth Night). Phoebe said to Ganymede, “Sweet youth, I pray you chide a year together. I had rather heard you chide than this man [Silvius] woo” (AYLI, 3.5). Ganymede, who was actually Rosalind, in the end has to make Phoebe accept Silvius—who was infatuated with Phoebe, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day—so that Rosalind can tie up every loose end by the time she reveals to Orlando that she was Ganymede the entire time. Similarly, Olivia found herself besotted with Cesario, who was in fact Viola, and then by the end is married to Viola’s twin brother Sebastian. All of this would be very funny to the audience in Shakespeare’s day, not that it is...

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