The Twelfth Night is a Shakespearean romantic comedy that is filled with plenty of humor and lots of deception. It is frequently read as a play about masking, about the conscious and unconscious assumption of false identities and about levels of self-knowledge and self-deception; this theme is played out prominently through Violas transsexual disguise (Kahn 43). The play is comprised of five acts and numerous scenes. However, I am only going to touch on one of these scenes in my paper. The scene I chose to write about is act V scene I. I chose this scene because it is the one that interested me the most, and I feel that it is also the scene with the most hidden meanings.
Act V scene I, in my opinion, is a very complicated scene. I am going to discuss the part of the scene just before Sebastian enters, with Viola disguised as Cesario. Viola, in this part, is surrounded by many people all of whom think she is someone other than the person she actually is. This is where Viola/Cesario speaking to Olivia protests undoubtedly her love for Orsino by saying, “After him I love, More than I love these eyes, more than my life (Twelfth Night 5.1. 134).” Olivia, after hearing this, is confused and protests to Viola that they are married by saying, “Whither, my lord? Cesario, husband, stay (Twelfth Night 5.1. 141)!” Viola/Cesario denies this and is shocked by the accusation. Olivia continues to press the issue by getting the priest to confirm the marriage. It is at this point, when Orsino hears and believes the priests confirmation of the marriage, that I feel he expresses signs of homosexuality towards Viola whom he still believes is Cesario. Orsino becomes filled with anger and jealousy towards Viola/Cesario saying, “Farewell, and take her, but direct thy feet where thou and I henceforth may never meet. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 166-167).” At some level, Cesario is a homosexual object choice for both Olivia and Orsino; at another, a heterosexual one (Kahn 44). I believe that at this part of the scene Viola/Cesario is experiencing some form of an identity crisis. Although she is a woman who has deceived everyone into believing she is a man, she is now becoming bewildered by a strange turn of events. Shes being accused of denying having known Antonio and having beaten up Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew. She is being accused of acts that she has not done and has no recollection of ever doing. The reason she denies all of these wrong doings is because her brother, Sebastian, is responsible. This casts doubt in her mind as to who she really is and what is happening.
Sebastian enters the scene and his entrance, in a way, relieves Viola of all the accusations she has endured. It was Sebastian who Antonio has been looking for; it was Sebastian who beat up Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew, and finally it was Sebastian who has married Olivia. We come to realize this when he says:
I am sorry, madam, I have hurt your kinsman:
But had it been the brother of my blood,
I must have done no less with wit and safety.
I do perceive it hath offended you:
Pardon me, sweet one, even for the vows
We made each other but so late ago. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 207-213)
Antonio! O my dear Antonio,
How have the hours rackd and torturd me,
Since I have lost thee! (Twelfth Night 5.1. 216-218)
At this point everyone is stunned not knowing who is who. In a sense, everyone feels as if they are seeing double. Its ironic since Sebastian and Viola are twins. Once Viola and Sebastian realized they were brother and sister Viola feels as though she is free to cast off her masculine disguise and let everyone know that she is really a woman as she talks about putting back on her feminine clothes or her “maiden weeds (Twelfth Night 5.1. 253).”
Karen Greif says that the recognition of identity is at first an experience involving only the reunited twins; but, as the facts of their kinship are brought forth, the circle of awareness expands to include Orsino and Olivia. They appreciate for the first time their shared folly in desiring the unobtainable and both discover true love in unexpected forms by sharing in the recognition of the twins identities (53). Sebastian then turns to Olivia in an attempt to explain exactly what was going on and he says:
So comes it, lady, you have been mistook.
But nature to her bias drew in that.
You would have been contracted to a maid;
Nor are you therein, by my life, deceivd:
You are betrothd both to a maid and man. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 257-261)
What he basically was saying was that Olivia mistook Viola for a man and almost married a female servant. Instead, she married Sebastian who will also serve her and who is a man. Natures bias is usually regarded as a heterosexual one, but the line is actually ambiguous; “natures bias (Twelfth Night 5.1. 258)” can mean that Olivia followed nature in loving a woman, for a short and perhaps necessary period, before actually marrying a man (Kahn 45). Similarly, Orsino perhaps needed to see Viola as a girlish boy before he could accept her as a real and ardent woman (Kahn 45). However, the chain of events that has brought us to this point in the play has proven to be beneficial to Olivia and Orsino. Olivias mistaken marriage has already given her the right husband, and Orsinos unconscious love for Cesario has made it clear where he is to find an adoring wife (Williams JR 43). My first impression of Olivia was to categorize her as a lesbian for falling in love with Viola/Cesario. I felt this way because although Viola was disguised as a man, she was portraying the personality of a female and thats what Olivia fell in love with. As I read on through the play, my feelings on that matter changed. By the end of the play, I felt that Viola was imitating her brothers personality and that is who Olivia really fell in love with and that is the reason she stays married to Sebastian at the end of the play. Coppelia Kahns interpretation of Viola is similar to mine. He says that Viola copes with the supposed loss of her twin brother by, in effect, becoming him; when she disguises herself as a man, she is another Sebastian, her twins twin (Kahn 42). I find Orsinos expression of love to Viola interesting. He knows that Viola loves him because as Cesario she has declared her love to him numerous times Yet Orsino says to Viola, “Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times thou never shouldst love woman like to me (Twelfth Night 5.1. 265-266).” Viola re-confirms her love for him again and Orsino decides to shift his feelings of love from Olivia to Viola. Although Orsino now knows Violas secret of being a woman, he still refers to her as Cesario, her male name, which can be seen in the last line of the play.
For so you shall be while you are a man;
But when in other habits you are seen,
Orsinos mistress, and his fancys queen. (Twelfth Night 5.1. 384-387)
This still adds some question of Orsinos sexuality. The fact that he claimed Viola as his mistress indicates a physical attraction to her, which leads me to believe that he was also attracted to her when he thought she was a man. Now he can openly express his interest and love for Viola because she is a woman and he no longer needs to suppress his true feelings.
Greif, Karen, Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Bloom.
New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publisher, 1987
Kahn, Coppelia, Choosing the Right Mate in Twelfth Night,” Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publisher, 1987
Williams, Porter JR Twentieth Century Interpretations of the Twelfth Night. Ed. Walter N King. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968
Shakespeare, William. The Twelfth Night Ed. J.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik. London: Methuen & CO. LTD, 1975