Knowing that in the time Shakespeare’s plays were performed, every role of every character would have been played by a man, I found it interesting to evaluate the character of Viola. So in the play, Viola would have been a man in real life, dressing up like a woman (Viola), disguised as a man (Cesario). This idea of having on many, or multiple masks is an idea that Shakespeare crafted throughout his long list of plays. I believe that Shakespeare is really pushing the audiences comfortability to its’ limits with Twelfth Night in virtually every character.
Looking at each main character, you can see that every romantic relationship is distorted in one way or another: Viola is disguised as a man, when she is actually a woman, in love with a man, Orsino, who thinks that she is a young boy. To get even more complicated, the audience would be seeing a man, playing the role of a woman, disguised as a man, who is in love with another man, Orsino. Furthermore, Orsino is in love with a woman, Olivia, who is not in love with him, but rather in love with Viola, because she is pretty, and dressed like a man. To complicate again, Olivia would have been a man, playing the role of a woman, who is then in love with a woman who is disguised as a man. Where the audience would see a man, dressed like a woman (Olivia), who is in love with a woman, disguised as a man, who is in real life a man (the character of Viola).
The point of all of this complication is what? I think that Shakespeare was trying to say something ground breaking to his audience. I think that his idea is to love who ever you want, regardless of gender. For Shakespeare, love is as mysterious and unknowable as sexuality. One can not choose who they love, nor can one choose their sexuality; surely one could spend more time with someone, or try to get to know that someone one better, and eventually love that person. But as we see love in this play, it is love at first sight. Love that can not be suppressed or hidden. Shakespeare presents love as something as uncontrollable as one’s sexuality.
I think that Shakespeare is one of the artists in history that truly forced people to look at life though different lenses and perspectives, showing people that narrow-mindedness is not something we as people should continue to practice. I believe that as time goes on, and we progress in our thinking as humans, we have begun to realize how insignificant the differences we have with one another are, and how our similarities shine brighter than our differences. It would be naive to think that humans don’t see the world in terms of race, gender, sexuality or religious views. Everyday we are faced with people of other beliefs, ethnicities, and sexual preferences; but that does not mean that we are so different from one another. I think Shakespeare is asking: Why do we focus on the differences when we have so much in common? I think that sharing our similarities and interests is far more important than our physical differences.
By Shakespeare showing his audiences and exposing them to men playing women, pretending to be men, who then fall in love with other women shows the unawareness of humans, and for lack of a better term their stupidity. Sometimes I wonder if no one had ever said that a woman shouldn’t love a woman, and a man shouldn’t love a man, would anyone really have a problem with it? Is it not natural to love those who you feel you love, as is to eat foods you prefer, and not ones you don’t? There is no way of telling if a person is going to like spinach, or carrots, or peas. But for some reason, some people love them and some people hate them. For me, this is similar to sexual preference. I believe that people are born who they are, and surely there are some environmental circumstances that may alter or shift one’s thinking about a certain topic or idea, but in the end, everyone will take to what they prefer. I think that Shakespeare is saying just that in the first two acts of Twelfth Night by exposing the idea that not every relationship fits into this neat little box of man and wife. Sometimes there are variations and exceptions; similarly to how I, as a baby, loved and continue to love spinach.