“Conceal me what I am, and be my aid/ For such disguise as haply shall become/ The form of my intent.” (7). Twelfth Night is a play that is steeped in theatricality and the adoption of roles. Several characters adopt disguises to better their own position in the world around them. Here, Viola chooses to disguise herself as a man so that she can enter into Duke Orsino’s court and mourn for her brother’s presumed death in peace. This action of the adoption of disguise and therefore the denial of self, offer some form of release for characters. By being someone else rather than whom they truly are, they can find an escape from their problems, something that many people do in our world today. They believe that they can find something greater or something they want by being someone other than who they truly are.
Malvolio would fit into this above category. Even though he is tricked into changing his character, he still willingly adopts a new persona in order to “return” Olivia’s love. The ironic thing about Malvolio’s new persona is that it makes him appear insane to all other characters that are not in on the prank. This could perhaps be a suggestion on Shakespeare’s part that the adoption of new character is an insane thing to do. However, I’m not entirely sure this is completely what Shakespeare meant. He clearly placed value on acting and portraying roles well and some of his most memorable characters are characters who could act like someone else. Hamlet could act insane and Viola could act as a man. The reason that Malvolio appears insane is because he is acting in a role that is not suited for him.
While Viola acts very well it is not without difficulty. She admits in the first half of the play, “I would be loath to cast/ Away my speech; for, besides that it is excellently well/ penned, I have taken great pains to con it.” (19). For Viola, being a different person takes an immense amount of effort. The denial of her true self and her true nature is an extremely taxing event. In the denial of herself she also learns a great deal about herself. Shakespeare could be suggesting that adopting a new persona could be a great learning experience for individuals. However, it is not a permanent fix and should only be used in trying to learn more about oneself.
We may not realize it but we adopt new roles every day. Whether we are conforming to social standards or meeting a new person, we are constantly acting as different people. I believe on one level that community service can cause us to act like different people but in a very positive way. In my service with Habitat for Humanity, I knew nothing about construction or the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. I went out of my comfort zone in an attempt to learn something new about myself and do some good along the way. I was wary of appearing like I didn’t know what I was doing so I acted like I did. The end result was that I made a mistake constructing a window frame that took me around two hours to put together and I had to do it completely over again. While I was embarrassed by this experience I ended up learning how to actually construct a window frame.
This was only one of the minimal learning experiences that I gained from Habitat. I was initially overwhelmed by the state of the neighborhood but by adopting a more friendly and outgoing personality I was able to meet new people and to understand what a powerful community they had. By adopting a new role, I learned something now only about myself but about the people around me. In this sense, acting helped me learn something about the world around me.