Viola: a Pure Heart Disguised in Drab Clothes

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Kady
Words 1569
Pages 7
Kady Franklin
Final Paper
Shakespeare I

Viola: A Pure Heart Disguised in Drab Clothes
In a time when women were not even allowed to portray themselves on stage, Shakespeare often incorporates female characters that cross-dress as men into his comedies. These women disguise themselves as men in order to deceive other characters and accomplish their own tasks, yet this act was a serious crime during the time period and was socially unacceptable. The character of Viola in Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night serves as an ideological tool to question the cultural discourse and contempt for women that cross-dressed in the Renaissance time period.
As is the norm with most of Shakespeare’s heroines, Viola is a nearly faultless character that is very likable throughout the entire play. While the audience may be confused or turned off by her decision to dress as a man, it is easy to write-off because it is the basis for the entire plot of the play. After being shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Viola decides that she wants to serve the Countess Olivia, but finds it impossible. Instead, she decides to serve the Duke Orsino, and she must disguise herself as a boy in order to do this. Thus begins Viola’s second life as a young servant named Cesario. However, it should not be so easy to write-off this decision to cross-dress, and if the reader looks deeper into the implications behind this then they might be able to understand the cultural discourse of the times a little better. In his article “Cross-dressing, the Theater and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England”, Jean Howard comments at one point that Renaissance plays that included cross-dressing “do not in any direct way constitute "comments" on the cross­ dressing debates. The plays are not topical in that way, and in employing cross-dressing motifs they are using a staple of comic…...

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