Sunday, October 4, 2009

Liberation and Imprisonment in Androgyny

Concealment in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will offers both liberation as well as imprisonment, consolation and grief. When Viola assumes the identity of a young man, Cesario, her character enters the realm of androgyny, and is not clearly marked or distinguished as man or woman. She must act as a man, yet is still a woman. Her duality leads peripheral characters to be drawn to her whether openly or not, consciously or subconsciously. Samuel Coleridge said that “a great mind must be androgynous;” Cesario is intriguing because, possessing both feminine and masculine qualities has more to offer humanly.

Olivia and Orsino are both in love with Cesario, but why? As a woman, Viola possesses such qualities often attributed to women, yet as a “man,” she acquires other qualities typically belonging to men. If masculinity and femininity were the halves to a more perfect whole, then Cesario is more excellent for possessing qualities of both. Viola’s disguise immediately offers her the protection she needs in order to be safe in her new environment, but it also grants her an insider position otherwise denied. She enters Duke Orsino’s court and sees a side of him she would never have seen as a woman. It is this insider position which leads Viola, the woman, to fall in love with Orsino. Conversely, it is the ease with which Orsino carries out his relationship with Cesario that leads to his love of the young man. When the Duke learns of the supposed marriage between Olivia and Cesario, the reader cannot deny that the reason for his outrage and anger is because of the painful blow of losing his friend, Cesario, to Olivia (64-65). Cesario, possessing both masculine and feminine qualities shares a kind of brotherly love with Orsino as well as a more human bond; Olivia too is taken with Cesario for the very same reasons. Olivia falls in love with Cesario’s masculine exterior, but more importantly, her feminine interior. Viola’s feminine nature bleeds into her masculine counterpart; this conflation enhances the figure of Cesario and attracts both women and men, both Olivia and Orsino. His sexes bleed into one another and offer the best kind of companionship for both Olivia and Orsino.

But, with this liberation and freedom from the limits of one sex, there is the imprisonment of secrecy, the potential for entrapment. Cesario must uphold his disguise. He cannot expose himself to be Viola, a woman in order to dissuade Olivia from loving him, nor can he reveal his actual womanhood to Orsino so that he may love her as a woman rather than as a man. In privacy, Viola reflects on the evils of concealment: “Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness, Wherein the pregnant enemy does much…” (19-20) Even though there is no doubt that Orsino loves Cesario, the conventions of marriage and the role he is expected to fill as Duke lead him to seek out a wife. His subconscious loves Cesario, but his conscious self does not recognize it or allow him to pursue it. We do, however, gain insight into his true feelings upon the announcement of Olivia’s marriage to Cesario.

With men and women, there is, of course, an overlapping of qualities. Men and women share particular aspects of their sexes, and there is a more general and human domain under which both fall more so than that of gender. While, for example, gentleness or nurturing may be typically attributed to women, men possess these qualities as well; furthermore, it is considered a positive thing if they do. So whether man or woman, there must be a dormant or recessive side to sexuality or gender type in the individual as well. This unexpressed side is sparked in Viola out of necessity, but proves to cushion the blow of the loss of her other half, her lost brother Sebastian. In his absence, Viola must recreate that missing part of herself. The twins are united in the end; they are whole again- representing the coming together of both the masculine and feminine counterparts of the individual. The character Cesario is a physical embodiment or representation of a more fully human, human being. Men and women will demonstrate or express which ever sex they are, but a more androgynous spirit may lay underneath, ever-present.

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