Sex and Desire The nexus of gender, desire and sexuality have long been a source of considerable interest, but no more so than in the plays of William Shakespeare. Specifically, in their original production and for some time afterwards, common practice dictated certain roles for women and men. Analysis of these roles yields interesting insights regarding the value of women and how the relative devaluing of women shaped sexual desire and normal gender roles. In this paper, I will attempt to illuminate several features of Shakespeareâ€™s Twelfth Night that have bearing on human desire.Before identifying significant features of Shakespeareâ€™s plays in general and Twelfth Night in particular that have bearing on the question of gender roles and the shaping of desire, it will important to remind ourselves about the cultural limitations for women of sixteenth century England. Callaghan reminds us that woman had no public life. Even in the home, they could rarely manifest characteristics that are not consistent with the virtues: obedience, silence, sexual chastity, piety, humility, constancy, and patience. Those virtues taught women to not think for their selves, to not be agents in their world.In fact, educationalists in this time said that women were too cognitively limited to get a full education and too likely to be led by their own emotions than to think rationally. Tears were called â€œwomenâ€™s weaponsâ€, yet, in the right situation, it was perfectly acceptable for men to cry. However, it is interesting to note that in a lot of Shakespeareâ€™s plays explore menâ€™s insecurities about women. It shows that men fear losing control. In most of the heroines of his comedies, while they might have turned to their feminine roles in the end, they achieved a type of empowerment.In general it seems clear that womenâ€™s roles were severely limited inside and outside the home. How is this domestication of women revealed in Shakespearian theatre? In the Twelfth Night? First, what is the significance of Shakespearian practice of allowing men to play the roles of women? In her criticism, Callaghan argues that Shakespeare is mocking women in Twelfth Night. She argues that Shakespeare specifically inserted a transvestite role to show that no matter what women do, they will eventually submit to a man. However, in my view, Shakespeare had none of this in mind when he placed that role in his play.He uses plot of gender confusion to cause chaos for his characters through love triangles, homosexuality, and â€œrole switching. â€ Â Â Â Second, how are we to understand Shakespeareâ€™s plot twists that problematize gender roles? For examples, Viola washes up in Illyria after a ship wreck that she thinks took her brotherâ€™s life. She discovers Orsino is the authority in the land. After this discovery, she says to the captain: Conceal me what I am, and be my aid. For such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent. Iâ€™ll serve this duke. Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.It may be worth thy pains, for I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music (1. 2, 51-56) She is saying that she wants the captain to help her pass as a man. However, she knows that she cannot fully pass as a man so she must at least pass as a eunuch. This sets off a series of events that throws the characters into multiple love triangles and gender switching. For a while Orsino has been wooing Olivia by sending her notes, tokens, and sonnets. His subjects see him as flighty, soft, and slightly feminine. However, it seems like Curio is trying to turn it into a manly game by referring to it as a â€œhuntâ€ (1. , 16). This is relevant because usually the theatrics are reserved for the women and their â€œwomen weaponsâ€. Some time after this, when Viola has been introduced as â€œCesario,â€ Orsino sends him (her) to, yet again, try to woo Olivia. However, none of them saw Olivia falling in love with Violaâ€™s masculine character. Olivia experiences a gender switch when she steps into the usually masculine role of wooer in attempt to win Cesarioâ€™s heart. Perhaps the biggest thing that would have upset a traditional structure is the fact that Olivia might actually be in love with a women.Of course, Shakespeare tries to make an excuse for this by having Olivia ignorant to Viola/Cesarioâ€™s real gender. However, in Oliviaâ€™s first encounter with Viola/Cesario she remarks upon the typical feminine qualities. In Act three, scene one Olivia says: O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful in the contempt and anger of his lip! A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon than love that would seem hid. Loveâ€™s night is noon-â€ These words allow the audience to suspect but not assume that she knows of Violaâ€™s true gender but chooses to love her anyway.In fact, her talk of guilt has the audience questioning whether or not she is feeling guilty of her homosexual feelings for another woman. Even though Shakespeare does not openly express the plot as a homosexual scenario, there is much evidence to back up that it is the case. For example, Olivia says â€œI wooâ€ when addressing Viola as Cesario. The way she speaks to Cesario mimics the contemporary traditions perfectly. The audience may see a man dressed as a girl that is pretending to be a man as Shakespeare mocking woman; However, this is not so.The fact that Viola can successfully pull off the switch is tribute to that. It canâ€™t be simple to pretend to be a man, even one that is a eunuch. It shows that she is a strong female character. All of these examples show that the play is full of strong female characters who are able to successfully switch roles. Even though Oliviaâ€™s â€œroleâ€ is switched back with the appearance of Violaâ€™s twin brother, Sebastian, she is still left with a feeling of empowerment by the experience. Shakespeare never really solves any of these issues. Rather, he lets them open and ends the play with humor, rather than confusion. Mistal
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