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Gender Trouble in the “Twelfth Night” (Essay Sample)

The topic of "Gender Trouble in the 'Twelfth Night'" refers to the exploration and examination of the ways in which gender roles and expectations are represented and subverted in Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night." The term "gender trouble" is often used to describe the questioning and challenging of traditional gender norms and stereotypes. In this context, the topic delves into how the characters in the play, particularly Viola and Olivia, navigate and subvert societal expectations of gender through their actions and interactions. It also examines how the play uses comedy to comment on and critique societal norms surrounding gender. source..
Name Institution Course Date Gender Trouble in the “Twelfth Night” The ambiguous theme of gender relations and gender role are frequently observed within most of William Shakespeare’s works such as “As You Like It,” “Taming of the Shrew” and “The Merchant of Venice.” However, this concept is more prevalent in Shakespeare’s infamous yet controversial “Twelfth Night.” The emergence of queer studies in academia content has seen the rereading of this influential work, making it one of the major textual sources when the discussing the homoerotic representation and interpretive conclusions that such Renaissance compositions made regarding the same-sex attraction. The relationship between Viola (as Cesario) and Olivia, as well as Antonia and Sebastian, are the most fertile grounds to study the notion on gender inquiry; as they reveal that the fixed distinctions between male or female and homosexual or heterosexual are not as absolute or rigid as previously thought y the society. The essay will go ahead to discuss the gender trouble that is rampant throughout the “Twelfth Night” using consultations from works by Judith Butler and Casey Charles to make an in-depth analysis. Gender identity is indeed a huge topic in the Twelfth Night, as the play brilliantly illustrates that gender is merely a socially constructed identity that can generally be regarded as a “performative” ideology (Butler). In simple terms, gender can be performed and impersonated from male to female and vice versa by using the voice, mannerisms, and cross-dressing of costumes. Many scholars have largely explored this theme, particularly in relation with the profession as a writer and actor that Shakespeare played in the Elizabethan era; times that represented transvestite stage of theatres as all-male play companies cross dressed the men to perform women roles. The Twelfth Night focuses on the potential complexity of gender, with the author including numerous instances where other play characters refer to Cesario as a womanish man. For instance, Orsino observes the unmanly body characteristics that Cesario (Viola) had, he says; “Thy small pipe, Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative of a woman’s part… (Act 1, scene 4).” This humorous conjecture suggests that gender identity is something that can be influenced based on the manner a person acts in, rather than based on the genitalia one was born with. It is along this line of thought that Casey Charles argued that Twelfth Night was centrally focused on demonstrating how gender relations or sexual attraction is a theme that is rarely categorical. In his article titled “Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night,” Charles inquires on the queer relationships seen in the play, primarily focusing on the drama between the cross-dressing Viola/Cesario and Countess Olivia (Charles). Indeed in Shakespeare’s masterpiece play, Viola experiences firsthand the amount of influence that gender identity had in the manner other men and women treated one in the conventional society of the Elizabethan era. At the beginning of the play when Viola is shipwrecked in the land of Illyria, she must adapt with the circumstances and survive in this foreign environment. After considering her options, Viola decides to enlist to the service of the charismatic Duke Orsino where she discards her female gown and smokescreens her gender under the guise of a male page. The masculine costumes along with Viola’s uncanny appearance to her twin brother Sebastian proves to be an adequate disguise as it convinces or confuses numerous characters including Antonio, Olivia, Feste, and Sir Andrew. Unlike Sir Andrew and Feste whose confusion was quite harmless and served for amusement; the implications, or rather the gender trouble, that Antonio and Olivia experienced were much graver. First off Antonio outrightly mistook Viola for his beloved love interest, Sebastian, which left him feeling dejected due to the abandonment and betrayal. In contrast, when the real Sebastian shows up, Countess Olivia confuses him for her dear Cesario and ends up getting married to an entirely different person; in some sense, he was the perfect stranger (Wilber). The similarities between these twins are so eerie that as they reunite during the play in later stages of the acts, the astonished Orsino can’t hold himself from subconsciously uttering: One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, A natural perspective, that is and is not. (5.1.214-215) Such a comment coupled with the weird fact that the name Viola had not been revealed before this scene allows Shakespeare to create a situation that perfectly illustrates the queer inquiries within the concept of gender identity. If Sebastian and Viola are so similar that all the characters easily interchange and mistake them for the other, then it could be theorized that an individual may in actuality have two sides (Sennett); one that is feminine and another masculine, but of the same self. Charles insists queer readings drawn from the Twelfth Night such as in the relationship between Olivia and Viola, Sebastian and Antonio as well as among Orsino and his page is what eventually establishes gender trouble or same-sex attraction as the dominant theme of the play. According to him, what makes the relationship between gender and performance mainly complicated within this play off the Elizabethan era is that on stage, the character of Viola is portrayed by a male actor; who enacts a cross-dressing female disguising herself a young male (Charles). This has led to many critics and enthusiasts alike tellingly discussing the lesbian eroticism that is apparent within the entire play, particularly in the first three acts. In the recent article “Desire and Anxiety: The Circulation of the Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama” by Valerie Traub, the author acknowledged the presence of this lesbian ambiance or overtone that radiated from scenes with Viola and Olivia; which she expressively terms as the “multiple erotic investments.” However, after careful and ground-breaking research on the notion of gender trouble within Twelfth Night, she warns that Viola’s investment towards her homoerotic relationship with the Countess had not been adequately celebrated in the play (Traub). This leads to the conclusion that this play was less conformable or open-minded with regards to conspicuously representing the fluid circulation of desires between the main characters in comparison to other plays like “As You Like It.” Regardless, this theme of the play neither functions as a less complicated promotion of the contemporary context of sexual orientation nor does it serve a more traditional perspective; instead, it functions as a channel to dramatize the sexuality foundations that are socially constructed concerning gender identity. On the other hand, Judith Butler’s critique concerning the queer theory that there exist fixed identities of gender based on the genitalia differences is a significant consultant model when interpreting the occurrences of erotic attraction among same-sex in Twelfth Night. In her acclaimed ground-breaking book titled “Gender Trouble” of 1990, Butler introduced revolutionary ideas regarding the relations among gender and sex as well as the suggestion of gender as a performative concept (Butler). She believed that there was a distinction between sex and gender where one is a born-with category while the other is acquired through social-cultural interactions or practices; which varies with the context of an era as well as the societal and political dynamics that governed it. It is here that she developed the infamous performative theory of gender which aimed to establish the procedure through which a person’s identity as well as the claim that identity is not manifested through innate essence, rather as a result of behaviors and actions (performance) within the society. This literary translates to the presumption that repetition of daily actions, gestures, behaviors, vocal utterances, and dress codes as well as strictly adhering to certain taboos or prohibitions will all end up producing an identity that is perceived to be essential for either the masculine or feminine gender. She from the onset introduces the idea of performativity by stating that: “…gender proves to be a performance that constitutes the identity it is purported to be. In this sense gende...
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