Homosexuality In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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William Shakespeare’s works, written primarily from the late eighteen hundreds to the very early sixteen hundreds, have long been the subject of academic debates and analysis. Potent with double entendres, metaphors, and social commentary, it is easy to apply queer theory to Shakespeare’s plays, notably Twelfth Night, written in 1601. Though Twelfth Night’s ending pushes its characters into traditional heterosexual romances and binary gender roles to satisfy the genre and placate conservative Elizabethan audiences, the characters in the comedy defy tradition by exploring homosexual love and expression of gender. The most apparent homosexual themes are present in the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio, who saved Sebastian from…show more content…
The question of why Olivia, after dramatically declaring her affections for Cesario, would so quickly jump to Sebastian after finding Viola’s true identity, is likely answered by the societal norms of the Elizabethan era. Cesario and Viola are two halves of one whole; by loving Cesario, Olivia loves Viola too. Upon meeting “him,” Olivia says “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit/ Do give thee five-fold blazon” (1.5.297-298). She is attracted not just to Cesario’s mannerisms, but to Viola’s beauty, which shines through her male bravado. The “actions and spirit” which Olivia refers to are Viola’s ability to converse with Olivia woman-to-woman, unbeknownst to the countess. Twelfth Night seems to present gender as a mask to be worn and taken off at will, a fluid concept that changes to suit one’s needs and emotions. By playing Cesario, Viola partly becomes this version of herself, so Olivia, by loving Cesario, has feelings for Viola by extension. When Sebastian makes his reveal, Olivia marries him for two reasons. The first is an external piece of reasoning, being that in Elizabethan comedies such as this, heterosexual pairings must happen for the play to follow the fairly strict expectations of a comedy. The second falls to Sebastian’s demeanor. Throughout the play, he demonstrates a sense…show more content…
Viola, Cesario, Olivia, and Duke Orsino together form a comedy with consistently homoerotic undertones that explores the fluidity of gender. Though queer theory is rarely explicit in works such as Shakespeare, it is critical to analyze older texts to gain a clearer picture of queer identity before modern

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