Shakespeare writes his lady into a plot where, once again, she must disguise herself as a man, only to fall in love and be unable to declare it due to her newly assumed gender.
Of course, the plot of toys but briefly with the queerness of Shakespeare having a relationship with a person who dresses as a man, the plot ultimately reinforces heteronormativity (that is, traditional expectations of gender and sexuality) in a way that Because female performers were banned from the English stage in Shakespeare’s day, all of a play’s characters – be they male, female, or somewhere in between – were played by men.
When Olivia falls for Cesario, she does so in the full belief of the servant’s masculinity.
As famously declared by the gender theorist Judith Butler, ‘there is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender …
, a heartbroken Shakespeare bids farewell to his lover and immortalises her in a new play that he begins to write as the film credits roll.
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When he first meets her, she is dressed as a boy as she is determined to act upon the Elizabethan stage despite its ban on female performers.
Cesario is both beloved of Olivia and infatuated with Orsino: gender fluidity, then, serves as the play’s central dramatic irony.
While it is true that straightness (either in terms of sexual orientation or gender identity) as a category did not fully exist in Shakespeare’s day, some were outspoken against what would now be described as cross-dressing.
The prolific pamphleteer Philip Stubbes writes in his our apparell was given as a sign distinctive, to discern betwixt sexe and sexe, and therefore one to wear the apparell of an other sex, is to participate with the same and to adulterate the veritie of his own kind., where Aristophanes describes the origin of love.
Originally, he says, humans were conjoined, with each pair making a complete person.