Twelfth Night, or What You Will Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent.
For women are as roses, whose fair flower,
Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour. (2.4.42-45)
Here, he tells "Cesario" to marry a young woman, because a woman's beauty (like a flower) fades just as quickly as a husband's sexual desire for his wife (especially once he's "deflowered" or, slept with her).
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be. (2.2.31-32)
Here, Viola blames Olivia's desire for "Cesario" on women's "frailty." The idea is that women are emotionally and morally "frail" because their soft bodies (what they "are made of") are also "frail."
We don't know about you, but this doesn't seem to square with the play's women characters. Saucy Maria, who comes up with the genius plan to trick Malvolio certainly isn't "frail." Neither is Olivia, who sees what she wants and goes after it. As for Viola, she's sharp, witty, and resourceful.
There is no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention. (2.4.103-106)
Throughout the play, Duke Orsino makes several contradictory speeches about the way women love. Here, he claims that women are incapable of "passion." In fact, he implies that women are physically incapable of love – their bodies are too weak to sustain the "beating" of a heart and they are also too small to contain big love.
Critic Gail Kern Paster (the queen of Shakespeare and bodily functions) has shown that women were thought of as "leaky vessels" in the 16th century. (You'll know what that means in a second.) Here, Orsino's use of the term "retention" not only implies that Olivia is incontinent (can't control her bladder) but also suggests that she can't hold or "retain" any passionate feeling because it would seep or spill out of her, like urine. TMI? Sorry. Shakespeare wrote it, not us.