Twelfth Night, or What You Will
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.
Be you his eunuch, and your mute I'll be:
When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see. (1.2.10)
Viola's high-pitched voice could potentially expose her as a woman when she disguises herself as a boy. The solution? Pretend to be a singing eunuch (a castrated man – if the genitals are removed before puberty, the voice remains high-pitched, which was pleasing to many 16th-century music lovers). What really interests us about this passage, however, is the way the sea captain plays with the idea of bodily mutilation when he says he'll be Viola's "mute" (one who is unable to "blab" if his tongue has been removed). He also implies that his eyes should be put out as punishment if he exposes Viola's secret, which is that she never has been castrated.
Dear lad, believe it;
For they shall yet belie thy happy years,
That say thou art a man: Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part. (1.4.5)
Orsino's sensual description of "Cesario's" mouth ("lip") throat ("small pipe"), and voice ("maiden's organ") is made even more provocative because the Duke describes a very attractive and androgynous boy actor, who is playing the role of a young woman, who is cross-dressed as a boy. The passage is also an erotic description of the anatomical features of female genitalia.
In a famous book called Shakespearean Negotiations, Stephen Greenblatt points to this passage as evidence that "Orsino nicely captures the gender confusion in an unintentionally ironic description of his young page." In other words, Orsino isn't exactly aware of it, but his description reveals that "Cesario's" sex appeal is a combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics. The point? Androgyny is attractive.
Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for
a boy; as a squash is before 'tis a peascod, or a
cooling when 'tis almost an apple: 'tis with him
in standing water, between boy and man. (1.5.7)
This is one of our favorite quotes. Here, Malvolio implies that "Cesario" isn't quite ripe enough to be a "man." He compares "him" to a "squash" (an undeveloped peapod) and a "codling" (an unripe apple) in his attempt to explain away "Cesario's" androgynous good looks. Here, Malvolio attributes "Cesario's" seemingly undeveloped body to prepubescent youthfulness.
History Snack: Elizabethans often lumped young boys into the same category as girls and women. In fact, boys wore dresses until "breeching" age, when they were allowed to wear breeches (pants), go to school, and talk shop with their fathers and older boys.