Twelfth Night: Viola

Shakespeare and drag? We knew he could think outside of the box, but who could have guessed he had such a unique sense of humor? Casts the ending to Romeo and Juliet in a whole new light, if you think about it (but maybe you shouldn't)

AuthorShakespeare - William Shakespeare
British LiteratureShakespeare
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureBritish Literature
Shakespeare
ThemesLove

Transcript

00:27

has been shipwrecked on the island of Illyria <<uh-leer-ee-uh>>.

00:31

Well... almost. She puts on a man's clothes and calls herself Cesario <<suh-zar-ee-oh>>.

00:35

She never actually does the hula.

00:38

So... why did Shakespeare think that it wasn't such a drag for one of his characters to...

00:43

go drag?

00:45

What point was he trying to get across with all this cross-dressing?

00:48

Well... when Viola entered the service of Duke Orsino, disguised as Cesario, she ended

00:52

up spending a lot of time talking with the duke.

00:57

Maybe Shakespeare has Viola pretend to be a man because that sets the drama of Orsino's

01:01

story in motion. See, not only does Viola fall in love with the duke...

01:06

...but he unwittingly has his good buddy Cesario go to a young lady named Olivia to profess

01:12

love on his behalf.

01:14

Olivia promptly falls head over heels for Cesario, who, of course, is actually a girl.

01:23

But maybe it wasn't so much about the demands of the story. Was Shakespeare simply interested

01:27

in the gender dynamics of the Elizabethan age?

01:32

During his time, women didn't act in the theater. Instead, the character of Viola would have

01:36

been played by a boy...

01:37

...a boy playing a girl who's pretending to be a boy.

01:40

Wrap your head around that one, Tootsie. It could be that Shakespeare just wanted to

01:45

explore the idea of gender as a fluid part of our identity, rather than as a set of rules

01:51

imposed on us by society.

01:54

After all, Viola doesn't pretend to be Cesario forever.

01:57

Ultimately, her twin brother, Sebastian, marries Olivia, after Olivia mistakes him for Cesario.

02:02

This forces Cesario to reveal that he is, in fact, a chick named Viola. Now that Olivia's

02:10

no longer in the picture, Duke Orsino decides to marry his former best friend.

02:14

So what was Billy Shakes' main reason for writing this... transgender-bender?

02:18

Did he set out to use cross-dressing as a dramatic tool?

02:24

Did he want to provide us with a window into Elizabethan gender dynamics?

02:29

Or was he making a statement about love... that it's more about what you've got between

02:33

your ears than what you've got... between your legs?

02:37

Shmoop amongst yourselves.