Gender Identity and Alternative Sexuality

Gender Identity and Alternative Sexuality


Gender Roles and Identity

The play Twelfth Night is one that exemplifies the brilliance and genius of Shakespear in articulating the question of gender and gender roles. Shakespear is one of the most renowned minds; his literary legacy is celebrated and revered to date.

Part of his genius was his optimism in addressing issues that society as at then deemed to be taboo. As such, the Twelfth night is no exception to this rule. Shakespear sort to address the question of gender, gender roles and gender identity in the Twelfth Night. The play opens( Act 1) with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, expressing his love for Olivia; Meanwhile, the shipwrecked Viola who is committed to joining the Duke’s service disguises herself as a man because the law did not allow women to join the service. Viola successfully achieves her mission under the disguise of a man named Cesario, her goal is to woo Olivia from the Duke. As the play continues, Viola’s plan hits a stumbling block after Cesario falls in love with the Duke, and Olivia falls in love with Cesario, leading to an awkward love triangle.

Throughout the  Twelfth night (book)Shakespear successfully takes the audience through a gender-bending journey fusing it with love and the element of surprise. Judging from Olivia’s attraction stems from the more feminine characteristics of Cesario. Cesario has a “beautiful scorn:” and an “angry lip” (1237) both of which are characteristics of a female. Olivia’s description of her new found love leads the audience to the conclusion that she may have privy information that Cesario is female, despite of this knowledge Olivia chose to love him anyway.

Based on Olivia’s description of Cesarios beauty, from both encounters seem to be that of a woman. However, she does not question Olivia’s gender. Additionally, Olivia is seen to maidenhood, and Olivia asserts that Cesario is perfectly placed to understand the maidenhood, a fact that points to Olivia entertaining the idea of being a lesbian. “wit nor reason” (1254) can hide her passion. The interpretation of this is that Olivia would love Cesario even if it went against logic, as the same-sex couple would be at the time of Shakespear.

The bending of gender roles in the Twelfth night (play Act 4)sheds light on the role of the sexes that today’s society has begun to question. While questioning gender roles sounds taboo even in today’s society, it is quite common for people to examine the line defining the divide between male and female. It is a result of this questioning that today’s society is dealing with issues of same-sex marriage and the ethical question of sex change.

Indeed, Shakespeare is likely the first author who sorts to address this issue and successfully did it through the character of Viola, “a young girl who was struggling to find her identity and place in society after the death of her brother.” (1243) Based on the character of Viola, she successfully put merit to the stereotype that women are better equipped to handle domestic issues than men, her meticulous attention to detail was spot on as compared to her male counterparts.

The definition of Gender

During the Elizabethan age, the definition of gender granted dominance to men than females. However, the definition by Shakespear was informed by the model of the Greek Physician Gallen, who argued that male and female sexual organs were structurally similar. Based on this description, it is safe to conclude that the societal imposed gender roles had no merit because women were not weaker than men,

Gender as Performance

During the time of Shakespeare, female performers were banned from the English stage. All of the play’s characters were male-be they male or female. The structure of the play was extremely moving that the audience would suspend their disbelief over the actual gender identity of the actors.

Sex and Gender in the Twelfth Night

Societal limitations on sex dictate the gender of an individual, the gender of an individual dictates the roles assigned to the individual. England in the 16th century placed massive limitations on women. Women had no public life; their virtue were restricted to obedience, silence, sexual chastity, piety, humanity, and patience. These societal virtues robbed women of their right to be independent minded. More so, at the time the cognitive limitation limited women from getting an education, making them vulnerable to being led by emotions.


The play Twelfth night casts light upon societal misgivings that have plagued the development of women. The limitations and expectations placed on gender only serve to drive us away from achieving our true potential. Indeed, the sex of a person should never be used as a justification for any bias.

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