Understanding Literature 101.16
20 November 2013
Disguise and Identity
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night deals with a complicated love triangle, which presents the reader with an understanding of the consequences of disguising the truth. Throughout the play, Viola, disguises herself as a male named Cesario after a tragic shipwreck leaves her on Illyrian land. She works for Duke Orsino, whom she ultimately falls in love with. Orsino, on the other hand, is in love with Olivia. Olivia, whose brother has recently died, rejects Orsino’s love for seven years, but at the same time falls in love with Cesario, who is actually Viola. While Viola changed her identify in order to receive a job, this disguise ultimately created a very complex love triangle in which she has to face the consequences and confusion as a result. Thus, the central idea of the consequences of disguise is accurately portrayed through Orsino’s measures in courting Olivia, Olivia’s love for Cesario, Viola’s attraction to Orsino, and the confusion when Sebastian arrives. Additionally, these ideas relate to the Zen Meditation event based on the focus of finding true identities and getting rid of stresses or disguises. Through meditation, we are constantly encouraged to embrace our inner soul, rather than putting on a differing physical front or personality. Therefore, both Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the meditation event relate to the ideas of disguise and identity.
Throughout the course of the play, Orsino attempts to grab Olivia’s attention in a number of ridiculous ways. Specifically, he uses messengers, like Cesario, in order to portray his love for Olivia. This gesture is not genuine and ultimately causes Olivia to shy away from liking Orsino. Rather, when Cesario delivers messages to Olivia, she quickly falls in love with his sensitivity and overall persona. This poses as a consequence of Viola’s disguise. Because she is not the person she says she is, she is put in the middle of a relationship as Orsino confides in her to relay messages to Olivia. At the same time, Viola is in, what many would call, an awkward situation as Olivia develops a liking for Cesario, who is, in fact, a girl. While Olivia does not know this, the love triangle becomes rather complicated. Thus, the love triangle that was created as a result of Orsino’s actions in trying to court Olivia caused several difficult situations based on Viola’s disguise. If she had not disguised her true identity, then Duke would not have confided in her, she would not have to relay messages, and Olivia would not have fallen in love with her character of Cesario.
Additionally, Viola’s disguise forced conflict upon herself based on the feelings she developed for Orsino. While she was working for him, she noticed her increasing liking towards him. Through the play, Shakespeare uses Cesario as a confidant. Essentially, Orsino’s emotions and attitudes are expressed through his act of confiding in Cesario. Orsino tells Cesario that he has “unclasp’d to thee the book even of my secret soul” (8). With this statement, it is clear that the two have a trusting and open relationship. As a result, Viola is able to understand Orsino’s sensitivity, which ultimately makes him so appealing. Orsino; however, does not know she is a girl and thus, no mutual feeling is created at this point. Later, Viola states in an aside, “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (9). This statement clearly depicts the inner conflict that Viola experiences as a result of her disguise. While she is ambitious in making Orsino fall in love with her, he still believes she is a man. Thus, he has no interest in her and only confides in Cesario in order to help him get Olivia. Therefore, as a result of Viola’s own disguise, her love for Orsino is, for the while, put on hold.
The disguise also creates a massive amount of confusion when Sebastian appears with Antonio in Act III. Antonio, a wanted man in Illyria, asks Sebastian, who is actually Cesario, for help in freeing him. Viola does not know who Antonio is and chooses not to help him. Thus, major confusion is created when Antonio thinks Sebastian is betraying him. At the same time, the real Sebastian is found and Olivia asks him to marry her thinking that he is actually Cesario. As a result of this information, Orsino was at first maddened at the idea. Because of all of this misperception, Viola’s true identity is revealed. Orsino comes to understand his true love for Viola all along. Although Orsino does realize his love for Viola and they ultimately wed, what could have been a much easier process was created into a larger and more complicated conflict. With Viola’s disguise a love triangle, which entailed many complex relationships, was created. As her true identity was revealed, the true feelings of characters were finally expressed. Orsino and Viola expressed their love for each other and Olivia realized her love for Sebastian. Thus, Viola, Orsino, Olivia, and Sebastian suffered consequences as a result of Viola’s disguise that were ultimately solved at the end of the play when Viola’s true identity was revealed.
This play and the ideas of disguises and identities relate to the Zen Meditation I attended. Zen focuses on getting rid of stresses and finding your true personality. While this is always hard for me to do, I really focused on freeing myself from stresses this particular time. With a rough and stressful week before Thanksgiving break, I realized that I was not acting like myself. I found myself, not only stressed, but also hiding my stress levels from my peers. I tried to disguise my stress by acting happy and pushing it aside. I realized that inside, I was making myself sick from not getting my stress out and not dealing with the anxiety I was feeling about quizzes, work, essays, and grades. With Zen, I was able to relieve myself from stress and just breathe for a while. Additionally, I was able to see that I was disguising my true feelings and personality for that time. If I was truly worried and stressed, I shouldn’t have held it back. Therefore, I suffered about a week of stress because I disguised what I was really feeling. Just as Viola gave up her disguise, conflicts and confusions were resolved. When I gave up this disguise I was putting on, I was able to manage my time better and express the stresses I had. With this management and expression, I was able to get through a day without feeling totally swamped from the amount of stuff I had to do or had going on.
Overall, it is clear that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and my meditation experience share the common idea of disguises vs. identities. When disguises are put on, no one is experiencing the “real deal.” When the disguises are pushed aside; however, the truth comes out and the conflicts that were created by the disguise are essentially resolved.
Throughout the semester, I learned a lot about myself not only as an English student, but also as a true member of the Loyola community. Through the participation in writing weekly blogs, I strengthened my writing and reading while I immersed myself into different activities. My participation in attending weekly events and lectures made me both more involved on campus and in my classes. I also really enjoyed the participation in the iExamens. Both of the blogs allowed me to understand my communication skills and made me more aware of my actions. I was able to see how I interact and what I could change about myself. All of these aspects of the class were really inspiring as they helped me grow as a person and student.