“Twelfth Night; or, What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1601 or 1602 as a Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season…
…Viola is not alone among Shakespeare’s cross-dressing heroines; in Shakespeare’s theatre, convention dictated that adolescent boys play the roles of female characters, creating humour in the multiplicity of disguise found in a female character who for a while pretended at masculinity. Her cross dressing enables Viola to fulfill usually male roles, such as acting as a messenger between Orsino and Olivia, as well as being Orsino’s confidant. She does not, however, use her disguise to enable her to intervene directly in the plot (unlike other Shakespearean heroines such as Rosalind in As You Like It and Portia in The Merchant of Venice), remaining someone who allows “Time” to untangle the plot. Viola’s persistence in transvestism through her betrothal in the final scene of the play often engenders a discussion of the possibly homoerotic relationship between Viola and Orsino. Her impassioned speech to Orsino, in which she describes an imaginary sister who “sat like patience on a monument, / Smiling at grief” for her love, likewise causes many critics to consider Viola’s attitude of suffering in her love as a sign of the perceived weakness of the feminine.
As the very nature of Twelfth Night explores gender identity and sexual attraction, having a male actor play Viola enhanced the impression of androgyny and sexual ambiguity. Some modern scholars believe that Twelfth Night, with the added confusion of male actors and Viola’s deception, addresses gender issues “with particular immediacy”. They also accept that the depiction of gender in Twelfth Night stems from the era’s prevalent scientific theory that females are simply imperfect males. This belief explains the almost indistinguishable differences between the sexes reflected in the casting and characters of Twelfth Night…”
From Taylor & Francis Online:
” “Patience on a Monument: Prophetic Time in Shakespeare, Fuseli, and Michelangelo”, in Political Theology (Volume 19, 2018 – Issue 7) by Julia Reinhard Lupton
This essay shows how a political–theological reading of Twelfth Night yields a literary criticism alert to the injurious biases of inveterate prejudice and unequal power while seeking within the uneven status landscapes of Shakespearean drama and Biblical narrative signs of cosmopolitan hospitality and elastic virtue practices of attention and care.
Julia Reinhard Lupton is professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, where she has taught since 1989. She is the author or co-author of five books on Shakespeare, including Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life, Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life, and Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology. She is a former Guggenheim Fellow and a former Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America.”