Friday, September 21, 2018

Gender switching In Shakespeare

An issue that has intrigued me for some time is gender switching in Shakespeare’s plays. As everyone knows, since women could not appear on the Elizabethan stage, the female roles were played by adolescent boy actors. An additional complication occurred when the male playing a woman switched back to a male: the so-called double-disguise gambit. 
Of the several examples possibly the most interesting is Viola aka Cesario in Twelfth Night. Her cross dressing enables Viola to fulfill several male roles, such as acting as a messenger between Orsino and Olivia, as well as serving as 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 simply allows “time" to untangle the plot. 
Viola's persistence in transvestism until her betrothal in the final scene of the play has fostered a discussion of the possibly homoerotic relationship between Viola and Orsino.
Having a male actor play Viola enhanced the impression of androgyny and sexual ambiguity. In keeping with today’s concerns some modern scholars believe that Twelfth Night, with the added confusion of male actors and Viola's deception, addresses gender issues with particular urgency They also hold, more dubiously, that the depiction of gender in Twelfth Night reflects the era's pseudo-scientific theory that females are simply imperfect males.
Famously, Judith Butler once held that sexual orientation was highly malleable in the way that on arising each morning one decides what clothes to wear. The attraction of further exploring this theme is its contemporary nature. For me, though, that is a signal that caution is required.


Post a Comment

<< Home