"No hay esperanza para los que son como tú"
APPEARANCE AND REALITY IN TWELFTH NIGHT
Many essays and critical commentaries have been written about Twelfth Night pointing out the virtues of this comedy and the technique(s) used by Shakespeare to write it or, like Samuel Johnson, they suggest, “[it] fails to produce the proper instruction required in the drama, as it exhibits not just picture of life.” I am not going to say that it is the best play ever written but I dare to affirm that it is a good imitation of life and this statement is one of the main supports of this present work.
At first sight, in this play, we find a love story with a not very complicated plot except, perhaps, by the entanglements created by Viola, Maria and Sir Toby, which is resolved easily. However, appearances may be misleading: this play is much more than that and we become aware of it when we analyze it deeply. It is not a superficial work as it seems but it deals with an essential characteristic of human beings: most of the times, we are not what we appear to be. “Pretending” is the key word for this play: a Duke who makes us believe that he is in love with a woman, a woman who affirms she does not want to get married, a page who pretends to be a boy, a buffoon who pretends to be a fool, and so on. Perhaps, the only one who is “real” or does not fake is Sebastian. He is a man and as such he acts. Thanks to him everything is discovered. Disguise is the main device of these “actors” into “actors”.
However, as XXI century readers, we may be deceived by the way in which characters are presented. Olivia’s first apparition leaves us with an image of power and independency, a woman with rights and owner of her own destiny:
Take the fool away (I. v. 37)
This order exemplifies her position of authority. In the same way, Maria’s display of wit and the cleverness that Viola is capable of showing while she wears man’s clothes give us the impression that women have here a new role where they are privileged and more important than men, where the latter are mocked by female characters. But we would be too naïve if we considered the possibility of having a ‘feminist’ Shakespeare and an Elizabethan ‘feminist’ play. As many other critics have said, it is only a way to create the necessary chaotic structure for a comedy and, in the end, all these roles will be restored when women adopt their socially established role.
It seems that Shakespeare played with the public’s perceptions of reality since he made a boy act as both a boy and a woman who acts as a boy. He took a symbol, men’s clothes, and used to create an illusion. I could not say whether Elizabethan spectators got confused or not, but at least, in the play, society did. Nowadays, with the new genres that have appeared, we can easily admit the possibility of having a woman dressed like a man. However, although it would not be something new for us, this device works because the message of the play is there: we, human beings, live in an illusion and we accept what we see how we see it, and this is a universal truth. It does not matter what you are but what you seem to be. The ease with which the characters accept Viola firstly as a man and then as a woman, suggests that, for society, physical appearance is more important than real self. Roles are above personality and you can be whatever you want if you act as such. Shakespeare denounces this in a funny way, in a comedy. But it is not the writer who judges this, spectators does it when they recognize themselves. It is not the character who acknowledges his/her faults and changes as Kenneth Muir says: “At the end, all characters are brought to self-knowledge. Orsino is made to realize the difference between love and sentimentality; Olivia is cured by her passion for Cesario and her marriage to Sebastian; Sir Andrew realizes the brutal truth about his exploitation by Sir Toby…” and so on.
From a psychological point of view, most of the characters are examples of narcissism and/or human dualism. All of them live by ideals about themselves and the other. In this present paper, we will analyze some examples. From the very beginning, Orsino presents himself as the ‘ideal’ lover who is in love with a woman:
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, not withstanding thy capacity,
Receiveth as the sea. Nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is fantastical. (I.i.9-15)
... A ver que sucede con este desvarío.
Friday, February 13, 2004
"No hay esperanza para los que son como tú"