Twelfth the reader is first introduced to Antonio, who

   

Twelfth
Night is a
romantic comedy written by William Shakespeare around the early 1600’s, as an
entertainment for the holiday of the Twelfth Night. It is a play that discusses
issues that are incredibly sensitive, even by today’s standards. Homosexuality
is the basis of a significant amount of deliberation in this day and age, However,
Shakespeare wrote this work in the early seventeenth century, considering the
topic of homosexual yearnings through humor and wit. While there is no specific
evidence of Shakespeare’s personal opinions on the matter, his dealing with
homosexuality in this play, especially through the relationship between Antonio
and Sebastian, Viola (claiming to be Cesario) and Duke Orsino, and Olivia and
Viola, is definite indication of his candidness to the topic. In medieval Europe,
being gay was not just frowned upon but was a crime punishable by law, as well.

Despite writing in the 1600’s, Shakespeare understood and appreciated the tension
that social views placed on homosexuals at the time. In the play, he gives as
much respect to the homosexual relationships as to the heterosexual ones.

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The first instance of a homosexual relationship
in Twelfth Night is between Antonio
and Sebastian. Antonio, a sailor, falls in love with Sebastian, a nobleman,
whom Antonio saved from a shipwreck. However, Antonio’s affection only brings
him despair and sadness, and Sebastian, who is straight, and is in a
relationship with Olivia, views Antonio’s intimate offers merely as signals of
friendship. When the reader is first introduced to Antonio, who has recently
saved Sebastian, it is obvious that Antonio is in love with Sebastian; however,
he cannot bring himself to say it, as admission to homosexuality in that time
period would be synonymous with death. Antonio still attempts to make plays at
Sebastian, even offering to be his servant as Sebastian expresses to him that
he must leave him: “If you will
not murder me for my love, let me/ be your servant” (2.1.34-35). Antonio’s
relationship with Sebastian is completely undermined because he does not wish
to express his sexual orientation openly. As the play progresses, Shakespeare
produces more indication of Antonio’s affection for Sebastian. The reader
witnesses the scene in which Antonio mistakes Viola, dressed up as a man, for
Sebastian. As she is being beleaguered by another man, Antonio protects Viola,
only to be reprimanded by Orsino’s guards. As Antonio asks Viola for his purse
back–in the previous scene out of his love for Sebastian, Antonio gives him all
his money in his purse–in order to post bail, Viola, who has never met Antonio,
denies having ever received a purse. This causes Antonio to feel betrayed by
this–in his eyes–beautiful young man whom he loves. “Do not tempt my misery, /
Lest that it make me so unsound a man/As to upbraid you with those kindnesses/That
I have done for you” (3.4.360-63). Antonio’s emotions and affection for
Sebastian ultimately lead to his own demise as he is eventually imprisoned and
loses the entirety of his wealth.

Duke Orsino and Viola display
homosexual tendencies, as well, however their relationship only becomes open to
the rest of the world as it is revealed that Cesario is of the opposite sex.

Viola, who is masked as a man, has feelings for the Duke, and unlike with
Antonio and Sebastian, the emotions are reciprocated. Throughout the play,
blatant hints exist regarding Orsino’s feelings for Cesario; however, these
feelings are never made clear until the final act, during Act V, when Orsino
realizes that Cesario has actually been disguised, and is Viola. He states: “Pursue
him, and entreat him to a peace. / He hath not told us of the captain yet. /
When that is known, and golden time convents, / A solemn combination shall be
made / Of our dear souls. Meantime, sweet sister, / We will not part from
hence. Cesario, come/ For so you shall be while you are a man; / But when in
other habits you are seen, / Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen”
(5.1.367-375). Due to the swapping of genders, it is unclear of who Duke Orsino
is truly attracted to, and therefore his sexual preferences are unclear. Orsino
had been drawn to Cesario during the play, but was apprehensive about social
stigma. And once he discovered that Cesario was really Viola, a female, it gave
him societal approval to be attracted to Cesario without penalty

The third and final couple to
present homosexual inclinations is Viola and Olivia. Olivia is attracted to
Viola as she pretends to be Cesario. He is sent to Olivia by the Duke to aide
in convincing Olivia to love Orsino. Olivia has decided against men for a few
years as a mourning period for the passing of her brother. Yet, she manages to
pick up affection for the eunuch, Cesario, who seems to be fairly preadolescent
as his voice has not dropped yet and he has no facial hair. In the beginning
act, Olivia asserts: “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and
spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon: not too fast: soft, soft!/ Unless the
master were the man. How now!/ Even
so quickly may one catch the plague (1.5.263-66). Olivia makes it obvious that
she is attracted to Cesario’s physical appearance. The fact that Olivia desires
Cesario for his womanly qualities cannot be refuted. At the end of the day, she
seems happy that she did not marry Cesario, or Viola for that matter; however,
that does not counter all of her affection for Viola she had during Twelfth Night.

The three couples portray distinct
forms of homosexuality throughout Twelfth
Night. Sebastian and Antonio exhibit a fairly fresh, ardent type of
affection. Antonio obviously loves Sebastian with deep passion, and because of
this he is willing to support Sebastian in any way possible. Duke Orsino has a
clear love for Cesario; however, he is uncomfortable because Cesario is a man.

It is only afterwards, when Cesario reveals her true sex, that he is content to
convey his true emotions. The third couple of Olivia and Cesario show that
Olivia is more attracted to the more feminine physique of Viola as opposed to
the masculine attributes of the Duke. Through discussing the subject of
homoeroticism with comedy, Shakespeare is allowed to explore what was a very controversial
topic at the time in depth. Given that during medieval England his society was
not at all forgiving of homosexuality, Shakespeare truly took a leap of faith
in forging this play, which revolves around three gay couples. Shakespeare and
his works were truly beyond his time!

 

 

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