Gender Equality in Twelfth Night

Essay by akhirschyCollege, UndergraduateA, October 2014

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Allison Hirschy

Dr. Eleni Siatra


28 February 2014

Gender Equality in Twelfth Night

In William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night gender plays a large role in the overall plot. The play involves the confusion fueled by the disguise of the character of Viola, as well as the unlimited freedom given to her. In the purest form of comedy and entertainment, Shakespeare uses Twelfth Night to actually challenge the idea of gender and social norms by showing that women were just as capable of fulfilling a more masculine position. Because society was essentially patriarchal during William Shakespeare's time, it is important to examine that the play Twelfth Night uses the character of Viola and her relationship with Orsino as an example of gender equality.

One must remember that William Shakespeare wrote the famous comedy Twelfth Night around 1601, a time in England when social mobility was limited depending on who you were.

The Elizabethan period is one that is noted for its broad scale of change- economically, demographically and socially (Suzuki 31). Suzuki, author of the article "Gender, Class, and Social Order in Late Elizabethan Drama" notes that women held two specific roles within Elizabethan society, "her legal position- in potestate maritorum, under the absolute power of her husband-and her actual situation, which was to be in charge of the house" (31). In fact, women often fell victim to being harshly criticized for their appearance and choice of attire, whether it be dressing promiscuously, cross-dressing, or dressing above their class.

In reference to the gender-gap within Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, cross-dressing was not only considered to be a transgression, but a threat to the social norms of a society that was "structured upon strict principles of hierarchy and subordination" (Howard 418). During this time if women cross-dressed as men, they were called...