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In William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Viola conceals herself under the guise of a male persona in order to join Court Orsino’s court after surviving a shipwreck that separates her from her twin brother. During the course of the play, she discovers a lot about herself, gender identity and sexuality. From the very beginning, the audience learns that Viola is a very intelligent character from the way she intuitively knows that being a single woman in a patriarchal society as well as a foreign land is a dangerous position to be in, so she disguises herself as a male under the name of Cesario. It can be interpreted that she also crossdresses in order to keep the memory of her brother, Sebastian, alive since she believes that he drowned. Until the climax of the play when she’s reunited with Sebastian and everyone’s true identity is revealed, Viola wrestles with an internal conflict because of the duality she has had to adopt. When Orsino expresses, “No woman’s heart/ So big, to hold so much; they lack retention” (II, 4, 105-106) and women are incapable of the passion that men feel displays to Viola that men and women have certain ideas of each other that she discovers to be false. She enters an entirely new world of sexual-politics when she “becomes” a man, and this gives her a greater insight into gender roles and how others interact with each other One of the major themes explored in this play is the nature of gender and sexual orientation which goes hand-in-hand with the theme of self-discovery. When Viola goes to deliver Orsino’s message of love to Olivia, her disguise as a young male deceives Olivia into falling in love with her. It can be argued that Olivia and Viola are, in certain aspects, mirror images of each other; they are both women bred with gentle, feminine traits, they are the only member of their family left (or at least believe to be in Viola’s case), they are both mourning the death of their brother, and not to mention that their names are essentially made up the same letters rearranged. In this conflict of misplaced love, Viola learns more about the ambiguity of sexuality. She also begins to grasp the notion that gender identity and sexuality is something more fluid that it is solid. Gender can be imitated through one’s actions and clothing and sexual orientation isn’t always firm. The fact that in the Elizabethan era, all performing roles (male and female) were played by male actors is an interesting example of this. A male actor pretended to be a woman pretending to be a man, which adds another layer to the uncertainty and ambiguity of gender. In Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, his character Viola discovers more about herself as well as gender identity and sexuality throughout the plot while disguising herself as a man. This places her in a situation which helps her explore the principles that determine the relationships between the sexes and the idea that sexual orientation isn’t fixed.

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