A Cross-dressing woman?

In this era, there are things you don’t expect to find. You believe that these things aren’t possible. The idea of woman cross-dressing in Shakespeare’s era is surprising for you would think that they would be under stricter laws. Woman also have less rights in England during this time period and they are “denied formal educations, the opportunity to hold office, and also guarded against speaking out too freely in fear of being labeled as a “scold.” (uidaho.edu). The idea that they are willing to cross-dress in order to prevent harassment from men and being able to live without being courted is insane.

That is probably among the reasons why Viola most likely changed her appearance to a young proper “man.” Between her wanting to figure out what is going on with the idea that she might have inheritance and the grieve of losing her brother, she dressed as a man in order to prevent too much stress. Perhaps? It is difficult to infer. One thing that we do know is that she was dressed as her dead brother – a grieving method that some people do in order to remember their deceased loved ones. We know that she is quite beautiful as a man based on how Olivia is reacting in Act III and how she comments how beautiful “Cesario” is compared to Orsino. She admitted that she cares little about Orsino in line 95, where she says, “For him, I think not on him. For his thoughts/Would they were blanks rather than filled with me.”(1820).

Whatever reason for her dressing up, we can see how much it is working for her, and not working for her. It’s working via giving her a chance to figure out the problems she sees. But it makes it worse for her because she is stuck in a love triangle – and is falling in love with Orsino who already loves Olivia.

So a question for you reader: Is the cross-dressing really helping Viola in this? Should she have even bothered – or should she just have kept in her feminine attire?

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2 thoughts on “A Cross-dressing woman?

  1. caitoconnor13

    To be honest, I think that women cross dressing as men was probably more common than we know of. I mean, just look at the story of Fa Mulan for comparison…and even that happened centuries before Shakespeare wrote this play. Even today, in a patriarchal society, the concept still stands. Men in some societies are worth more than women, and I know of specific situations where a woman who works two more days a week than her boss and makes 38% of his salary for doing almost all the same tasks.

    Being a man is less stressful; they dodge the whole virginity bullet, the concept of slut shaming, and their reputation depends on the sexuality (or lack thereof, depending on the society) of the woman. Viola’s worth automatically skyrockets and she is taken more seriously almost the minute she becomes Cesario.

  2. Kelly Colon

    good post! In my opinion, Viola’s disguise/cross-dressing has helped her more than if she had just showed up as herself. Based on what we see from the characters, I can picture Viola showing up as herself (an attractive young woman) and the men of the play (Sir Andrew, Sir Toby) being all over her. Assuming that isn’t something she wanted, it was a good idea for her to show up in disguise. Although if she had come as herself, perhaps Orsino would’ve been attracted to her? No one can say for sure but disguise and having one person fall for you is better than no disguise and what would come after that.


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