A plot device or just a joke?

I sometimes like to think that throughout “Twelfth Night”, Shakespeare is just entertaining the crowd with the joke that Viola is playing a boy in disguise, Caesario. Although it is of course a very useful plot device in the fact that this young page boy is receiving advances from both the Duke and the Duke’s love interest, it is also a very funny sight to imagine a young boy dressed up as a young woman, who then in turn has to pretend to be a young man in the service of the Duke. As women were not allowed to act in productions during Shakespeare’s time, I believe he made the full use of this misogynistic drawback and gave the crowd some comic relief in the form of a twice cross dressing actor.

The humor can be seen in the scenes with the Duke Orsino, when he mentions the fact that Caesario looks more like a girl than a page boy out of puberty. The audience would love this as this young male actor was ridiculed onstage for being too feminine.

A lot of Shakespeare’s plays are comedies in the fact that the dialogue is extremely witty and the audience can interpret it how they like. However, I believe Twelfth Night to be one of his more accomplished comedies, as he combines witty dialogue with some concrete physical humor. The crowd obviously found it extremely funny to see a young male actor transformed so many times onstage, and picturing it in my head I find it funny also.


One thought on “A plot device or just a joke?

  1. Courtney Ann

    It would be a funny sight within Shakespeare’s time to have seen the double transformation of the young male actor on the stage of Twelfth Night, and the challenge that arises from it from the male actor must have been stressful and interesting point of view on perceiving a female character trying to be a male character who is played by a male character. I wonder how that would go if we continued the practice of having male actors play the female roles in today’s society of theater.


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