What You Wear Is(n’t) What You Are

In the final act of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare leaves the audience hanging in a strange yet purposeful way. Orsino and Cesario realize their love for one another, yet cannot be wed until Cesario get’s back “Viola’s” real clothes.

Viola specifically tells Orsino to wait to show their love:

“If nothing lets to make us happy both

But this my masculine usurp’d attire,

Do not embrace me till each circumstance

Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump

That I am Viola: which to confirm”

Surely Cesario would be able to put on any dress to “become” a woman again, yet Shakespeare had led us to believe that this is impossible.

This can be interpreted in that Orsino and Viola both do not want to give Cesario up, because once placing female clothing back on, it will change their relationship, or how society perceives their relationship to be, forever. Cesario, in men’s clothing, can act differently than any other woman could and this is the person that Orsino fell in love with.

Shakespeare purposefully made Cesario their own person. Instead of Viola simply taking over her (assumed dead) brother’s persona as another Sebastian, she is her own “man”. In the modern day movie adaptation, we see they took the easy way out and had the main character Viola decide to poorly pretend to be her own brother, instead of any other man. Sure, for the movie this made it much simpler for her to highjack an identity and go to college as someone else, but as an adaptation of Twelfth Night, it loses part of the real play’s true meaning. Also, it probably would have been weird for Viola to assume her (dead) brother’s identity; to be called his name and be constantly reminded of her loss.

Orsino also wants to have both Viola and Cesario. Cesario was Orsino’s best friend, and since, during the time of the play it would be inappropriate for a man to love another man, Orsino would want Cesario to be a mistress dressed as Viola, while truly loving her male counterpart. I think that Shakespeare was trying to say that no matter what you look like, love is blind and takes on different forms.


4 thoughts on “What You Wear Is(n’t) What You Are

  1. stanisck1

    You have made key points about this topic and how Shakespear talks about it. You have used brilliant ideas that I agree on. The idea that Love is Blind is a beautiful phase to use at the end of your post and it ties in with the play – and Shakespeare view extremely well. It’s an idea that I see possible based on all the homosexual “friendships” and “loves’ that we see throughout the works we have recently just covered.

  2. Karen Barba

    I feel like once Cesario becomes Viola, everyone around her will definitely treat her different just because in that time period, men and women were treated differently because of gender. I wonder if the relationship between Orsino and the now Viola will change and not be as successful. After all, Orsino got along very well with Cesario because he was boy so he could entrust a lot of things to him.

  3. cmstewart024

    I am not sure I entirely agree with you that Shakespeare was making the statement that love is blind. There is a definitive history in Shakespeare’s past and in his plays of homosexuality. This, obviously, an issue in his time that was not widely spoken of or accepted, therefore Shakespeare attempted to slip his opinions of the matter into his works. I feel that Orsino might have had more of a romantic desire for Cesario as he is more comfortable around the males than the opposite sex. With Olivia, Orsino cannot be bothered to go and woo her himself; he either is too afraid or simply does not want to because she is not who he really wants. He never tries to tell Olivia what his feelings are for her and just tries to buy her affection. With that, I think a case could be made in the idea that Orsino had feelings for Cesario that were more than platonic. And his character, a useful too for Shakespeare to make a societal statement.

  4. Alex Verso

    I have mixed feelings about the whole “clothes make you who you are,” discussion. Like I mentioned in class, from personal experience I know what it is like to be judged by your clothing. Being a student athlete, I often wear my uniform to class, and my classmates know instantly that I play softball. Sometimes when I wear my “teacher” clothes to the athletic building, I get weird looks, followed by looks of realization because at first, my fellow athletes and coaches do not recognize me when I am out of uniform, wearing makeup, and have my hair done. The fact that I have an identical twin has problems that are self explanatory. Sometimes the attention is welcomed, sometimes it is a hassle, as it was for Viola when she was Cesario. When she is changed back to Viola, the story ends as if Cesario never really existed and everyone can go about their business, marrying who they want, and celebrating…except for Malvolio. I’m not sure I agree with the statement that love is blind either, but the use of disguises definitely hinder’s the views of the characters towards one another.


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