Disguises And Changes Of Clothing Of Twelfth Night

In William Shakespeare’s comedic masterpiece, “Twelfth Night,” the themes of mistaken identity, love triangles, and the whimsical nature of human desire converge in a whirlwind of deception facilitated by disguises and changes of clothing. Set against the backdrop of Illyria, the play unfolds as a symphony of misunderstandings and misperceptions, where characters don various disguises to manipulate situations, alter perceptions, and incite both laughter and reflection.

The use of disguises and changes of clothing is central to the plot, serving as the driving force behind much of the confusion and chaos that ensues. Viola, the protagonist, adopts the disguise of a male named Cesario, initiating a cascade of mistaken identities. As Cesario, Viola serves as the intermediary between Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, and Olivia, a countess. Her disguise allows her to navigate the realm of love unburdened by her true gender, resulting in a series of comedic situations where characters fall for individuals they believe are of a different gender.

The theme of disguise is not limited to Viola/Cesario. Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, together with Maria and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, schemes to dupe the haughty steward, Malvolio. Through a forged letter and carefully orchestrated events, they manipulate Malvolio into believing that Olivia is in love with him and desires him to wear outlandish clothing and act erratically. This comic subplot not only showcases the power of disguise but also emphasizes the arbitrary nature of societal norms and how easily perceptions can be altered.

Feste, the clown, further highlights the complexities of disguise. His role is one of both entertainer and truth-teller. He adopts different personas, playing the role of Sir Topas to interrogate Malvolio while also appearing as himself to engage in witty banter with the other characters. Feste’s ability to shift his guise showcases the multifaceted nature of identity and the blurred lines between reality and performance.

Many people in Twelfth Night assume a disguise of one kind or another. The most obvious example is Viola, who puts on the clothing of a man and makes everyone believe that she is a male.

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Olivia also disguises herself as a sister mourning the death of her brother to escape from Orsino. This helps create credibility for her refusal of not seeing any male visitors. This excuse is ridiculous because she lets Cesario in on Orsino’s behalf..

When Cesario departs, Olivia sends Malvolio after C to give him a ring to ensure he comes back. This trick is important because it makes Viola realise Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario. Shakespeare shows how malleable and self-delusional human romantic attraction can be.

Malvolio convinces himself he is a wise nobleman to conceal he’s a selfish idiot who wants to prove he’s capable of “achieving greatness”. When he angers other servants, namely Feste, Maria and Sir Toby by his attitude of self-importance, they decide to play a trick on him: show his true nature in a humiliating way in front of everyone he knows. This is an important part of the plot and makes the play amusing to watch, however it also displays certain characters’ malicious desire for vengeance and heartlessness.

Feste disguises himself as Sir Topas, a priest, to take revenge on Malvolio during his visit to ‘prison’. He pretends to believe he’s crazy to punish him but eventually takes pity and gives him a chance to explain himself to Olivia. Feste recognized they had their revenge, it was time to stop unlike Sir Toby who thought “we may carry it thus, for our pleasure and his penance” and only ended the ‘joke’ to keep his position in the household.

Sir Andrew thinks of himself as an educated gentleman worthy of marrying Olivia. Sir Toby exploits this for amusement and robs him of money. Shakespeare includes this in the play to warn spectators that not everyone has your best intentions at heart and to be careful who you make friends with. In conclusion, tricks and disguises are vital to the plot, creating confusion serving as entertainment for the audience but also as a lesson to be careful: not everything is as it seems.

The changes of clothing in the play serve as visual metaphors for transformation. Viola’s decision to cross-dress not only initiates the plot but also underscores the fluidity of identity. Her male attire allows her to explore facets of her personality otherwise suppressed as a woman, and the change in clothing symbolizes the shedding of societal expectations. Likewise, Malvolio’s shift from his normal attire to the ridiculous yellow stockings and cross-gartered fashion accentuates his metamorphosis from a rigid steward to a delusional lover. The alterations in clothing serve as outward reflections of inner shifts, adding depth and nuance to the characters’ development.

Disguises and changes of clothing also amplify the comedic elements of the play. The audience’s awareness of the disguises, coupled with the characters’ obliviousness, creates dramatic irony that leads to humorous situations. The interactions between Cesario and Olivia, who falls in love with Cesario while unaware of his true identity, are ripe with comedic tension. The use of disguises allows for moments of farce, slapstick humor, and witty wordplay that Shakespeare excels in, making “Twelfth Night” a delightful blend of laughter and insight.

Yet beneath the laughter lies a layer of reflection on the complexities of human nature. The disguises and changes of clothing serve as a lens through which Shakespeare explores the mutable nature of identity and the malleability of perception. They raise questions about the authenticity of love and attraction—is it the person or the appearance that draws one’s heart? Additionally, the play toys with the idea that appearances can be deceiving, emphasizing that true understanding often lies beneath the surface.

In conclusion, disguises and changes of clothing are pivotal to the narrative fabric of “Twelfth Night.” They create a labyrinth of deception that drives the comedic misunderstandings and complex relationships within the play. Shakespeare employs these devices not only for their comedic potential but also to delve into the multifaceted nature of identity, perception, and the transformative power of love. As the characters navigate their tangled web of disguises, Shakespeare invites the audience to contemplate the intricacies of human desire, the arbitrary nature of societal norms, and the eternal dance between appearance and reality.



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