How are they separated and reunited in the course of the play?

Published by Jeannie R. Ferrell

Nov 17, 2022


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Please choose one of the options below
A. Twelfth Night explores various forms of “queer” gender and sexual difference. For instance, Viola spends most of the play dressed as a young man, Cesario. Cesario is described as boy who is not quite a man and who has feminine features. Orsino loves Olivia but also becomes very close to Cesario. Olivia falls in love with Cesario (who is actually Viola). Antonio and Sebastian also have an intimate relationship. In other words, the play seems to explore different forms of male-female, male-male, and female-female desire as well as gender transitivity (non-binary gender). Some readers have felt that the end of the play “contains” or “shuts down” these queer possibilities with its focus on marriage. Marriage is often regarded a sign of what we call “heteronormativity”—male-female monogamy as the dominant, valued, social norm. And at the end of the play, three sets of characters have married or will get married: Olivia/Sebastian, Orsino/Viola, Sir Toby/Maria. In this paper, use evidence from the play’s final scene to argue against the claim that the conclusion of the comedy is completely or successfully heteronormative. In other words, despite the marriages, show that the kinds of queer possibilities explored throughout the play are still present at its ending.
B. In this essay, compare/contrast the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night to Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. Be sure to come up with a specific thesis that expresses your view about the most significant similarity or difference between these two male-male relationships. What do we learn about either relationship by comparing to the other one? Some things to consider: For each couple, how long have these men known each other? What kinds of differences (of age, status, wealth, profession, anything else) inform their relationship? What kind of interest do they show in marriage/women? How are they separated and reunited in the course of the play? Each Antonio remains unmarried at the end of his play. Does his friend’s marriage necessarily mean that each Antonio has “lost” or will remain divided from his friend?
C. Women cross-dress in Shakespeare for different reasons and with different effects. In the plays we have read, three women cross-dress: Viola in Twelfth Night, Jessica and Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Choose two or three of these women to compare/contrast in terms of their cross-dressing experiences. Some things to consider: What motivates each woman to dress as a man? Is her cross-dressing a secret or known to others? How is the cross-dressed woman treated while dressed as a man? What can she do while dressed as a man? How does she feel about being cross-dressed, i.e., does she enjoy it, not enjoy it, feel empowered, feel disempowered, etc. What kinds of erotic opportunities are made available to each woman through cross-dressing?
D. Imagine that you are an avid theater-goer living in a small community with a single theater company that produces only one Shakespeare play a year. This year the company is planning to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which you have already seen. Instead, you are eager to see a performance of one of our plays (Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice). Write a letter to the director of the company persuading him or her to stage one of our plays on the grounds that the play presents fascinating insights into queer gender or sexuality. In 4-5 pages, use specific evidence from the play to make that argument. You might want to argue as well that the play’s depiction of gender or sexual queerness speaks to our contemporary moment and would appeal to audiences. To prove your point, you should do close analysis of the language of the play. The overall idea here is that your analysis of queerness in the play will be so compelling that the director will decide to stage the play because people will flock from miles around to see it!


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