Consider the comical effect of the gender-bending caused by Viola‘s masquerade as a young man, “Cesario,” who is later confused with her own (supposedly dead) twin brother, Sebastian. (Given that women’s parts in Shakespeare’s time were originally played by young boys, the gender-bending gets even more complex.) How does the gender-bending within the play add to our picture of what the Renaissance and early seventeenth century saw as “appropriate” behavior for women? (For a similar case of gender-bending, compare Rosalind in As You Like It.)
Gender-bending is almost seen as a common thing for women to do in Shakespeare’s play. I have always been curious how the female manages to disguise herself so perfectly that she can go unnoticed in front of everyone. (Refer to page 3-4)
Being written between the late 1599 and early 1602, it is possible to suggest that Shakespeare may have pioneered gender-bending and the starting of opera, or that he might have been influenced by the idea of gender-bending and hence applied it in his plays.
Shakespeare enjoyed writing passionate plays about young lovers, but, after a while, the formula became exhausted and the Bard was forced to dig deeper, creatively speaking. Twelfth Night is an example of a Shakespearean love tale with a slight twist to keep things interesting. This play was the “Tootsie” of its time. Twelfth Night takes the audience on a gender-bending journey, while maintaining all the elements of true love throughout. At one point, Olivia wears a disguise in order to take on the traditionally male role of wooing her romantic interest, Cesario, who is also disguised. Although Olivia flirts with Cesario and tells him that his “scorn” only reveals his hidden love, she is mistaken. Her misinterpretation of Cesario’s manner is one of many problems contained within the drama.
Taken from: http://www.123helpme.com/preview.asp?id=13353
Moreover, in Venice there were no laws prohibiting women from singing in public. But by 1637 the fashion for the castrato voice was so firmly entrenched that the main male character was usually set as a soprano or mezzo anyway. In an ironic turnaround, sometimes women had to take these roles, if there were no adequate castrati available. (http://www.fathom.com/course/10701021/session4.html).
The information above tells much of the artistic nature of the Venetians during the 17th century. Very much opposed to the conservative nature of the Chinese across the globe, they dared to try everything for the sake of art, to make their plays successful. In today’s society, as the world opens up it thinking, issues like homosexuality and gay marriages are no longer taboo. I personally find the thought appalling, that Man should actually be interfering with nature. Perhaps, it’s the starting of opera and gender-bending that has led to this problem 4 centuries later.
In the name of humour, I do not really mind seeing people crossdressing, but I feel that the media should not condone it too much. This issue of crossdressing can be paralleled to Singapore’s very own ‘ Liang Xi Mei’, who is acted by Jack Neo a few years ago. I admit to enjoying a few laughs over his/her antics, but it should not be brought any further than showing it as a light-hearted comedy.
Everything said and done, I certainly still look forward to studying more into Twelfth Night and draw pleasure from it. I do not condemn gender-bending because it does provide much comic relief, but I would not wish for it to be brought further and evolve into something that everyone emulates some day.