Disguise And Mistaken Identity in Twelfth Night
Shakespeare’s use of disguise and mistaken identity is significant to the plot of Twelfth Night as it is the thread that runs through the entire fabric of the play; and it is instrumental in providing confusion, misunderstanding and ultimately love almost all of the characters in this play either carry out some sort of an identity deception or are deceived by someone else doing much of the same thing.
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. The whole play is set into motion by Viola’s success disguised as Cesario. Through her close contact with Orsino, as his servant, She is given the opportunity to fall in love with him; as a result of serving his requests, she comes into contact with Olivia and becomes the object of her love. This disguise causes great sexual confusion, as a bizarre love triangle results in which Viola is in love with Orsino, with the male identity ho loves Olivia- who loves Cesario; the male identity that voila assumes. Thus, by dressing up his protagonist in male garments, Shakespeare shows how malleable and self-delusional human romantic attraction can be
Another character in disguise is Malvolio, who dresses oddly (in crossed garters and yellow stockings) in the hope of winning Olivia. In his case, the change of clothing suggests his belief that altering his wardrobe can lead to an alteration of his social status. when he dreams of being Olivia’s husband, he imagines himself, above all in a different set of clothes, suggesting that class and clothing are inextricably linked. Later, after Malvolio has been declared mad and has been confined to a dark room, Feste, pretending to be the fictional priest, Sir Topas, in order to deceive Malvolio puts on a disguise even though Malvolio will not be able to see him since the room is so dark. For Feste, the disguise makes the man in order be Sir Topas, he must look like Sir Topas.
The instances of mistaken identity are related to the prevalence of disguise in play, as viola’s male clothing leads to her mistaken for her brother, Sebastian, and vice versa. When Sebastian finally arrives in Illyria, the romantic plot is first complicated even more, and then finally resolved. Viola can identify herself, and win Orsino, and Olivia can finally marry the ‘men’ (at least the image of the man) she loves so deeply. In the subplot, mistaken identity, again, first complicates matters, and then resolves them. If viola had not been mistaken for a boy, If Olivia would not have fallen in love with her; if she had not fallen in love with Viola, then Sir Andrew would not have become jealous of her and challenged her to a duel. As a result of the duel, Antonio felt compelled to interfere, thinking that Viola was Sebastian, and was sent to prison. Further, when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew had mistaken Sebastian for Cesario, they ended up getting soundly beaten, and perhaps even learned a lesson from their experience. Not until Sebastian Shows up at the same time as Viola is present, do matters get cleared away.
Malvolio was also affected by mistaken identity, in two ways: first, if he had not been mistaken as to the identity of the author of the letter that led to his downfall, the whole conspiracy against him would have backfired; second, his mistaking Feste as the priest, Topas, is the source of considerable comedy in the play, and Feste’s opportunity to enjoy more personal revenge.
In sum, it seems as though Shakespeare wishes audiences to consider the true nature of reality when a multitude of appearances can have an effect on our perception of it. Also, by presenting the issue of appearances versus reality in so many contexts the reader is made to understand that appearances Can sometimes be of little or no value. If all of the characters had been more in tune with reality rather than centering on their own and other characters’ appearances, one can easily assume this wouldn’t make such a grand comedy.