In the first two acts of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Viola and Olivia seem to get themselves into trouble with their personal identity. Since Viola decides to change her gender in order to find a job in the house of the Duke, she creates a huge amount of confusion for herself, the Duke, and Olivia. By the end of act one, it is clear that Olivia love Cesario, who is really Viola, Viola loves the Duke, and the Duke loves Olivia. There are hints, such as the scene in which Viola claims her fathers daughter died for love, that suggest imminent disaster.
Despite the date of this work, I was interested to notice a symbolic relationship with a panel lecture I went to the other day in regard to a struggle finding identity. The theme of the lecture was the misrepresentation of women, particularly those of color, in our culture and media today. Before, I understood that there is still a lot of progress to be made in terms of gender equality. However, I was blown away as I heard the different perspectives of the female speakers and the short clips that were presented to the audience. One point that particularly stuck out to me was a paradox that our culture seems to hold towards women. That is, women are often celebrated in our movies when they dress or act in a particular way. However, if a woman were to act or dress this way in public, they would certainly be frowned upon. Additionally, if men were to engage in the same activities as a female, he may be celebrated, whereas the female would be shamed. I find this particularly troubling as I can now see how, similarly to Twelfth Night, women could feel a pressure to not express or accept what they wish their true identity to be. I can see how, because of false messages in the media, it could be confusing to distinguish your personal identity. I also found it humorous that in act two the Duke claims, “There is no woman’s sides can bide the beating of so strong a passion”, suggesting to a girl who is passionately in love with him can not have the same passion he does for someone else and also reflecting some of his personal thoughts on women.
Being confortable in one’s identity is extremely important for a person’s well-being. It is clear to me that the ending may not be favorable to any of the lovers due to some of their ability to come to terms with their true feelings and identity. In the same way, in order for our lives to become more fulfilled, we too, must come to terms with what we truly feel and see ourselves as. It is comforting to know that there are continuing conversations at our Jesuit university that prides itself in inclusiveness, to work towards that goal in our Jesuit community at Loyola.