Twelfth Night

Gender Expectations and Courtship in As You Like It and Twelfth Night

Although some Shakespearean plays carve out a more passive, male-defined role for women, such as that which is exemplified through Ophelia’s obedience to Polonius in Hamlet, the comedies of As You Like It and Twelfth Night explore women’s potential for unexpected honesty, especially within the dynamics of courtship. In As You Like It, the female character Rosalind, who is disguised as a male named Ganymede, is defined by her interactions with Phoebe and Orlando. As a result of contact with each of these characters, Rosalind articulates some variety of truth either about the other character’s personality or the societal conception of appropriate behavior for their gender. The character of Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night, however, expresses her personal attitude about others less for the purpose of exploring the tendencies of human nature than for the hope of obtaining the favor of those to whom she is attracted. In both of the aforementioned plays, female courtship seems to be primarily centered upon a desire to express a certain truth, either about themselves or other characters with whom they interact. The motivation for expressing this inner thought, however, tends to be dictated by the behavioral expectations for their...

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