Twelfth Night

Lovers or Friends?: The Mystery of Viola and Orsino’s Relationship 11th Grade

Shakespeare’s classic play, Twelfth Night, tells the story of Viola, a woman who dresses like a man to find a place in Duke Orsino’s court. While working for Orsino, however, Viola falls in love with him, but must hide her feelings in order to protect her new identity and because Orsino is in love with another woman named Olivia. The play deals with ideas of social class, sexuality, and gender, and comments on the roles of these factors in relationships. Through Orsino and Viola’s casual physicality and joint activities as well as the setting and music used in their scenes, the movie version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night portrays their relationship as one of equals and full of sexual tension despite their apparently shared genders, thereby defying the heteronormativity of the era, whereas the play portrays Viola as socially inferior to Orsino and suggests that her love for him will be unrequited as long as she remains disguised as a man.

The casual physical contact between Orsino and Viola in the movie illustrates a relationship of friends or equals in contrast to the play, which shows Orsino to have power over Viola. In the play, when Orsino asks Viola to go woo Olivia for him, he mentions that he chose Viola to “act his woes...

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