Jul 15, 2020 in Literature

Theatre Arts

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a unique comedy both by its hidden meanings and the scope of analyzed issues. Although it can be examined from several perspectives, the problem of appearance vs. reality seems to be the most important for modern readers. The present paper elaborates on this aspect in detail as well as provides the relevant parallels with my own life and experience. The need for finding one’s real identity and acting accordingly are crucial for all individuals regardless of their social status.

The comedy demonstrates the sharp contrast between some characters’ appearance and reality as well as the corresponding negative consequences for all people involved. The major problems were revealed only when Viola and Sebastian revealed the truth for others. The initial source of identity confusion is Viola’s misrepresentation of her as a man. She adopted the identity of Cesario as she believed it to allow her to reach her objectives in an optimal way. Then, it leads to the growing confusion when Cesario delivers the speech to Olivia in order to persuade her about the changing her attitude to Orsino.

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In particular, Cesario states that “you should not rest between the elements of air and earth, but you should pity me”. This strategy appears to be highly effective in terms of influencing Olivia. However, she does not change her attitude to Orsino but rather falls in love with Cesario. Thus, Viola’s misrepresentation of her real identity leads to the incorrect judgments and decisions made by other people. Shakespeare describes various situations that are based on characters’ confusion regarding others and their subjective perceptions of these actions as love, betrayal, madness, etc.

Although many contexts are presented from a comic perspective, it is evident that the actual feelings experienced by characters may be highly controversial. In fact, the mistaken identity disrupts a whole system of interpersonal relationships. In the long run, it affects negatively even the initiators of these misrepresentations because they cannot predict the responses of other people and adjust their behavior. Thus, the overall situation tends to become more problematic with the growing threats for all people involved.

However, Shakespeare explains that even the most problematic situations associated with mistaken identity can be revealed. The only possible solution is accepting the truth, restoring one’s identity, and informing others about the actual state of affairs. At the end of the comedy, Orsino says: “give me thy hand, and let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds”. Thus, both Viola and Sebastian revealed their identity, and Orsino was able to express his true feelings. In general, it seems that the motive of identity misrepresentation is even much more important than it is generally recognized. 

The flow of the comedy was such that different endings were theoretically possible. The happy end observed was the result of the radical decision of Viola and Sebastian to abandon Viola’s previous strategy. They comprehended that unstable identities created the unpredicted social damages for various people. Correspondingly, Shakespeare believes the positive outcomes are possible only if the initiators of confusion decide to reveal the truth. It seems that this conclusion is highly applicable nowadays.

Although I have not faced serious gender representations in my experience, I believe many people still prefer referring to the mistaken identity. They adopt Viola’s initial position that it is possible to improve one’s state of affairs or receive additional life opportunities via creating incorrect perceptions for other people. I often observe such attempts among males and females of my age. As each individual has some positive and negative traits of character, he/she may evaluate his/her real identity objectively. However, only a minor fraction of people can accept themselves in this form while the majority of individuals aim at obtaining some new qualities or pretending of being better than it is in reality. 

As achieving the real changes is the gradual and long-lasting project, many individuals prefer creating misrepresentations for others. In this way, they hope to appear more interesting and influential for other social members. However, the ultimate consequences experienced by these people are almost always similar to those described by Shakespeare. The actual results are very different from their initial expectations because their misrepresentations affect not only some aspect of reality but the entire frame of their interactions with other people.   

Thus, I often observe the serious emotional problems experienced by these people. They have realized that they cannot reach their objectives and face difficulties with selecting the correct mode of behavior in the future due to their inability to distinguish between the actual reality and the artificial framework they try to establish for others. At some point, the growing psychological problems may even do not allow comprehending one’s actual identity and the priority of one’s goals and objectives.

Weinberg suggests that such identity problems always include the moral dimension. It means that people cannot remain morally neutral to the whole range of incorrect interpretations they try to impose on others. They have to develop the moral attitude towards this strategy. As the objective analysis always reveals that their actions are immoral, people have to either abandon their plans or continue their previous mode of behavior regardless of its immoral essence. However, the attempts to ignore the moral aspects of one’s actions inevitably lead to additional psychological problems and difficulties. 

I often observe this situation among my friends who try to utilize Viola’s methods. Their desire to create the “better” identity leads to their inability to communicate with others and demonstrate the coherent and consistent behavior. As a result, he/she cannot maintain these misrepresentations anymore. The only correct solution is outlined by Shakespeare, and it refers to revealing the truth. The experience of my friends also supports this conclusion. Although it may be difficult for them to reveal the truth to others (as they have to recognize their mistakes and immoral motives), it is the only sustainable way to normalize the situation and achieve the social harmony.

Thus, I always recommend my friends to reconsider their behavior and abandon their plans regarding misrepresenting their identity. Despite all difficulties, this strategy does not include any moral compromises or hidden plans. It is the serious attempt to achieve one’s objectives in a fair way relying exclusively on one’s personal qualities. Correspondingly, other people will also receive the adequate incentives for adjusting their behavior.

To summarize, the incident of Viola’s misrepresentation of her identity and the subsequent set of events in this context outline one of the most urgent social problems. Many people suggest that it is preferable for them not to solve the real problems but try to disturb other people’s perceptions for their advantage. However, the long-term consequences of such attempts appear to be highly negative for all people involved especially the initiators of this strategy. Shakespeare stresses that people should abandon these attempts and reveal their true identity to others. My personal experience supports this position. Many individuals of my age try to misrepresent their identity for obtaining some short-term benefits. However, the long-term results contradict their initial plans. Thus, there is no alternative to promoting interpersonal cooperation except recognizing one’s identity and those of other people.


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