Twelfth Night

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Themes and Colors
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Twelfth Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon

In connection with the themes of deception, disguise, and performance, Twelfth Night raises questions about the nature of gender and sexual identity. That Viola has disguised herself as a man, and that her disguise fools Olivia into falling in love with her, is genuinely funny. On a more serious note, however, Viola's transformation into Cesario, and Olivia's impossible love for him/her, also imply that, maybe, distinctions between male/female and heterosexual/homosexual are not as absolutely firm as you might think.

The play stresses the potential ambiguity of gender: there are many instances in which characters refer to Cesario as an effeminate man. Even more radically than this, however, it also suggests that gender is something you can influence, based on how you act, rather than something that you are, based on the sexual organs you were born with. Twelfth Night also shows how gender-switches make the characters' sexual identities unstable. For instance, at times, Olivia seems to be attracted to Cesario because "he" is such a womanly-looking man, while Orsino at the end of the play seems as attracted to Cesario as he is to Viola.

Gender and Sexual Identity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Gender and Sexual Identity appears in each scene of Twelfth Night. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Gender and Sexual Identity Quotes in Twelfth Night

Below you will find the important quotes in Twelfth Night related to the theme of Gender and Sexual Identity.
Act 1, scene 4 Quotes
Thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part. (32-34)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
He is very well-favored and he speaks very shrewishly; one would think his mother's milk were scarce out of him. (149-151)
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy. (224-226)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Olivia
Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia!' O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me. (251-259)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino, Olivia
Act 2, scene 4 Quotes
Let still the woman take
An elder than herself: so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart:
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are. (28-34)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent. (35-36)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker)
Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
Orsino: And what's her history?
Viola: A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? (105-114)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino (speaker)
I am all the daughters of my father's house
And all the brothers too. (119-120)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker)
Act 2, scene 5 Quotes
Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (130)
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio (speaker)
Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Love sought is good, but given unsought is better. (153)
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker)
Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Give me thy hand
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds. (264-5)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)