Characters in Twelfth Night constantly disguise themselves or play parts in order to trick those around them. Some of the most notable examples of trickery and role-playing in Twelfth Night are: Viola disguising herself as the page-boy Cesario; Maria and Sir Toby playing their prank on Malvolio; and Feste dressing up as the scholar, Sir Topas. More subtly, Orsino's rather clichéd lovesickness for Olivia and Olivia's just-as-clichéd response as the unattainable mourning woman bring into question the extent to which these characters are just playing these roles, rather than truly feeling the emotions they claim to be experiencing.
Through the constant performance and role-playing of his characters, Shakespeare reminds us that we, like the characters, may play roles in our own lives and be susceptible to the role playing of others.
Deception, Disguise, and Performance ThemeTracker
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Quotes in Twelfth Night
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy.
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.
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.
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?
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds.