“Disguises and changes of clothing are central to the plot of Twelfth Night”, discuss it.
Which character in the play spends time in disguise, and how is this thematically important?
Answer: Many people in Twelfth Night assume a disguise of one kind or another. The most obvious example is Viola, who puts on the clothing of a man and makes everyone believe that she is a male. This disguise causes great sexual confusion, as a bizarre love triangle results in which Viola is in love with Orsino, who loves Olivia – who loves Cesario, the male identity that Viola assumes. Thus, by dressing his protagonist in male garments, Shakespeare shows how malleable and self-delusional human romantic attraction can be.
Another character in disguise is Malvolio, who dresses oddly (in crossed garters and yellow stockings) in the hope of winning Olivia. In his case, the change of clothing suggests his belief that altering his wardrobe can lead to an alteration of his social status. When he dreams of being Olivia’s husband, he imagines himself above all in a different set of clothes, suggesting that class and clothing are inextricably linked Later, after Malvolio has been declared mad and has been confined to a dark room, Feste, pretending to be the fictional priest Sir Topas in order to deceive Malvolio, puts on a disguise—even though Malvolio will not be able to see him since the room is so dark. This scene is particularly suggestive: Feste’s desire to wear a disguise even though his victim won’t see it implies that the link between clothes and reality goes deeper than mere appearances. For Feste, at least, the disguise makes the man—in order to be Sir Topas, he must look like Sir Topas. Ultimately, then, Shakespeare raises questions about human identity and whether such Classifications as gender and class status are fixed entities or can be `flanged with a simple shift of wardrobe.