Disguise in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night Essays

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Disguise in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night

     Disguise is a device Shakespeare employs frequently in both Measure for Measure

and Twelfth Night. It allows a disguised character like the Duke of Vienna to

glean information that would otherwise go unknown, and a character like Viola to

take advantage of potentially beneficial situations. It gives these characters

access to worlds that might otherwise be denied; for the Duke, he can now "haunt

assemblies / Where youth and cost a witless bravery keeps" (1.4.9-10). For

Viola, she might "serve the duke" (1.2.51) and thus hopefully keep company with

Olivia, who also lost a brother. Disguise is especially appropriate in the

worlds that exist in the two plays: they are characterized by excess and

inversion of proper order. In Measure for Measure, the Duke leaves his kingdom

unexpectedly in the hands of a deputy; the inversion is continued by the

unprecedented harsh enforcement of the law, something that hasn't been done in

fourteen years. In Twelfth Night, the title itself suggests a last hurrah, the

end of the carnival, and Viola personifies this last wildness by taking on a

role opposite in gender to her natural one: she plays a man.


Michael Margan in "Laughter and Elizabethan Society" glosses Mikhail Bakhtin,

saying that the laughter of carnival is "an ambivalent laughter, simultaneously

celebrating and mocking, sympathizing and deriding" (34). Laughter, comedy, and

a world turned upside-down characterize Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, and

allow Viola to successfully don her "masculine usurped attire" (5.1.248) and win

Olivia's hear...

... middle of paper ...

... city. Donning a disguise to suit the

moment does not change the person, however adaptable and convenient it may be to

achieve certain ends. The Duke of Vienna tells Isabella that though he removes

his friar's robe he is "not changing heart with habit" (5.1.381), and Viola

laments that "My state is desperate for my master's love" (2.2.37). Just as

carnival and misrule only have a limited reign, so their disguises only alter

Viola and Vienna temporarily.

Works Cited

Margan, Michael. "Laughter and Elizabethan Society," in Contexts of Comedy.

Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, eds. "Measure for Measure". William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1998.

Wells, Stanley, and Gary Taylor, eds. "Twelfth Night, or What You Will". William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1998.

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