Importance of Identity
The theme of identity is woven throughout all of Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. The main characters in the play struggle with their identity and act differently than who they truly are. However, Viola, dressed as her brother under the name Cesario, is the only one to physically wear a disguise. Duke Orsino’s identity is also questionable, but for a different reason. Viola dresses as her brother, Sebastian, whom she presumed to be dead, and used the name Cesario after being ship wrecked and alone in a foreign land, Illyria. Duke’s identity is questioned is a different way. He is emotionally unstable and his emotions raise the question if he is truly in love with Olivia or not. Both of these characters’ identities are hidden under a façade, however they are hidden in two very different ways. Throughout my Zen Meditation this semester, something I was always told to focus on while Meditating was letting go of all the extraneous things in life, and connect with, my true identity. Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, and my Zen Meditation illuminate the constant struggle one faces of finding your own identity.
Although Viola’s intentions of her disguise were to help her situation, it lead to the main conflict in the play and the love triangle that was formed. While working for Orsino, Viola fell in love with him, and Olivia fell in love with Viola, still disguised as Cesario; and throughout this Orsino was still in love with Olivia. Viola was able to keep true to herself throughout the play; however, changing her identity causes havoc between the characters. While Viola, disguised as Cesario, was talking to Olivia in hopes of getting her to love Orsino, she did not allow herself to let her mission escape her. Viola said to Olivia, “By innocence I swear, and by my youth, / I have one heart, one bosom and one truth, / And that no woman has; nor never none / Shall mistress be of it, save I alone. / And so adieu, good madam: never more / Will I my waster’s tears to you deplore” (Shakespeare III.II p.38-39). She understands her job was to make Olivia love Orsino and she tried her very best to make this happen even though she was in love with Orsino; a very noble and honorable thing to do. Here Viola stayed true to herself even though she was the one wearing the physical disguise in the play. Viola was a strong woman who was very sure of herself. She did not let the disguise alter her true identity, however the disguise complicated the situation immensely because of the love triangle that was formed. Also, Viola was the only one to ever express true love in the beginning of the book. All of the other characters simply viewed love as something just physical, while Viola is able to comprehend and allude to true love when talking to Olivia about Orsino’s love for her. Shakespeare’s message was that changing one’s identity never benefits them in the long run, and everyone should stay true to who they are no matter what situation they find themselves in. While Viola wore a disguise on the outside, inside she was able to stay true to her identity, the same cannot be said about Orsino.
Duke Orsino was a very emotional character when dealing with his love for Olivia, which makes one question if his love was pure or not. He was very overdramatic and attempted to woo Olivia through the actions of others, labeling himself as a coward. In the beginning of the play Orsino said, “If music be the food of love, play on; /…That strain again! it had a dying fall: /…Enough; no more: / ’T is not so sweet now as it was before” (I.I p.1). At first he loved the music that is being played for him, and then all of the sudden he abhorred the sound of it. Here Orsino’s unstable emotions going back and forth are exemplified. He was a romantic; he was in love with Olivia after just laying eyes on her once. However, one comes to find he was more in love with the idea of Olivia, than Olivia herself. So, this called his love into question. He did not have a strong identity and was not sure of himself, and hid behind a façade, which was ironic because Viola was the one wearing the physical disguise. He sent Viola, dressed as Cesario, to Olivia’s house to give her his messages proclaiming his love. Since he was unable to do this himself, shows he was hiding behind a disguise and was not sure of his identity; he was a coward throughout the play.
This theme of identity, which Shakespeare threads throughout all of, Twelfth Night is directly related to today’s society and the Zen Meditation I have attended all semester. During my Zen Meditation we try to have all of our worries and thoughts escape our minds and solely focus on breathing and counting. Doing this, we attempt to find our true identity, and not be changed by those around us. Often times in today’s society there is a temptation to conform to stereotypes or pressures around you, however, the Zen Meditation strips you from all of that and leaves you with who you truly are, and your core values. Being a first year college student it was definitely a struggle to stay true to my identity while also trying to make friends at a college I know no one at. However my Zen Meditation was extremely helpful in reminding me of what is important to me in my life and keeping my identity in tact while going through such a big transition.
This class was filled with many exciting surprises to me throughout the semester. However, the most surprising thing I observed while taking the class was how open everyone was in their blogs, iExamens, and even in class discussions! Connecting pieces of literature to personal experiences helped deepen the conversations we had and doing so, we were able to get very close as a class and have exciting thoughtful conversations each time we met. So, overall the most interesting thing I observed was everyone’s willingness and enthusiasm to share and contribute to the class as a whole. In all of my other classes the teacher has to beg people to raise their hand and give input to a topic, however, because of the structure of this class, people were always willing and eager to share.