Gender Tasks in Shakespeare Plays

Keywords: twelfth evening gender, gender in shakespeare, shakespeare gender roles

To answer this question I am going to refer mainly to As YOU PREFER It and Twelfth Night time. As well as the texts of the two plays I will also refer to two stage productions - Filter's development of Twelfth Nighttime at the Lowry in Manchester (2010) and the West Yorkshire Playhouse's As You Like It in Leeds (2010) - and movies of the works by Nunn and Branagh. Critical writings by Terry Eagleton, Valerie Traub, Jonathan Bate and Sean McEvoy may also be referred to.

Debates across the social construction of gender have become ubiquitous in the analysis of the sociable sciences within the last fifty years. Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, Feminism and Queer theory have all favoured the debate that humans are culturally designed rather than biologically motivated. This theoretical switch has had a great impact on literary criticism and on our resultant understanding of canonical works. Shakespearean plays which had formerly been read as deterministic in their firmness have been re-read in a fresh light as a result of widespread scepticism towards cultural practices which serve to benefit dominating groups. This change in behaviour has transformed irrecoverably the way in which lots of the takes on are performed. For Valerie Traub this change in the manner Shakespeare's work is conducted is a direct result of a wider scepticism towards discourses which regulate our behavior into supposedly normative variables:

'If directors once thought authorised to control Shakespearean plays to foster conservative interpretations of interpersonal roles, today's level and film productions accomplish that at their peril - for audiences increasingly understand Shakespeare's interpretations of gender and sexuality are as complicated, various and exciting as our very own bodies and selves. ' Camb. Comp. p144

Shakespeare's has have therefore become a powerful ally for many who suspect the veracity of the original conventions of gender assignments, which both embody and sustain the power set ups in a patriarchal world. Both As YOU PREFER It and Twelfth Nighttime illustrate in their cross-dressing antics, the ways in which we each recognise and exemplify the conventions in our gender in order to be identified with our gender type. The enduring hold of our gender role is then shown in both has to be contingent upon the continued acceptance and performance of these. Close reading of the subversion of gender expectations in each play shows Shakespeare's prescience in questioning a standardised notion of male and female jobs if we wish to exist within an egalitarian population. He clearly recognized how our formative ethnical experience etch these standardised notions deep within the self applied, as Terry Eagleton says:

'The body for Shakespeare is not this crude biological datum but an inseparable unity of reality and value: to be always a body, biologically speaking, is also to be constrained to respond using culturally and ethically sanctioned ways, to feel one's flesh and blood inscribed by a couple of discursive norms. ' P. 100

So it is the fact that As You Like It and Twelfth Nighttime fast a certain degree of initial discomfort, or a overseas sensation, through the tries of Viola and Rosalind to break the hold of their gender type. Yet as their new role is embraced and their character types are given the liberty of full manifestation, the gender split is visibly reduced, the foreign discomfort evaporates and the gap between genders shows up in its true light: as a learned performance which may be equally unlearned. Attributes which are stereotypically attributed to a particular gender type are been shown to be forget about or less common in their binary reverse. This is apparent when Rosalind in the beginning decides to go out in to the world as a man:

'We'll have a swashing and a martial outside/ As many other mannish cowards have/ that do outface it with their semblances. ' (1. 3. 114)

She highlights the actual fact that cowardice is not necessarily a female characteristic, for there are cowardly males, equally she herself proves that we now have vibrant women. Her recognition that such variations cannot be easily categorised into gender types is indicative of how Shakespeare's creates heroes which are unstable and wavering in the real real human sense. The mixing of stereotypical male and feminine characteristics is shown most potently in the transformation, both inside and away, of Rosalind and Viola in their combination dressing antics. Although Orsino isn't aware of it he details the attraction of the blend of male and female characteristics - the allure of androgyny - in his examination of Viola dressed up as Cesario:

'Dear lad, believe that it/ for they shall yet belie. . . and audio/ and everything is semblative a woman's part. '

Despite the sense of exuberance in both has as of this questioning of standardised notions of gender, an alternative argument can be made that the mix dressing elements only serve in the long run to reinforce the legitimacy of the status quo. Since combination dressing is a traditional plot aspect of the comedy genre in Elizabethan theatre its inclusion may be said to be obligatory alternatively than an authorial choice. This might connect in with other factors in Shakespeare's work, which might denote a certain over-eagerness for present day directors to showcase present day scepticism towards public convention.

When Jacques in As YOU PREFER It, versifies the eight age ranges of man, from cradle to soldiering to senility, he also mentions the female equivalent which is bound to just three: maid, wife and widow. Each one of these levels corresponds to a woman's marital status at any given time, which is also a central feature of Twelfth Nights and As YOU PREFER It, where Viola and Rosalind remain primarily aware of their need to secure a relationship spouse, even in their liberated state. The denouement of both takes on allows closure for the Elizabethan audience by rebuilding the women to their rightful place, having approved from stage someone to stage two of their restrictive presence. The hiccup with their newfound social range of motion, consequently of their gender swap, is conquer through relationship.

This argument could very well be reinforced by the fact that we now have only two situations in Shakespeare's has where men mix dress into women (name the occasions) and on each occasion the men involved are the butt of jokes. If Shakespeare's key purpose in including combination dressing as storyline elements was to show the constructed characteristics of gender functions in order to propose a far more egalitarian sociable order, surely the guy gender move into a lady indicate the same actual assertion. Traub outlines the important differences in Shakespearean gender swaps:

'Shakespeare depicts male individuals as unpleasant descending into femininity, while feminine characters enjoy the elevation of status their non permanent manhood permits. ' P141 camb.

There must stay some uncertainty then as to Shakespeare's original motives when working with cross dressing in his has, and yet there can be without a doubt it is through her gender shifting and role play that Rosalind exposes illusions about affectionate love, exhibiting that the formulaic habits of love aren't to be imitated because they are based upon falsehoods. Rosalind's intuitive understanding of love's flawed assurance and her foresight in planning the fate of other individuals in the play with their benefits also belies the prevalent clinical theory of the Elizabethan period - that females were only imperfect males. Regardless of the above mentioned reservations, Rosalind's wisdom and intelligence plainly presents the contrary view of women compared to that inside the Taming of the Shrew, as it implies that the type of woman that you need to desire is both wayward and incorrigible.

It seems ideal that Shakspeare decides 'the auspices of a pastoral renewable world, ' (p. 140 camb comp. ) as a natural setting for Rosalind to experience a temporary release from the strictures of family or culture and question communal conventions. The idyllic retreat of the Forest of Arden becomes a place where new charming and social alternatives can flourish, often as a result of important subversions of personality and gender. This leads to Rosalind as Ganymede taking the role of teacher in love, directing Orlando on the most profitable ways to woo her own feminine double - a genuine social anomaly!

In As YOU PREFER It and Twelfth Nighttime, disguise by means of cross dressing, becomes both a means of self-discovery and a device to identify the injustice of organising a culture predicated on stereotypical expectations. This change in their identity therefore of imagining themselves as male shows the nature of role play both in performance and in real life, as Eagleton implies, 'every self-presentation is good for Shakespeare some sort of play behaving. 'p. 90 That is not to state that such role-play does not have an optimistic transformative effect. The liberty of expression so often refused to women is embraced by both Viola and Rosalind, and used to raised their own situation and that of others.

In The West Yorkshire Playhouse's performance of As YOU PREFER It the play was placed in period but the adaptation of the text and the interpretation of persona were notably modern-day. The text had not been treated such as a sacred tome as some productions have done with their detriment, but was chopped and transformed to create the comedic effect the play should shoot for. The resultant atmosphere of unpredictability was increased by the delicate use of music, which frequently set up remarkable cues in views of great sentiment or play. These musical shifts in one mini-narrative to another, in conjunction with a place which made the audience aware that the forest is a dramatic illusion, created the feeling that people were experiencing several smaller works within a big play. This framing of mini-narratives, where heroes were compelled to adapt their behaviour according with their circumstances throughout the play, made the dilution of gender roles far more severe as an indicator of our communal constructedness, rather than being merely a comedic plot factor. Rosalind helped greatly in this effect by shifting ably between her susceptible do it yourself and the masquerade character of Ganymede. These fluid switches, which gone largely unnoticed, proven the way that we expect specific semiotic mannerisms and figures of conversation commensurate with binary gender assignments, learnt through observation in our formative cultural activities, in order to identify someone as female or male.

These shifts from Rosalind to Ganymede were so natural and convincing that Orlando often looked at risk of adoring Rosalind as Ganymede around he cherished Rosalind herself. The ensuing confusion created an authentic stress in his exchanges with Ganymede and allowed the audience to see him wrestling along with his own sexuality, at the same time as wanting to prove to be a worthy suitor. Orlando's interior struggle brought to the fore the way in which the play allows unconscious homosexual urges to be sublimated by directing them towards a woman dressed as a guy. The homosexual connotation would have been even more severe in Shakespearean performances when those urges could have been channelled towards a male actor playing a female character who's then disguised as a man. The creation conveyed this pressure in the text convincingly and allowed the audience to get the entire flavour of how Shakespeare may have been expressing desires which he noticed within himself.

Branagh's As YOU PREFER It :

Filter's production of Twelfth Nighttime was a show off for the plasticity of Shakespeare's play's, demonstrating how they can be moulded to match the amount of inventiveness and the spirits that your director wishes to convey. Although the political and social messages were tuned low, the play's exuberance and crazy inventiveness overcame any tentativeness which those wanting a more traditional interpretation may have been feeling. The one problem with the production's anarchic character was the small cast, which meant it was much simpler to lose an eye on the narrative and the heroes with many of them doubling up.

Trevor Nunn's film version of Twelfth Nights will play down the play's ideas about gender tasks and its own homosexual overtones, using glances and actions alone to refer towards the gay and lesbian subtext. Not surprisingly subtlety the film's environment in a 19th century rural Illyria, which is given a melancholy wistful air through the music of Feste, allows the separate between genders to be portrayed within an extreme fashion when Viola makes her switch, through the extreme resultant changes in her clothing and social attitudes. The period choice allows Viola to fully express the size of the quest she must make in her change, as well as the hazards that may await her in doing so, when she is shown in silhouette binding her chest and putting on men's clothing to be Cesario. Her change suggests that she intends to disguise herself not as a young man, but as a eunuch to be able to shield herself entirely from all manner of sexual threats. To defend against such dangers she must also relearn her most elementary actions in a male form, walking and yawning, as well as new skills such as fencing and creating a carefree guy etiquette which is most plainly confirmed in her comedic endeavors to converse with Orsino whilst he bathes.

Since Feste is given the voiceover in both the prologue and epilogue he's given an almost omniscient presence, apparently knowing all leads to each situation. His god-like aura appears to tie in well with the text messages 'awareness of the fragility and vulnerability of the possibilities of contentment, ' as he fully anticipates only the partial fulfilment of each character's desire, even in a best case scenario. That is most noticeable in the play's central storyline in which Viola's liberating transformation into a man, allows her a newfound ability of personal appearance which she must in the end relinquish for taking her place with Orsino.

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