The Sexuality of Service, the Female Relationship, and Freaky Family Connections in Twelfth Night

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has a host of characters: a cross-dressing woman, an uppity, lower-class servant, a quick-witted, tricky gentlewoman, a rowdy, vulgar nobleman and his misguided friend. With so many characters to keep track of, an array of relationships comes into play as well. Some of the more prominent relationships discussed concern the alliance of women––specifically Olivia and Maria, the bond between Viola and Sebastian and their deceased father, and the connection between love and service. The bond between Maria and Olivia is examined in “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night” by Jessica Tvordi. “Missing Fathers: Twelfth Night and the Reformation of Mourning” by Suzanne Penuel discusses the differences and similarities in Viola’s and Sebastian’s use of their dead father’s social status in their new home. Finally, “Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets” by David Schalkwyk delves into the love that is formed between servants and their masters in the play and how service leads to intimate relationships.The relationship between Maria and Olivia is analyzed in Tvordi’s “Female Alliance” as being one that is based on social needs. Tvordi discusses how Maria and Olivia use each other to maintain their independence and autonomy as females within the household. She then lays out the course of their relationship, from Olivia’s betrayal of their alliance to Maria’s revenge.Tvordi claims that Maria and Olivia “support one another in the face of male challenges to female authority, and they rely upon one another to secure their positions within social and economic hierarchies” (114). As Olivia’s right-hand woman, Maria has a role of importance in the household. In order to maintain that importance, Maria has to “interfere in the romantic affairs of Olivia (116). In turn, Maria’s meddling allows Olivia to maintain her autonomy within her household, as there are no male suitors to take control. The alliance benefits both of them, so it is continued – until Olivia falls into the arms of Cesario.Olivia’s pursuit of Cesario jeopardizes Maria’s value to Olivia. It is for this reason, according to Tvordi, that Maria involves herself in the humiliation of Malvolio (124). Maria reinstates her importance through her scheme in two ways: “the hostile sexual attacks of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste on Olivia” are directed elsewhere, and “it allows Maria to humiliate Malvolio, the one member of Olivia’s household that most resents Maria’s authority” (124). When the female alliance is broken off, Maria finds a way to ensure that she remains a commanding presence.The broken relationship between Maria and Olivia is patched up by the end of the play, however. They both marry––Maria to Sir Toby and Olivia to Sebastian––allowing them to fulfill their societal obligation as women. After the marriage, they both have energy to refocus their energies and form an alliance that benefits them both once more, even including Viola in the relationship as Olivia welcomes her “A sister! You are she” (V.i.325). In the face of heterosexuality and society’s expectations, the female alliance remains and even gains a new member.In “Missing Fathers”, author Suzanne Penuel discusses the impact of deceased fathers on their children. She contends that the seemingly insignificant absence of Sebastian Sr. actually has a large effect on how Viola and Sebastian find their way after the shipwreck on Illyria. She goes on to examine Viola’s and Sebastian’s use of their dead father’s social position as well as how their relationship with him is through time and doubling of roles.Penuel makes the twins’ father important in the play by arguing that “what is crucial about the twins’ father is his place in the larger world” (81). Both twins speak of their father in high esteem. When speaking to Antonio, Sebastian tells him “my father was that Sebastian of Messaline/Whom I know you have heard of” (II.i.16-18). Viola, when discovering Sebastian was not killed in the wreck, identifies herself by saying “Of Messaline: Sebastian was my father” (V.i.225). It is obvious that their father was an important man, and they both derive part of their identity from his existence as a nobleman high in social status. Without their father’s name, neither one of them would have been given help in Illyria by the captains that rescued them. Sebastian uses his father’s prowess to find help in Antonio, and Viola uses his economic status by using gold to pay the captain for information and help.“The play’s language,” Penuel maintains, “tends to figure the passage of time as deprivation––of people, of pleasure, of love” (78). This is proven by the fact that the time, although relatively short, that Sebastian and Viola are separated during the shipwreck leave them with a feeling of despair, and both wish that they would have died so as not to bear the grief of their twin dying. The same holds true for Sebastian Sr. The time up to the shipwreck has brought the twins through a hectic and trying time, a time that distances them even further from their father’s spirit. According to Penuel, “Sebastian voices a longing for passivity…immobility, for boundness” (77). A suspension of time would prevent the twins from “moving” further away from their father and his name and lineage, and thus the connection between Sebastian Sr. and his children is time.Another connection between the twins and their father is doubling in the play. Sebastian, in name and manner, “is a doubling that replicates the parent and what the parent signifies” (79). Even though the father is dead, his role in the family lives on through Sebastian Jr. In addition, “Viola’s transformation…in it’s female-to-male transvestism, represents the perpetuation of the father’s name and lineage” (79). Essentially, Sebastian Sr., although absent in the flesh, is preserved through his children themselves as well as the desire to suspend time. In this way, the father plays a vital role in the play despite his not having a single line for the entirety of Twelfth Night.David Schalkwyk’s article, “Love and Service,” asserts another relationship: that the presence of service in Twelfth Night is always connected to desire. He uses multiple examples of this sort of relationship to prove his point and proceeds to speak more specifically about why Malvolio fails in his pursuit of Olivia while Cesario/Viola proves victorious with Orsino. Schalkwyk concludes that the intimacy of selfless devotion to a master leads to love and the closing of any social gaps that may be present.Schalkwyk begins his article by giving background information on the common aristocratic household in Shakespeare’s time period, holding that an “extraordinarily complex set of relations existed between authority and service” and that “authority was besieged with obligations of love and care” (78). We can see his point reflected clearly when Malvolio feels that his selfless devotion to Olivia as her steward warrants him the reciprocity of her love. When he confronts Olivia about the wrongs done against him by Maria, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, he says that she “Bade me come smiling and cross-gartered to you/To put on yellow stockings, and to frown/Upon Sir Toby and the lighter people” and then imprisoned him when he did exactly what he was told (V.i.331-338). Even though Olivia was clearly innocent of Malvolio’s humiliation, his clear expectation is that Olivia love him for his devoted service.Another point that Schalkwyk makes is that “every instance of desire within the play is intertwined with service” (87). Viola’s service to Orsino is coupled with her desire to marry him, and Olivia loves Viola/Cesario, Orsino’s servant. Malvolio desires social elevation through marrying his mistress, Olivia. Antonio waits hand and foot on Sebastian after the shipwreck and clearly expects love in return. Even Maria is rewarded for her nasty trick on Malvolio in her marriage to Sir Toby. Every relationship in the play is one forged between a servant and a master. Even Orsino, who at first longs for Olivia, ends up marrying Cesario/Viola––his pageboy.But why are some of these desires followed through with marriage while others are left unrequited? Schalkwyk answers this question by comparing Cesario and Malvolio. At the social level, “there is…not a significant difference in rank between Malvolio and Cesario” (87). However, “service facilitates the erotic dimensions of these relationships” (90). Here lies the difference between Malvolio and Cesario. Cesario/Viola’s “complete attentiveness to [Orsino’s] will provokes promises of…reward” but Malvolio’s devotion to Olivia breaks down after his humiliation, even after he learns that she is not at fault (90). Even though Viola finds herself in love with Orsino, she still follows through on his orders promising “I’ll do my best/To woo your lady” while acknowledging to herself “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (I.iv.42-44). Viola/Cesario’s unwavering service brings the reward of marriage to Orsino while Malvolio’s public declaration of revenge on Olivia leaves him bitter and alone.Schalkwyk’s overarching point in the article is that “literal service, sexual desire, and loving devotion intersect in complex ways” (95). He explains that although “the submission required by service infringes on the possibility, quality, and reciprocity of love and desire,” service also results in love because it “holds out the promise of reciprocity in sexual love” (95). Here two contradictory ideas come together to explain why not all servants––like Malvolio and Antonio––have their love returned by their masters.The relationship between love and service is irrefutably present in Twelfth Night, and Schalkwyk makes solid points in reasoning why some characters’ erotic endeavors flounder and why others’ succeed. However, Schalkwyk fails to acknowledge another possible reason for these discrepancies: the economic class of the servants. Schalkwyk mentions that “Cesario and Malvolio are of equal social rank” but doesn’t account for the fact that, although they are both servants, they came from different economic backgrounds. Viola/Cesario is from nobility, but Malvolio is chosen from a lower class. When Olivia meets Viola/Cesario for the first time, she asks, “What is your parentage?” to which Viola/Cesario answers, “my state is well: I am a gentleman” (I.v.252-254). It is only then that Olivia allows herself to pursue Cesario’s love. Olivia, knowing of Cesario’s background, has an interest in him, but not in Malvolio, who was hired as a servant from a lower class.Together, these articles convey the complexities of relationships in Twelfth Night. Each character is part of one or more relationships, and the formation or dissolution of the bond(s) is where the comedy and story lie. Works CitedPenuel, Suzanne. “Missing Fathers: Twelfth Night and the Reformation of Mourning.” Studies in Philology 107.1 (2010): 74-83.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.Schalkwyk, David. “Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets.” Shakespeare Quarterly 56.1 (2005): 76-79, 86-97.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.Tvordi, Jessica. Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England. Ed. Susan Frye and Karen Robertson. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 114-117, 121-127. Print.

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