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Gender swap on the twelfth night and kill a nightingale

Much emphasizes that there is a difference between gender and sex. And there certainly is. Sex is essentially biology, the male and female manifestations or, to put it more bluntly, the physical parts that come with being male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is the social norms, roles, and ideals tied to one’s identity, generally attributed to which of those physical parts one possesses. It is a “social construction”, something that is not based on the actual physical structure.

William Shakespeare’s famous “transvestite drama” Twelfth Night effectively exemplifies the genre as a social construct. After all, the play centers on, among other things, a young fraternal twin named Viola who decided to cross-dress to get a job and enter the court of Duke Orsino. After all, a girl has to eat, and since she was separated from her twin brother, who is believed to be dead, after a shipwreck, she has to find work.

In Shakespeare’s time, cross-dressing (with the exception of the stage, as male actors played female characters all the time) was a big no-no. Of course, women were expected to maintain and adopt strict norms regarding femininity, appearance, and behavior. Voluntarily donning a pair of Elizabethan pants when you’re supposed to be wearing pounds and pounds of layered skirts was an absolute scandal.

Naturally, Shakespeare’s play was considered morally corrupt in this regard, portraying women who deviate from their strict gender roles. However, feminist scholars are quick to point out that it speaks to the lack of freedoms or agency that women had at the time. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we see exactly how oppressive and damaging a patriarchal society can be to a woman’s psyche; Ophelia, prescribing prevailing notions of appropriate female behavior, found herself a pawn in the hands of the men in her life, felt trapped by her circumstances, and ultimately committed suicide. Through time and literature, we have seen women who, unlike Ophelia, went against the expectations of society to affirm their beliefs or claim a measure of the happiness they deserved and faced serious rejection, opposition and social condemnation. as a result of that. Sophocles’ Antigone, Henry Adam’s Esther, and Kate Chopin’s Edna are good examples of this.

In Shakespeare’s world, if a woman found herself without making a living, she had to pretend to be a man in order to survive (or marry, which also happens at the end of the play). More importantly, though, Viola’s entire performance as the Justin Bieber-ish (women adore him and “his” slightly androgynous physique) Cesario speaks of gender as a performance. After all, the actor who played Viola on stage during that time was a man, so the entire performance was a man acting like a woman acting like a man. If that doesn’t change the genre, nothing will. Gender, therefore, becomes something that can be imitated and imitated well, especially in the case of Viola-as-Cesario, who is so adept at acting like a man that she attracts the attention of Olivia, the same countess who the Duke is romantically. Chase.

This notion of genre as performance is also present in another classic work of literature almost 400 years after Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night.

That piece of literature is the famous Harper Lee classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. In the novel about southern racism, morality and justice, we are guided by a tomboy scout, who has grown largely free of the feminine norms of propriety and courtesy that are often imposed on typical southern beauties. For the most part, he has his father, the wise and just lawyer Atticus Finch, to thank. Scout is like Viola, in a sense, that both behaviors challenge what her sex demands her gender to be. Viola is supposed to wear women’s clothes and act like a woman, just like Scout. Scout is also supposed to be polite, prim and proper, not the aggressive, belligerent tree climber preteen that she is. In fact, he abhors femininity. It is something she chooses to oppose, something that she considers inferior to herself for most of the novel. Shakespeare’s Viola is not so directly opposed to gender or being a woman (it is the Elizabethan era, after all), but her choice to dress as a man suggests a rejection of the feminine norms and demands that society has placed on her.

Both Viola and Scout’s rejection (albeit temporary or forced) of such norms clearly support this gender theory as a performance. For both characters, it is something that one can do or behave and change in an instant, unlike sex, which today can be changed, but not so easily or painlessly. Consider Scout’s musings about how the ladies of the city, including her aunt, have a semblance of courteous decorum and strength after the tragic death of Tom, falsely condemned. During that time, Scout imitates her Aunt Alexandra by assuming polite decorum, offering food to mourning women as a good hostess. She says, “After all, if Auntie could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.” Gender performance, in fact.

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