Twelfth Night Film Essay

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Issues of gender identity and alternative sexualities register differently when reading twelfth Night than in viewing the globe production by James Bulman in Bearding the Queen: Male Cross-Dressing at the New Globe. When reading twelfth Night, gender identity and sexuality is used as a concept for self-identity. The way Viola cross-dresses as Cesario helps in showing how much she benefited when she was a woman than when she was a man. Dramatic irony quotes such as A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man (III, IV, 255-6) reoccur throughout the play and is seen as a reminder that the characters have an underlying femininity. Viola goes through a change of identity and just like her name her behavior disrupts the conservative female behavior. She lived in a male authoritative society alone after she lost her brother and father which was hard. However, she works as a male and takes on the male attire, the male dress is seen as practical means of survival although she identifies herself as a female. By cross-dressing Viola replaces herself as male and takes control of her own life.

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On the other hand, viewing the globe production by James Bulman in Bearding the Queen: Male Cross-Dressing at the New Globe, issues of gender identity and cross-dressing are seen as performative as opposed to innate (Bulman 75). Gender is seen as a sexual desire and a cultural construct as opposed to just a simple difference in biology. This means that gender is identified by situational behavior and external code of conduct rather than an interior and essential gender identity.

The second way when reading twelfth Night issues of gender identity and sexuality is seen through extra-textual cross-dressing. Gender coherence of characters is seen in a dramatic text and can be displayed through cross-dressing. By using such a character in the text, the character is forced at different times to play the roles of both female and male. Using double entendre and dramatic irony helps to enhance the character’s relationship with the readers. The way that Cesario as Viola is resourceful, empathetic and can show different desires when it comes to different characters shows that the representation of the cross-dresser is positive.

Issues of gender identity and alternative sexualities register differently in viewing of the globe production described by James Bulman in Bearding the Queen: Male Cross-Dressing at the New Globe are however different. Cross-dressing is seen as a way of adding comic effect to the play. According to Bulman Drag is a sly parody of femininity (84).This means that the actors are cross-dressed and dressed in drag so as to add what Bulman calls comic benefits of drag (84). Therefore, the play avoids the choice of a traditional cast of the play and also the all-male comedic aspect.

According to James C. Bulman notes, the all-male production differs from a traditional version, in which men play men and women play women as it casts an all-male members for the plays(76). The Elizabethan stage is different from the traditional version where each gender would play their gender roles. This means that it was an all-male cast and wore Elizabethan dress as the male cross-dressed. The Elizabethan stage or an all-male production is a stage where considerable multiplicity and fluidity is seen when it comes to channeling sexual energies.

I agree with Bulman’s thesis that a traditional version would not be the same and it would have eliminated the pun and the comic relief of the cross-dressed men. The casting of Viola disguised as the page Cesario is proved to be more acceptable as in the globe performance, the all-male cast acted as an alienating device to identify with sexual desire and gender identity. The audiences were receptive to the gender provocations in a popular venue like the globe which heavily appeals families, tourists and school children.

If I was producing a version of this play, I would you cast it with regards to gender the traditional cast for the play. This is because a traditional casting would is simple and it will appeal to majority of the audiences. By casting male-male and female-female in their true gender, the audiences would have it easy to understand issues of gender identities and alternative sexualities in line of who is male and who is female. However, the traditional casting would have its disadvantages as the element of humor in the play is sacrificed which is addressed in a direct way when an all-male cast is featured.

The main factor which would impact my decision on the type of production would be the type of audience attending the play. Possibly, if the play was to be produced to an audience that is familiar with Shakespeare and Twelfth Night, I would have considered an all-male production. This will help increase the cosmic effect and potential humor throughout the play. Therefore, this means that my choice of casting will depend on the circumstances as well as the audiences involved in the play.

Another way in which the audience would impact my choice of casting is that those who have read or are familiar with Shakespeare and Twelfth Night would embrace the homoerotic undertone during the production. For example, when reading twelfth Night Antonio when talking to Sebastian says that I could not stand behind you. My desire, /more sharp than filed steel, did spur me fourth (3.3.4-5). This way, Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship can be seen to be embracing a homoerotic undertone. However, when it comes to the production Antonio can be seen as a mentor and even a care giver to Sebastian. Therefore, first time audiences would have a problem when it comes to identifying the homoerotic nature of Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship.


Bulman, James C. “”Bearding the Queen: Male Cross-Dressing at the New Globe.”” Shakespearean Performance: New Studies (2008): 74-91.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Twelfth Night. Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1928. Print.

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Twelfth Night Film Essay. (2019, Jul 29). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from

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