Twelfth Night

by: William Shakespeare

Gender and Sexuality

1
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women’s are. (II.iv.)

Here, Orsino is speaking to Viola, disguised as Cesario, about the particular ways in which men love. When he asks Cesario what kind of woman he fancies, Cesario says he wantssomeone of his complexion and age, but Orsino insists that that is too old. A man should marry a woman younger than himself, so that his affection will remain constant over time. This quote introduces an interesting discussion about the way sexuality and desire differs across the sexes: in order to sustain male desire over time, Orsino believes the object of desire should preserve the outward semblance of youthfulness and beauty. Otherwise, a man’s interest is likely to waver or wander elsewhere. Men, he implies, are more shallow and fickle than women are. Although his statement ultimately proves true for Orsino, who quickly switches from Olivia to Viola, the advice could also apply to Olivia, who is equally fickle in switching from Cesario to Sebastian.

2
…Diana’s lip is not more rubious. Thy small pipe
Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman’s part. (I.iv.)

Here, Viola, disguised as Cesario, is about to set off on her quest to woo Olivia on the Duke’s behalf. Orsino seems to think that he will be perfect for the job. Unabashedly, he lavishes high praise on Cesario’s physical attributes, which are naturally quite feminine. Of course, at this point, Orsino has no reason to believe that Cesario may not be a man. Scholars often point to these lines (as well as Orsino’s last line in Act V) as evidence of homoeroticism, introducing the possibility that the Duke may actually be more attracted to “Cesario” than Viola. These lines are significant as they introduce a certain level of ambiguity regarding Orsino’s sexuality.

3
But come what may, I do adore thee so
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go. (II.i.)

In this quote, Antonio reveals his willingness to risk danger on Sebastian’s behalf. At this point in the play, Sebastian and Antonio have washed ashore in Illyria. Antonio confesses to Sebastian that some of his previous activity on the sea has made him an enemy of Duke Orsino. Therefore, his wandering further into the city introduces the risk that he will be captured. However, Antonio’s strong feelings for Sebastian compels him to keep going.