Gender Norms In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night provides a great deal of insight into the gender roles that existed in Elizabethan society. In this period, both men and women were strictly held to separate sets of explicit standards, expectations and values. For example, women were expected to have guardians and protectors, and men were expected to be courageous. Those who violated the accepted gender norms, such as cowardly men, or overly independent women, would have been frowned upon, or insulted. Contradictorily, Twelfth Night shows that, on occasion, subverting some of these norms may actually help in developing romantic relationships. Several relationships based largely on the violation of certain gender norms develop throughout the play. These atypical…show more content…
Because it isn’t possible to protect anyone, or take risks, without courage, bravery was imperative. Cowards would have been ridiculed and insulted. In fact, this is precisely the reason that Sir Toby, and Fabian, play a trick on Cesario and Sir Andrew in the play. Toby and Fabian convince Andrew that Cesario has wronged him, and that he should challenge Cesario to a duel. The conspirators then convince both Andrew and Cesario that the other is a deadly fighter. Fabian and Toby are amused by the cowardice that the other two supposed men display. Toby insultingly declares, “if [Andrew] were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I'll eat the rest of the anatomy.”(3.2.59-62). This comment, along with others from the play, demonstrates that a man who lacks courage was thought of as a lesser man. Because of the usual dichotomy of gender roles, and because men were expected to take risks, women were expected to avoid taking risks, or participating in dangerous activities. In an aside regarding the duel between Andrew and herself, as Cesario, Viola says, “A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man.” (3.4.314-316). In this short aside, Viola explicitly associates bravery with manhood, and thus demonstrates the stark contrast between men and women, as far as expectations of bravery are…show more content…
He doesn’t marry her because of her of any superficial aspect, such as beauty or social status, but rather because of her intelligence and mischievousness. These qualities were not considered normal in a woman at the time, and in fact would have been viewed negatively by many. Ironically, Toby finds Maria desirable precisely because of her cunning and humor. Toby first realizes he is attracted to Maria when she has the idea to write a letter to Malvolio in order to trick him. His feelings develop further throughout the play. This is demonstrated by the increasingly affectionate pet names he calls Maria. Some of these include “youngest wren of nine,” “dear heart,” and “metal of India.” When Maria’s plan is successful, Toby exclaims, “I could marry this wench for this device.” (2.5.186). He continues, “And ask no other dowry with her but such another jest.” (2.5.188-189). Lo and behold, at the end of the play, Fabian reveals that Toby does indeed marry Maria for writing the letter, saying, “Maria writ the letter at Sir Toby's great importance; In recompense whereof he hath married her.”

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