My first thought after finishing Twelfth Night was “I bet people could do so much more with this today.” While the play is the perfect Shakespeare comedy, more controversial topics are hidden underneath the jokes—a common theme of this class. The ending brings all of the possible controversy to light by exposing the relationships of Viola (a woman dressing as a man), Olivia (a woman attracted to a woman dressed like a man), and the Duke (a man who declares love for his manservant as soon as he finds out that he is really a woman). While a hint of controversy is acknowledged, it is swept aside by the humor of the play. One could also argue that maybe the point of the play lies not in its possible controversy, but in something deeper.
Olivia falls in love with a woman even though she thinks Viola is a man, and one could easily read the Duke as being attracted to Cesario (Viola) as well. Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship could also be read through a homosexual lens. However, in the classic happy ending everything is made “socially acceptable”. It turns out that Olivia actually loves Sebastian and the Duke only declares love for Cesario after he is revealed to be Viola. Cesario is a key figure if we are to read the play through a homosexual lens. He is the sexual outlet for both Olivia and the Duke, but it is not socially acceptable for either pair to be together. It is clear that the Duke will not act on his positive feelings for Cesario until he is revealed to be Viola. The mix up with Olivia and Cesario is resolved fairly quickly by the reappearance of Sebastian. Neither relationship is explored until it is made heterosexual again.
The one relationship that struck me as being more blatantly homosexual was the one between Antonio and Sebastian. I think this relationahip was allowed more recognition because it was so one-sided. Antonio clearly is infatuated with Sebastian, but Sebastian does not have any problem acting indifferently toward the man who saved him. That situation is resolved when Sebastian decides to marry Olivia—even though she thinks he is someone else.
Given that so many people are falling in love without knowing exactly what gender the other person identifies with, I think the point of the play is to reveal the openness of love itself. It doesn’t seem to matter who the characters are falling in love with in the play. Shakespeare explores the way people fall in love—not the way men and women fall in love. This is made possible by the Cesario/Viola character. The effects of love are explored without being specifically gendered. However, this does exclude homosexual/bisexual representation.