There are many things about this play that I find extremely interesting and definitely surprising. The story itself, to begin with, is not what you would expect to come out of the Elizabethan Age—specifically, the parts regarding gender. The constant swapping of genders and the homosexual undertone create an atmosphere that suggests so many different possibilities beg to be discussed. Now, I am quite familiar with this play because I have studied it before and have seen two different adaptations, yet, I still often find myself confused with all the disguises and false-names. (Just imagine how the audience back then must’ve felt about Viola/Cesario—watching a male play a female disguised as a male.)
I can see why throughout the ages some places in the country, maybe the world too, would ban this play. There are unconventional aspects that may on occasion make some people feel uncomfortable. I say on occasion because I truly believe that this story has many different meanings depending on how it is directed. When I read the play for the first time, I was a freshman in high school and just getting used reading Shakespeare. We didn’t dig too deeply into it; we simply had to write a paper about it. At that time, I most definitely missed a lot of what could be interpreted as homosexual undertones. It was just a simple case of commonplace comedy: people in disguise, comical misunderstandings, and a drunk, old, crazy uncle. In my young mind, the relationships that could be regarded as homosexual—especially with Antonio and Sebastian—were not strange. The love Antonio speaks of so passionately was, in my head where I struggled a bit with the early-modern English, the love of a brother for a brother. Because I read it this way the first time I was introduced to it, I got the same thing the second time when I read it in Dr. Crockett’s class. Before we discussed the play in class, we went to go see a production of it. The light suggestion of homoeroticism in the play was dropped on us like a ton of bricks in the production and I realized for the first time how differently the play could be interpreted. In the play, the actor playing Antonio was directed to be fully in romantic love with Sebastian (who did not realize). Similarly, the scene where “Cesario” and Orsino are talking and listening to music was extremely sexually charged with them frequently leaning in as if they would kiss before pulling quickly away and when they are finally together in the end, Viola is still dressed as a man. These are just a few examples but the idea continued throughout the play. It really makes me wonder how it was directed in the original production.
The other “production” that I have seen is a movie that many people are probably familiar with from when they were younger but, like me, hadn’t realized at the time that it was based off the play. She’s the Man directed by Andy Fickman is loosely based off the Twelfth Night. The characters swap genders, just like in the play, and it loosely follows the same story line (well as much as it can considering one takes place in medieval Illyria and the film takes place in a high school). The interesting thing about this production is that there is very, very little—I actually don’t recall any—hints of homosexuality. It reminds me of the first time I read the book: the love between those of the same gender was more innocent and the gender swapping was completely comedic. That is one of the very interesting things about this play—it can be a completely different story depending on how it is directed.
One last thought that I have is that I feel that, in today’s world, this story could be made very interesting by swapping the actual genders around. The world we live in today is so much more accepting of the LGBT community and I would be so interested to see how this play could work if Viola was actually a man, or Orsino a woman, or Olivia a man. An interesting thing to point out is that I believe that anyway you swapped it, the story would still work. Any way you spin it, this story's got a whole lotta love.