This paper is a study on Viola in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (1600). Shakespeare wrote three romantic comedies featuring heroines disguised by wearing men’s clothes; The Merchant of Venice (1596), As You Like It (1599), and Twelfth Night. It has been generally said that Twelfth Night is somewhat tragic in spite of being a romantic comedy. The reason seems to be that of Viola’s disguise. In the cases of Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Rosalind in As You Like It, disguise is a kind of a tool for fulfilling their purposes. Portia disguises herself as a judge to save her lover’s life. Rosalind amuses herself by disguise for a love game. Compared with them, however, the disguise for Viola is a kind of a shield. It conceals not only her outward appearance but also her inside. The disguise prevents Viola from expressing her internal true feelings including love. Soon conflict or stress, which is created by her disguise, annoys Viola throughout the play. Therefore the major purpose of this study will be to analyze and discuss Viola’s inner side or psychology caused by the disguise in the play.
As for the relation between disguise and players, it is inevitable to focus on boy players. Needless to say, one of the most characteristic stage conventions in Elizabethan plays was that boy players played female impersonators. This could easily provoke not a little confusion of gender as well as sexuality in the audience. In fact, disguise, particularly disguise in women’s clothes by boy players, was made the target of harsh criticism by priests and educators in the Elizabethan era. By referring to some opinions concerning disguise and change in fashion in the Elizabethan era, the meaning of disguise in Twelfth Night will be clarified by degrees in this paper.