Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Twelfth Night

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Throughout history, written works of books and plays have been translated into visual productions for audiences to get a glimpse of the original story without having to read it. Although when comparing the written version to visual productions of the original written stories, they never come out to be identical. Both versions may follow the same story lines but will differ in a variety of aspects during the actual storytelling. The same concept is evident in the written version of the play Twelfth Night and the Globe production of it.

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The characters in the video production remain the same as those in the written work of Twelfth Night and perform it verse by verse as found in the play. However, the two works differ in the aspect in how the characters are portrayed involving gender identities. In the written version of Twelfth Night, there is a strong sense of masculinity and femininity within the characters. The audience is given the impression that the male characters are prideful and courageous. Sir Toby Belch emphasizes Sir Andrew’s masculine character by bragging how “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria” (1.3.15). The adjective tall is used to define bravery in this setting. The sword is also a symbol used to characterize a man in the play. For instance, Sir Toby Belch explains to Sir Andrew how “An thou let part so, Sir Andrew, would thou mightst never draw sword/ again” (1.3.49-50). The drawing of a sword is used as a measure of worthiness and masculinity that is constantly emphasized throughout the writing of the play. Women on the other hand, represent beauty and are described to be less capable than men. For example, when Orsino and Cesario are discussing love, Orsino claims:

There is no woman’s sides

Can bide the beating of so strong a passion

As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart

So big, to hold so much. They lack retention. (2.4.90-93)

The power a male character holds in the written play is again highlighted when Orsino expresses how men are superior when it comes to love. It is easy to distinguish in the written play that is Twelfth Night the male from female characters due to the strong effect of gender identity. However, the Globe production of Twelfth Night does not enforce gender identity as heavily as in the written version. In the video production men act out female roles which undermines the masculinity and femininity of the characters. Actors used cross-dressing in order to fulfill the female character they play.

In his article “Bearding the Queen: Male Cross-Dressing at the New Globe”, Bulman emphasizes the effectiveness and acceptance of men playing female roles by including numerous quotes from various critics. Bulman includes from another critic how Rylance’s performance as Cleopatra, a female character, was judged based on “…his ability to exaggerate the womanly despite biological obstacles” (75). This groundbreaking performance described in Bulman’s article led him to the conclusion “…that gender might be a cultural construct, and sexual desire dependent on forces other than biological difference” (75). All in all, Bulman points out how an all-male cast differs from a traditional cast by eliminating gender of the performer and solely focusing on how the role is carried out. I agree with Bulman’s thesis since a male has shown to be just as effective in performing a female role as women have. Gender should not define one’s capability.

If I were producing the play Twelfth Night I would go with a traditional cast of both men and women. My reasoning for deciding this comes from me prioritizing the audiences possible biased views of the production instead of my own preferences. We live in a stereotypical society that normally portrays female roles with females and male roles with males daily in video productions instead of it being all-male or all- female. Although views regarding all-female or all-male casts have shifted drastically and have become more accepting, it does not mean every member of the audience will be accepting of this concept. As reiterated in Bulman’s article, an all-male cast is perfectly capable of playing both roles as it takes the focus away from gender and sexual identity. However, some of the audience may still be stuck on gender identity rather than focusing their attention on the main point of the play.

The whole purpose of a play is for the audience to be entertained by the storyline while also understanding the major lessons that come from it. An all-male or all-female cast accompanied by cross-dressing could serve as a potential distraction which takes away from the overall effect of the play. If the audience for the play were younger more accepting individuals, then I would most likely cast an all-male or all-female cast. Another factor to consider in the production of a play are the performers. If an actor or actress is not able to adapt to a cross-dressed character and it hinders their performance, then I would provide a traditional cast. However, if the actor or actress adapts with no problem or has improved performance, then a cast with the same gender playing different gender identities would be the best approach to take.

In conclusion, growing up in today’s world has allowed me to be a witness of our worlds very persistent traditional views still being held high in society by older generations who don’t like change and don’t accept these new unique ideas. Although our society today has become more accepting and inclusive, gender identity still plays a role in the production of a play. For example, it may add to the overall quality of the show, while in other instances, it can take away from the performance. Depending on the who the audience is and what their personal values are is what will determine the overall enjoyment for everyone. Although not everyone may agree with the decision of how the gender identities and roles are played out, the content and quality of a play is what is of the utmost importance. However, as we can see through the written play Twelfth Night, the Globe production, and the article by Bulman, gender identity will always have an effect even in an evolving world. 

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Shakespeare's Globe Theatre: Twelfth Night. (2022, Feb 08). Retrieved from