Author Archives: shorton

Origins of Catfishing: Identity and Sexuality as Performance in Twelfth Night

“I am not that I play” (Norton, 459).

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is replete with mistaken identities, misinterpretations, and ambiguous sexualities. Not only are semblances feigned, but information is complicated and misconstrued through various mediums. The plot of Twelfth Night, much like that of The Importance of Being Ernest, is based on the inconsistencies between appearance and reality. Characters mask themselves in costumes to assume other identities. Romances are formed and fractured due to false information and recognition. Images of masking recur throughout the text, as brides walk “veiled” and Olivia “draws the curtains” to display her face (448, 460). Almost every character involves himself/herself in some sort of masking, whether that be through written word (Maria, Toby, and Fabian), spoken word (Feste), or appearance (Viola). Eventually, the “knot” becomes “too hard” to “untangle,” and characters are caught in their lies or in complicated situations (464). I could not help but to think of a similar phenomena that uses the internet to feign identity: Catfishing.

When one catfishes, he or she lures another into a relationship (often via social media) by false means or through a fictitious persona. The original 2010 documentary film depicts a man researching his online girlfriend and eventually tracking her down in person. The film has developed into a television series, the trailer to which I have posted below. The relationship between Viola (Cesario) and Olivia is somewhat similar to a catfishing, as Olivia is falsely convinced that Viola is a man. The letter from Maria to Malvolio more so resembles a traditional catfishing, because Maria has claimed someone else’s identity and written falsely from them. The ambiguity of identity and relationships potentially implies a latent homosexuality within Twelfth Night, as described in greater detail through Zaralli’s case study of Marjorie Garber’s Vice Versa: Bisexuality and Eroticism of Everyday Life. According to Garber, homosexuality (and bisexuality) was considered a “practice” rather than an “identity” (Garber). She claims that bisexuality is present in many Shakespeare plays, though some less obviously. The relationship between Viola as Cesario and Orsino is particularly interesting, for though he is unaware of Viola’s interest in him, the two are incredibly close. Orsino trusts Viola, the man, with his secrets, and spends much of the play in close quarters with him. When Viola reveals her true identity as a woman, Orsino pursues her without hesitation, claiming that they will be married. Gender within the play additionally appears fluid, though ironically there is ample discussion on the temperament of women versus men, and the different ways in which both pursue romance. The notion of masking also relates to Zarrilli’s case study on Kabuki theater, a form of traditionally Japanese drama. Kabuki is very stylized, with sharp, specific movements. The actors wear masks to embody a character, and the masks themselves are inherently tied with the new personas. When in costume, the actor assumes the character entirely, and cannot be separated. Similar to Viola’s disguise, Kabuki theater uses costume as a way to portray a deeper transition from one person to another.

Zarrilli also discusses a case study of the comic, citing Henri Bergson’s: “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic.” According to Bergson, the comic utilizes “absurdity” and the “logic of the absurd” (Bergson). Comics “invert common sense,” often mixing “madness” and “dreams” with reality (Bergson). The uncertainty of sanity and reality, seen clearly through Malvolio’s deception, demonstrates the use of absurdist comedy within the play. The fool, Feste, additionally embodies this role of the comic, and often appears wiser and more cunning than many of the other characters. Viola states: “this fellow is wise enough to play the fool and to do that well craves a kind of wit” (Norton 478). The play mentions fools, politicians, and comedians, all of whom utilize some sort of performance to craft an identity. Feste is perhaps the most successful of the Twelfth Night characters at feigning a persona, for though he plays a fool, he is intelligent. Feste ultimately acquires a good amount of money for going along with what is asked of him.

I saw Kovaric’s chapter on television and the Global Village tangentially relating to the play in its discussion of the “illumination” that television could bring. With the rise of publicized political debates, information was able to spread more widely and accurately. The mention of quiz show deception was interesting, as the shows seemed to be the origins of modern “reality” television, complicating what is real and what is staged. The discussion of the Global Village related well to the play, as it provoked a “huge involvement in everyone else’s affairs.” Though the information in Twelfth Night is misconstrued, the notion of nosiness and secrecy is prevalent, leading characters to involve themselves in others’s situations, only to further complicate them.


Is it easier today to successfully feign an identity, with the prevalence of internet and social medias? Is it be more complicated to keep consistency through these mediums, or is it easier to distance one’s self from another through them?

I’m interested in Feste’s role as the fool, and am hoping to discuss him more. This is not a specific question, but more so a hope to discuss his function in the play and why he can successfully feign an identity when others cannot. Is it that he is always performing?

I am also interested in exploring gender roles, specifically relating to Shakespeare’s society. If bisexuality was seen as “practice,” and gender appears less of a concern romantically and sexually throughout the play, why are depictions of gender so stringent and polarizing in the text, particularly in terms of domestic roles and human nature.

Does the rise of television continue to promote reality as a performance? Everyday events such as the news, political debates, and sports, are now mediated through a box that inherently places them in the realm entertainment. Is this similar to Twelfth Night’s intentional deception of character’s feigning reality?

Another topic that I think we should is the relation between one’s appearance and one’s interiority. There is ample discussion within the play about outer beauty and inner maliciousness: “nature with a beauteous wall doth oft close in pollution” (Norton 449). How does the internet, with photoshop, affect this notion? Does there need to be discord between appearance and one’s interior?

Catfish Season 1 Trailer:



Works Cited:

Bergson, Henri. “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comicby Henri Bergson.” Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic. Authorama, n.d. Web. <>.

Garber, Marjorie B. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. <>.


Topic #5: Origins of Theater: Religion as Performance

According to Zarrilli, early theater stemmed from religious festivals and rituals, “choreographed performances” dedicated to the gods (Zarrilli 52). Drama was used in a competitive fashion, as well as a way to honor deities, edify citizens, and commemorate history. With the rise of democracy in Ancient Greece, theater only popularized, as citizens began to finance choruses and productions at annual festivals. Across cultures, both internationally and generationally, religion seemed inherently tied to performance and the rise of theater. Mesoamerican performances always involved religious elements, and their conquerors, the Spanish, later used religious performance to suppress and instruct them. The development of Christianity stemmed from performance, as Mass itself became a commemorative sort of theater. Drama was used to communicate biblical and moral ideals to those unable to read or without access to texts. As Kovarik claims, the printing press gave rise to the proliferation of texts in the Middle Ages, yet prior to the printing revolution, access to cheap and accurate text was difficult.

Theater continued to grow with the help of municipal communities, but its ties to religion remained evident, particularly with later “morality plays” (Zarrilli 78). Theater, Zarrilli claims, was meant to “incorporate large numbers of people in an activity with a common purpose,” not unlike performances today (Zarrilli 85). As we have discussed, theater differs from media such as television in its interactive rapport between audience and actors. The audience influences the production in ways impossible if separated by a medium.

Hrotsvit’s play, “Dulcitius,” is a prime example of the use of theater to promote religion. Though it is unclear if her text was a closet drama, never staged and relatively unknown, the clear Christian values of virginity, purity (in women), and loyalty to God are still present. The dialogue of the three sisters, Agape, Hirena, and Chionia, appears strangely similar to the call and response developed in church Masses. The sisters speak eloquently, almost as though they are reading directly from a bible. They are unaffected by the violent threats against them, instead citing Christ and God as their saviors, and the afterlife as their heaven. The play brings gender roles into question, by declaring the women more chaste and honorable, and the men licentious and foolish. As plays were used to communicate religion to new members or those conquered, Hrotsvit’s play makes sense in that it seems didactic towards those of pagan faith.

I believe discussing religion and performance together is necessary to understand the origins of theater. Personally, I was surprised to discover that theater so strongly resides in religion, and that its development was used mainly to propagate religion even before the printing press. The notion of religion as a sort of choreography, staged instead of naturally arising out of faith, seems fascinating, and I believe it is something worth discussing in class, particularly now where personal performance on social media is prevalent.



Particularly with Restoration Theater, religion and drama began to oppose one another. Instead of teaching moral lessons, theater explored more scandalous subjects of harlotry, gambling, and alcohol, mostly in comedic manors. I wonder how theater was able to grow and detach itself from religion enough to even oppose it, when its roots are so interconnected?

Zarilli claims that Aristotle wrote: “mimesis-direct imitation of reality-was theatre’s goal” (Zarilli 65). As theater later morphed into varying levels of realism, symbolism, and more stylized representations, I wonder how its purpose has changed? How has theater developed to suit the time in which it exists, particularly when realism is not the focus? Thinking especially to “Waiting for Godot,” and the impact of WWII on minimalism and symbolism.

I wonder how many of our historic institutions (religion, government, etc.) are based in performance. Particularly now that our presidential election has turned into a sort of reality television, I wonder if performance reduces the importance of various pillars of our society, or if in fact these pillars are just rooted in theater. Does that make them less legitimate or real?

Similarly, Zarilli discusses Christian Mass as a performance in itself. I wonder about the role religion plays today in a performance setting rather than simply in one’s private faith. With the infiltration of social media allowing anything to become public, as well as society’s fascination with broadcasting themselves as a sort of performance, I wonder if religion has remained performative despite plays becoming more secular? Does this mean customs such as religion have become more surface rather than sincere, or has performance always been an aspect of strong faith?

I am generally surprised that Hrotsvit’s play presented women with greater moral quality than men, for this seems quite controversial. From Zarrilli’s reading, plays did often inspire controversy, yet I wonder the reaction to women playwrights in general, as well as plays that, in a way, reversed gender roles?