Woyzeck and the Subconscious Mind

Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck is a multidimensional piece of work that is based off of Johann Christian Woyzeck, an insane man who murders the mother of his child. Although very confusing at times, the play carries tropes that touch upon meaning of morality throughout its entirety. After carefully reading Büchner’s play, although crafted prior to Sigmund Freud’s introduction to the subconscious mind, Büchner’s Woyzeck projects Freud’s ideas of the ego, id, and superego through different characters, actions, and motifs. More specifically, the play, on a larger scale, is a metaphor for Woyzeck’s subconscious mind and the inner conflict between the id and the superego known as the ego (Class Notes 2/9).

Woyzeck himself is representative of the id within the subconscious mind. The id, which is described as the internal desire that is often repressed by societal pressures and norms, is portrayed through Woyzeck in several ways. First, Woyzeck’s child with Marie serves a symbol of this—because Woyzeck and Marie are not married, yet have a child together, the presences of the child itself serves as symbol to conformity of desire and lust through their premarital rendezvous. In addition to Woyzeck’s child with Marie, another action of Woyzeck’s that conveys the subconscious component id, perhaps more obviously, is when he stabs and murders Marie. His hatred and anger after he learns of Marie’s infidelity drives him to kill her. This is representative of the subconscious id and Woyzeck acting in result of his desire.

In contrast, other external forces serve as the juxtaposing subconscious component, the superego, for Woyzeck. An obvious of example of this is the Doctor. The Doctor serves as societal pressure that the superego generates to filter the id and its consequential decisions. An example of this is when Woyzeck pees on the wall. In response the Doctor vocalizes the absurdity of the situation and reprimands Woyzeck for his decision: “you pissed on the street, you pissed on the wall like a dog” (Büchner 4.8). It is important here to note that the Doctor equates Woyzeck’s actions to that of an animal. His questioning of Woyzeck’s humanity serves as an attempt to oppress the desires Woyzeck might have later to repeat the action.

The conjunction of Woyzeck’s decision to act implicitly and explicitly on his desires, the expression of the id, and the consequences his faces from Doctor and others, the superego, represent the internal struggle of the subconscious mind known as the ego. The entire play serves as a metaphor this.


-What can we learn from a play like Woyzeck? What was Büchner’s message? Does he have one?

-How does Woyzeck serve as commentary on society? How does this relate to social media now?

-It is interesting to me that after Woyzeck’s immoral behavior he is still labeled as a protagonist. Why do you think this is?



Class Notes February 9th, 2016

Topic 7- Philosophy, Insanity, and Religion

The play, Woyzeck, by Georg Buchner is a very interesting play about Franz Woyzeck, a troubled infantryman who ends up murdering his partner, Marie, because of her infidelity and his own insanity. Woyzeck appears to be an examination of humankind through the philosophical lenses of naturalism, determinism, and nihilism. The play darts from setting to setting with a plethora of different characters, citing lines from the Bible throughout. The manic movement from scene to scene and verbiage of the characters speaks to Woyzeck’s deteriorating mental state.

At the start of the play, Woyzeck describes his hallucinations about an apocalypse: “Look how bright it is! There’s fire raging around the sky, and a noise coming down like trumpets… Quiet, it’s all quiet, like the world was dead” (Buchner, 4.1). The imagery of animals when the Carnival Barker is advertising his performance speaks to Charles Darwin’s naturalism. The Carnival Barker says about the monkey, “Look at this creature as God made it: he’s nothing, nothing at all. Now see the effect of art: he walks upright, wears a coat and pants, carries a sword! Ho! Take a bow!” (4.3). The monkey is a metaphor for man; Society and culture have turned humans into spectacle. Buchner is making a statement similar to Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” and is using Charles Darwin’s idea of naturalism to do so. Man is helpless to the forces of nature and the environment, and it is only nature to seek progress and at least appear to evolve. The use of a nihilistic language in the play contributes to the deterministic feeling of helplessness that Woyzeck seems to suffer from. Woyzeck claims, “On and on, on and on. Spin around, roll around. Why doesn’t God blow out the sun so that everything can roll around in lust, man and woman, man and beast…” (4.11). Even Grandmother tells a dark story of a poor child with absolutely nothing who searches for meaning but eventually discovers the universe as an overturned pot, “[the child] wanted to go up to the heavens, and the moon was looking at it so friendly… the moon was a piece of rotten wood and then it went to the sun… the sun was a wilted sunflower… [the stars] were little golden flies…” (1.14).

References to the Bible serve as a contrast to the nihilistic attitudes. The Carnival Barker claims, “It is written: man, be natural; you were created from dust, sand, dirt.” (4.3). Marie leafs through the Bible later in the play before she is killed, searching for references to adultery. Woyzeck references passages of the Bible relating to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and pain as a symbol for the love of God. Woyzeck’s mental state seems to deteriorate further as the play continues on, culminating in his murder of Marie.

1. How does Woyzeck relate to other plays that we’ve read that also include themes of Naturalism and Nihilism?
2. Is the play also a critique of capitalism?
3. The use of imagery of the Carnival Barker and the animals were very fascinating to me. What further significance do they have?
4. Why is the play so frenetic in its switching from scene to scene?

The Cost of Ignorance

Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck takes us through the tragic tale of Franz Woyzeck, a poor military barber. Although the story itself is fiction, the play’s version Woyzeck is based on the historical Johann Christian Woyzeck (1780-1824), a veteran who “killed his lover by stabbing her seven times with a broken sword blade” (Woyzeck, p. 133). Although commonly interpreted as the story of a man (i.e. Franz Woyzeck) who becomes the victim of social and economic forces, I argue Büchner’s “modern” drama should be equally characterized as a play that calls attention to the dangers of mental illness, specifically Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is defined as a “psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood” (PTSD, Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs). Although the treatment of veterans has improved since Büchner’s time, war survivors still do not receive the treatment they deserve. My family has a lengthy history of military service and mental illness from conflict is something I have always felt passionate about. Although my father, a Vietnam veteran, is mentally healthy, my uncle who is also a Vietnam veteran has struggled with PTSD since his early twenties. Another uncle of mine recently returned from the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, though thankfully without mental distress. I believe Büchner utilizes a socially oppressed military veteran as his protagonist in order to critique the treatment of veterans and/or other mentally unstable patients during his time.

Woyzeck however, is also undoubtedly a damning social critique that does not shy away from its naturalistic roots. As we have learned in our readings and in class, naturalist plays are defined by their bland and ordinary settings, and most often pit the story’s protagonist against external forces determined by hereditary, social, and/or economic factors (Zarrilli, p. 273, Cash). As previously mentioned, in reading the play it becomes clears that Franz Woyzeck most definitely suffers from the latter two factors. Signs of mental illness however, are littered throughout the play. Woyzeck believes someone continually follows him and that something, or someone, is “out there,” even though other characters have not the slightest idea of who or what he is referring to (Woyzeck, p. 138). Marie states Franz is “out of his mind” when he attempts to personify her “sin so fat and wide” and in one of the optional scenes, the Doctor also tells Woyzeck that he is mad and must be taken to the “insane asylum” (Woyzeck, p. 143, 166-167). Woyzeck himself states that he has hallucinations and has “heard a terrible voice talking to [him]” (Woyzeck, p. 144-145). Furthermore, the Doctor continually toys with and uses Woyzeck as a test subject for his experiments. In my reading of the play, the Doctor became analogous to those medical “practioners” who perceive mental illness as an opportunity to be taken advantage of. Rather than running tests to help placate Woyzeck’s (mental) illnesses, the Doctor instead runs strange tests on the barbers such as only feeding him peas. It is no secret that many veterans suffering from PTSD and other mentally ill patients often do not receive proper care. I believe Büchner’s decision to utilize the Doctor as a figure that acts contrary to his intended purpose (i.e. he should heal not harm) is representative of past and modern day ignorance, or naivety, of mental illness.

Marie’s infidelity and her eventual murder however, serve as breaking points for Woyzeck. His wife’s sinful actions break his heart, while Woyzeck’s eruption of violence shatters his mind. Many veterans I have spoken with, including those in my family, have consistently told me their loved ones is the only thing that keeps them alive and happy. For Marie to sleep with another man and essentially destroy one of the few things Woyzeck has left to hold on to, his mental well being – fragile as it already was – easily breaks alongside his heart. The violent murder Woyzeck commits I argue depicts our protagonist cracking not only under social and economic pressure, but also mental pressure. After murdering his wife, Woyzeck then seems to adopt a state of mind that justifies his violent actions. At the inn he states, “That’s the way it is: the devil takes on and lets the other go” (Woyzeck, p. 153). Later, after returning to his wife’s body Woyzeck states, “They made you black, black! Now I’ve made you white” (Woyzeck, p. 154). Though it is impossible to determine whether or not the real life Woyzeck shared similar mental issues, I believe his theatrical counterpart serves as a way for Büchner to raise awareness to the issue of mental illness. Regardless of the translation, Woyzeck’s story represents the harmful effects of mental illness and the tragic costs of society’s failure to recognize and help aid those with related sicknesses.

Questions: Have there been any contemporary showings of Woyzeck that showcase mental illness as something the play is attempting to draw attention to? My reading of the play may be entirely misguided, however is there a reason in particular Büchner chose a war veteran for his protagonist, rather than selecting one of the other countless men who have murdered their wife? Finally, the Grandmother’s “fairy tale” (p. 151) seems a little out of place. Does the tale have a specific, known significance to it or did Büchner ever comment as to why it was put in the play in the first place?

Additional Sources:




The Importance of Perception and Portrayal


Georg Büchner’s unfinished play, Woyzeck, has been subject to many attempts, on the behalf of experts, to recreate a final version that would be similar to the one Büchner would have created. These recreations depend fully on how these experts comprehend the play and how they wish to recreate it. It is interesting then, that Büchner’s work itself seems to play with similar themes of perception and portrayal. We can see that perception and portrayal have an impact on the communication of ideas, which is consistent theme seen in various forms of media.


Woyzeck as a character seems to have an alternate perception of reality that affects his experience of the real world. Throughout the play he has hallucinations and talks about seeing things and hearing things that others do not hear. The other characters do not understand Woyzeck’s hallucinations. Marie even responds to Woyzeck saying, “ your out of your mind,” and “ you’re delirious,” (142). The only one that seems to try to help Woyzeck is Andres who recommends that Woyzeck go to the infirmary. The other characters did not understand Woyzeck and how he perceived the world, which caused many to treat him harshly. This illustrates the notion that the way that someone sees the world dramatically affects the way in which he/she is perceived by others. This is comparable to media because media is a powerful source of portrayal. The way in which one given form of media demonstrates its understanding of the world may be completely different than another, which contributes to the importance of the ideas of perception and portrayal that Büchner plays with.


Themes of perception and portrayal are also seen in the conversation between Woyzeck and the Captain about virtue. The Captain explains that he thinks Woyzeck has no virtue, and is not a virtuous man. To this, Woyzeck replies, “ Yes, Cap’n, virtue! I haven’t figured it out yet. You see, us common people, we don’t have virtue, we act like nature tells us – but if I was a gentleman, and had a hat and a watch an overcoat and could talk refined, then I’d be virtuous, too,” (142). Here, Büchner is further showing the power of portrayal. If Woyzeck was able to dress nicely and look like a gentleman, than the Captain would not criticize him for having no virtue, regardless of whether he had it or not. This continues to tie back to media. As a form of portraying messages, different types of media can result in different perceptions of the information.


Various experts continue to piece their interpretations of what a finished form of this play should be. It is interesting to think of these subsequent versions of Woyzeck as various portrayals of Büchner’s original version, which was never finished. Büchner seems to highlight in his work, that perception and portrayal play a key role in an individual’s world experience. The various attempts to finish Büchner’s work will rely on the ways in which these expert’s perceived Büchners writing and how they chose to portray these ideas in subsequent versions of Woyzeck.


1. How might different forms of media affect the ways in which information is perceived?

2. Is Büchner trying to portray Woyzeck as a cold blooded murderer? or does his portrayal of Woyzeck as a character almost make the reader feel sympathy for him?

Naturalism and Human Existence

Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck illuminates Büchner’s thoughts on society and the pessimistic way in which he views the world. Written in 1837, Woyzeck stems from the beginnings of the realist movement, a wave of art and literature that attempted to showed the world with complete authenticity. With a starkly pessimistic and harsh look at the human experience, Büchner pushes beyond realist themes in Woyzeck as he no longer strives to uphold the balance of good and evil, but rather allows suffering to prevail. Some would say that Büchner’s work is then more rooted in the philosophy and literary movement of naturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the world functions on natural laws and forces and that supernatural beings do not exist (1). This naturalist view aptly embodies Büchner’s feelings toward his own world. Through his use of biblical allusions, frequent reference to animals, and language regarding time and existence, Büchner conveys his disgust for his unjust and nonsensical world.

Büchner paradoxically plays with biblical language to reflect his belief that the world is not influenced by a higher god, but rather that mankind is left to suffer alone without help from a higher power. Büchner’s tragic protagonist, Woyzeck, takes on a Christ-like role as he is tormented physically and psychologically by his thoughts, the Doctor, and even Drum-Major. In the first scene, Woyzeck almost clairvoyantly hallucinates about an apocalypse as “fire [rages] around the sky” ending with “the world [being] dead” (Büchner’s Major Works, 137). We, as the audience, feel sorry for Woyzeck who must endure such torments as apocalyptic hallucinations and a starved diet of only peas. However, our views of the poor protagonist become jaded at the end of the play as Woyzeck kills his wife (a very non-Christ-like act). A similar paradox is created with the character, Marie, Woyzeck’s wife. Marie illusively resembles the Virgin Mary: she is referred to as “Mrs. Virgin” in the scene 4,2 (Büchner’s Major Works, 137), she frequently is seen with her baby – Christian – on her lap and her name so closely matches that of ‘Mary.’ Ironically, this “Virgin Mary” gets killed because of her flirtation with Drum-Major and is frequently called a “whore” and “bitch” throughout Büchner’s play. Büchner’s cynicism toward the human experience is ever-present in these two tragic characters. As they both endure such harsh lives only to kill or be killed in the end of the play, Büchner ironically employs biblical allusions to convey the idea that there is no higher being influencing the world. If God were present, perhaps Woyzeck and Marie, would not turn at the hand of their immoral society, but since God is not present, Woyzeck and Marie are left to their own undoing. In this sense, Büchner’s Woyzeck seems to parallel Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as Vladimir and Estragon wait for a God that never arrives.

Büchner’s disgust for the human experience is also present in the way in which he elevates animals in his play. Büchner comments that animals have a “beastly wisdom [that] put[s] human society to shame” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). He jabs at humans in saying that “It’s all a matter of upbringing; [a monkey] is no brutish individual like a lot of people” (Büchner’s Major Works, 139). Through his references to animals, Büchner establishes his antipathy for humans in his society in saying that they are less than creatures that do not even act by their own accord.

Lastly, Büchner’s mere language concerning time and existence throughout the play is laden with disgust for the human experience. Through his characters, Büchner expresses his “fear for the world when [he] thinks about eternity” and how “thirty years” left on Earth is an “ungodly amount of time” (Büchner’s Major Works, 141). Büchner believes that “everything goes to hell…man and woman alike” and questions, “why does man exist? … Why doesn’t God blow out the sun so that everything can roll around in lust, man and woman, man and beast” (Büchner’s Major Works, 147). Through this language, we see Büchner’s utter contempt for human existence and his true sentiments on the reality of life.


Do you think Büchner’s views on society would be different today in the age of technology than they were back when he was writing Woyzeck? If so, how and why would they be different (i.e. what would technology do to change Büchner’s mind about his failing society)? Would he feel more positively about the human experience or would technology engender further disgust for mankind?

How might Büchner’s thoughts about human existence manifest in social media today? Do we gain validity and/or solace in our understanding of human existence through social media? Does social media re-affirm existence for some or help others feel a sense of comradery in life?

(1) (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalism-philosophy

The Patriarchy and Same-sex Relations of 17th Century England

Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night  provides us with an interesting outlier concerning the thought processes of those who wished to promote the traditional patriarchy, where the male is the head of the household and all reproductive rights are granted to him, of the time.  The play incorporates cross dressing in the form of Viola impersonating a man by the name of Cesario.  Cesario then becomes involved in a love triangle with the fair maiden Olivia and the Duke Orsino.  Olivia falls in love with Cesario (Viola) while she falls for the Duke who is in love with Olivia.  This provides a type of confusion to the cut and dry heterosexual relationship of the times and somewhat serves to introduce the concept of gender.

Although many theater companies began employing women to play female roles by the 16th century, English companies did not.  This served to reinforce the patriarchy by denying women employment within the theater industry. (Zarrilli, 228)  However, I feel like this choice was a very large contradiction to the country’s aversion to same sex relations.  Men playing female roles would have lead to the portrayal of romantic relationships in theater between two persons who were actually men at a time when homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment or death.  Historians say that one possibility would be the fear of female sexuality, although it is somewhat discredited in that the rest of Europe was certainly not more enlightened to this subject at the time.  (Zarrilli 229)

The most likely reason for the continuance of this tradition was that it was familiar to the audiences.  However, it has been argued that artists like William Shakespeare took advantage of the familiarity to explore more outlandish or forbidden topics such as homoeroticism and same-sex attraction. The Twelfth Night is an excellent example as, although the play ends with two traditional marriages (Olivia to Sebastian and Duke Orsino to Viola) to satisfy the common sentiment of the time, the suggested homoerotic relationships established between Viola and Olivia and Duke Orsino and Cesario are simply glossed over. (Zarrilli, 232)  This leaves us to wonder at the state of the relationships, as Olivia was attracted to Viola in the form of the man, while Orsino takes Viola for his wife with the clear image of her as Cesario, even referring to Viola as Cesario before declaring that she shall be his queen. (Anthology, 533)

For further questions, I would be interested to learn more about other plays that also exhibit relationships without the realm of heterosexuality.  Also, I feel that it would be interesting to examine the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, as Zarrilli also alludes to there being sexual suggestion in their relationship.  Finally, I am wondering if the rest of the class views Shakespeare’s actions deliberate in depicting same-sex relationships as such or if the sole purpose was to divine comedy from the mix up at the end of the play.

Topic 6-Flexibility of Language and Communication

In chapter 9 of Bill Kovarik’s Revolutions in Communication, Kovarik addresses the development of the television and the impact the new technology has had on media since the invention’s infancy. Kavorik claims that, “television embodied the dream of universal international communication…” (Kavorik, 236). Before media such as print, photographs, radio, and television, the theater was the closest form of “universal international communication” (236). Similar to the FCC’s instances of broadcasting regulation in the years following WWII and the civil rights movement, the English crown regulated theater companies in London (Kavorik 239, 250; Zarilli, 206). The Puritans in 1660, just like Plato’s view of the theater, “feared that mimicry and spectacle would corrupt people’s reason” (Zarilli, 207).

William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; Or What You Will serves as an overarching metaphor for the versatility of language and the fragility of communication. The title itself includes the indecisive phrase, “Or What You Will”, which allows the reader the freedom to choose another title for the play, furthering the theme of the flexibility of language. Feste, the jester, says in act III, “A sentence is but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward! (Shakespeare, 3.1.311-313). Feste claims that sentences are similar to thin material; He suggests that words can be easily warped or turned inside out. Feste, as a jester, is a master of wit and puns. The clown’s statements about language and his twisting of words reflect the essence of Twelfth Night festivities in Tudor England. “The Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve… A King or Lord of Misrule would be appointed to run the… festivities… The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed” (ReligionFacts.com). Additionally, letters and poetry concerning love interests move throughout Twelfth Night as the play reflects on danger of written words and the folly of man.

Analogously to The Importance of Being Earnest, Twelfth Night; Or What You Will, addresses aestheticism and the artificiality of life. As Viola (a woman played by a young boy) assumes the identity of Cesario (the character of a young boy, played by a young woman who is played by a young boy) questions the accuracy of realness and reality. Viola claims at the play’s start, “Doth oft close in pollution… I’ll serve this duke. Thou shalt present me as a eunuch to him. It may be worth my pains… ” (Shakespeare, 1.2.46, 54-56). She states that “nature often conceals a person’s inward corruption with outward beauty”(Norton, 473). Then, Viola ironically announces that she will serve the Orsino in a disguise: her outward appearance hiding her inner one.


  1. How does the Kavorik chapter on television relate further to the play?
  1. The idea of flipping gender roles has been a topic in our class concerning other plays. What makes this one unique? Is it significance of where and when the play was written and performed originally? The Zarilli chapter speaks to this in the case study, but I’m curious to see what other opinions are about this.
  1. I would like to know more about Malvolio’s role in the play. What is his significance? He suffers from the flexibility of language unlike any of the other characters.




Love, Homoeroticism, and Patriarchy

William Shakespeare illuminates the sexual desires in England during the early modern period. Shakespeare uses the intimate relationships between opposite-sex couples to allow the audience to explore the desire for same-sex love. This was explored by using “cross-dressed boys between the ages of eight and eighteen” to perform the women characters as stated by Bruce McConachie in Theatre Histories (Zarrilli 227). Throughout the play homoerotic desire is apparent with the use of only male actors. Olivia who is played by a male falls in love with “Cesario” who she believes is a male but, in fact, is Viola who is also played by a male; “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit/Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!/Unless the master were the man. How now?/Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” (1.5, 297-301). Here Olivia has fallen in love with “Cesario” and compares it to catching the bubonic “plague” which had swept through England during the time period and was relatable. The relationship between Antonio and Sebastian also captures homoerotic emotions as well with Antonio proclaiming his devotion to follow Sebastian. These intimate scenes tapped into the homoerotic desires of a Shakespearean audience and evoked various emotions such as pleasure or anxiety.

Shakespeare captures the patriarchal ideology of England through the relationships in the play as well. Orsino exemplifies the sentiment of male over female sexuality when he states to “Cesario”, “There is no woman’s side/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./… Make no compare/ Between that love a woman can bear me/ And that I owe Olivia.” (2.4, 92-102). Throughout the play Orsino feels Olivia must love him because no woman can resist him or love as much as he can. Orsino needs Olivia “as a means of cementing alliances and accumulating property through marriage” to solidify the patriarchal order (Zarrilli 228). Orsino ends up marrying Viola who is of an inferior social class which symbolizes the same-sex love by men in superior positions which is enabled by the patriarchal ideology. In addition, Malvolio desire for Olivia’s love can be seen as a relationship that threatened the patriarchy so he was abused by the other characters to be seen as a madman which is similar to men convicted of “sodomy” who were punished for an act that threatened the social order.

What role does the hierarchy of class and gender play in the play?

How come Viola gets married to the Duke while dressed as a boy?

How is foolishness embodied through human behavior in the play?

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. <http://www.authorama.com/laughter-14.html>.

Garber, Marjorie B. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. <http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/garber/viceversa.html>.


Gender Fluidity and the Ambiguity of Sexual Orientation

Since the early 17th century, the state has had influence over theatre in many countries, whether it is strict censorship of play’s content or rules regarding actor’s costumes. In England, however, the censoring of ideas was not as strong as those seen in France during the 17th century. As Zarilli states, “English playwrights simply had to avoid inflammatory political and religious issues; they were not expected to reinforce the absolutist values of the regime [as in France]” (Zarilli, 206). The lack of censorship of “sexual suggestiveness and homoerotic ideas” allowed English playwrights to explore different perspectives regarding characters’ gender fluidity and sexual orientation, themes shown in Twelfth Night (Zarilli, 230). Further, “the freedom for actors to wear costumes of opposite genders and [different] classes in England” promoted gender-changing behavior (Zarilli, 206). During this period in England, homoerotic feelings were also not unusual especially because only men were permitted to act, young boys played female roles. As Zarilli puts it, “Male teachers often formed liaisons with male students, and a master might act on his desire for a male apprentice” (Zarilli, 228). The idea of censoring certain ideas in theatre is similarly seen when television first came out. “Many southern TV stations routinely cut national network feeds of Civil Right coverage, often pretending they were having technical difficulty” (Kovarik, 326). Authority in the South believed that censoring certain stations that promoted controversial ideas, similar to censoring certain plays, would prevent these ideas from implanting into people’s minds that may lead to chaos or violence.


This theme of gender fluidity and disguise is seen in the protagonist in Twelfth Night. Early in the play, we are introduced to Viola who was saved by a captain after a shipwreck. In order to make a living and provide for herself in a new environment, she decides to disguise herself as a boy to serve the Duke, Orsino, as she states, “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid/For such a disguise as haply shall become” (1.2.54-56). This disguise allowed her to hide her true identity. However, her plan soon becomes problematic as she begins to fall for Orsino. Because of the rigid English societal norms in regards to homosexual relationship in this time, it may have been challenging for Viola to express her love to Orsino as a male. Viola disguises her identity as she responds to Olivia, “I am not who I am” (3.1.131). This idea of disguise and changing identities is similar to Ernest in the Importance of Being Ernest and actors in general when they put on a play for others. When people put on plays or go on social media, they are putting on a disguise and rarely are who they present themselves to be.


The ambiguity of sexual orientation is a theme related to gender fluidity and is shown in several characters. Characters seem not to be in love with people of a certain gender (male/female), but to specific characters or individuals. Orsino is a character in the play that does not fit our categorical views of homosexual or heterosexual. Though Orsino seems to be in love with females such Olivia and Viola, his attraction to Cesario, Viola in disguise, is very evident. At the end of the play, after Viola reveals her true identity, Orsino continues to hold onto his previous belief that Viola is a boy, saying, “Cesario, Come – /For so you shall be while you are a man;/ But when in other habits you are seen, Orinso’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen” (5.1.370). Orsino’s inability to call Viola by her female name indicates that he may still be interested and attracted to Viola disguised as a boy. Another quote that further stresses Orsino’s love for Viola as a boy is when he refers to her saying, “boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times/Thou never shouldst love woman like to me” (5.1.268). It is unclear whether Orsino is in love with Viola, a woman, or with Viola as her male character, Cesario. It is probable that he is in love with Viola, the person, and disregards her gender. Another character whose sexual orientation is obscured is Sebastian, Viola’s twin. Although Sebastian falls in love with Olivia the moment they meet, once he reunites with Antonio, who saved him after the shipwreck, he states, “Antonio! Oh my dear Antonio, /How have the hours racked and tortured me/ Since I have lost thee!” (5.1.201). Although Sebastian may really care about Antonio as a friend, it is strange that missing Antonio for a couple of hours would torture Sebastian. The words ‘racked’ and ‘tortured’ emphasize Sebastian’s love towards Antonio to a different degree.


Some questions I have while reading through the play was what were the laws regarding gay and lesbian rights in England in the 17th century? Since homoerotic themes were not forbidden in plays, was the society more open about it? Also, what was Shakespeare’s sexual orientation, and whether he experience in the society affected how he shaped his characters?