Cross dressing is an important element that renders serious repercussions in Shakespeare's plays. Two plays that emphasize cross dressing and the repercussions it can bring are Twelfth Night and As You Like it. While the characters of Viola and Rosalind have very different reasons to explain their cross dressing, each circumstance while causing complications, also works in their behalf. Their ability to fool those around them generates interest and adds an element of complexity to each play. Namely, each woman is able to accomplish something she would not have been able to do as a woman. Rosalind teaches Orlando the ways of love and Viola makes her way into Orsino's house and heart.
In As You Like It, Rosalind is forced to assume to role of a man as a result of fleeing the Duke's Court and seeking refuge in the forest of Arden. Her logic stems from the fact that "beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold" (I.iii.107). She also believes that because she is "more common than tall" (I.iii.113), she could easily pass for a man. Rosalind also realizes that she must do more than dress for the occasion -- she must also act the past. She declares that she will leave her fear in her heart and "have a swashing and a martial outside,/As many other mannish cowards have" (I.iii.117-8). Rosalind is forced to dress as a man but she also assumes the role with confidence and excitement.
On the other hand, Viola in Twelfth Night, discovers herself shipwrecked in a foreign land and resorts to disguising herself as a man so she can serve the duke. She beseeches the captain's help to present her as a "eunuch" (I.i.53). Viola's situation is more dire -- she has been shipwrecked and suddenly discovers herself in a new environment, surrounded by new people.
Although each woman discovers herself in quite a predicament, they are allowed to shed their old identity for a new one. As we will discover, these new identities bring about serious repercussions and a series of unintended consequences that add depth and complexity to their roles.
It should be noted that each woman responds differently to her newfound character. Viola seems to stumble under the pressure of acting like a man at times. She says, "Time, thou must untangle this, not I;/It is too hard a knot for me t' untie" (II.ii.40-1). Unlike Rosalind, Viola cannot take advantage of the situation at hand. Viola sees her circumstance as hopeless when she admits, "As I am man,/My state is desperate for my master's love" (II.ii.36-37). She becomes so focused on Orsino that she cannot see any possibilities beyond her desperate state. Despite this fact, Viola is able to convince those around her that she is indeed Cesario. She is much like the character of Rosalind in that she encounters very little, if any, difficulty in assuming the role of a man.
On the other hand, Rosalind seems to lose herself in playing the part of Ganymede, she also seems to be enjoying herself greatly. Rosalind allows herself to have fun with her part, even though she appears to just as much in love as Viola. While in disguise, Rosalind immediately seizes the opportunity to make a better lover out of Orlando. In response to his lovesick poetry, she declares that she "will speak to him like a saucy lackey, and/under that habit play the knave with him" (3.2.289-90). Shakespeare has a little fun with Rosalind's Ganymede as well. For instance, she tells Orlando that "boys and women are, for the most part, cattle of the same color" (III.ii.8). She also demonstrates her bold nature as she "plays" the part of herself and tells Orlando that she is his Rosalind. (IV.i.67)
Ganymede becomes the vessel through which he learns everything. Even in today's world, any woman would consider this a spectacular opportunity. These scenes illustrate unforeseen circumstances that Rosalind took advantage of as a result of cross dressing in order to escape into the forest.
One serious repercussion of Rosalind playing the part of Ganymede is Phebe's reaction. Rosalind has fun at the expense of Phebe, almost heartlessly leading her on. Phoebe falls fast involve, much like Olivia. This is evident when she says of Ganymede:
The best thing in him is his complexion; and faster than his tongue
Did make offense, his eye did heal it up...
His leg is but so-so -- and yet 'tis well.
There was a pretty redness in his lip, little riper and more lusty red
Than that mixed in his cheek. (III.v.119-23)
To further complicate matters, Rosalind flirts with Phebe and only promises to tell her the truth of the entire matter in her good time.
In contrast, Viola in her role as Cesario is quite surprised at Olivia's affection. Once inside the court, Viola winds the love of Olivia, which no one else has been able to do. We can also assume that Olivia would have never married Sebastian has she not known Viola as Cesario. In fact, Viola's original intentions of appearing as a eunuch illustrate how she attempts to avoid any such encounters. In short, when she arrives in Illyria, she has no particular love interest in mind. Olivia's reaction causes Viola's role to become more complicated. Olivia's attraction to Viola is striking, even to Olivia. She states:
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes" (I.v.294-97).
Olivia's character can be what is commonly referred to as an innocent bystander that is accidentally caught in this deceit.
A she captures the mood perfectly when she realizes that she has become involved in a situation which she has no control when she says, "Fate, show they force: Ourselves we do not owe;/What is decreed must be, and be this is so!" (I.v.308-9). Certainly Olivia and her feelings were an unintended consequence for Viola. Viola understands the mess that she is in when she says:
My master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master's love. (II.i.33-6)
This love triangle is complicated indeed. Orsino loves Olivia, while Olivia loves Viola, while she loves Orsino. A painful repercussion of this situation is that Viola must keep the truth of her identity to herself throughout most of the play.
However, it is Orsino that adds even more complexity to Viola's role. Viola's circumstance is much more complicated than Rosalind's is because she falls in love. She may indeed hate the situation that her role-playing has created but without her disguise, she would have never encountered Orsino. Her circumstance leaves her befuddled. As the play progresses, Viola's own feelings become a serious unintended consequence of her role-playing. Sebastian puts it succinctly when he tells her:
So comes it lady, you have been mistook;
But nature to her bias drew in that.
Nor are you therein, by my life deciev'd
You would have been contracted to a maid,
You are betroth'd both to a maid and a man (V.i.258-63).
Another repercussion of Viola's role-playing can be seen in through the situation with Antonio. This scene is a direct result of Viola's disguise causing Antonio to think that she is Sebastian, who owes him money. He becomes enraged and says:
Thou hast, Sebastian done good feature shame,
In nature there's no blemish but the mind.
None can be called deformed but the unkind:
Virtue is beauty; but the beauteous-evil
Are evil trunks. o'erflourish'd by the devil. (III.iv.373-77)
The result of this outburst causes the others to think that Antonio is a madman and they take him away.
In contrast, an unexpected repercussion of Rosalind's role-playing is a certain amount of assertiveness. This is quite the opposite reaction that we see with Viola. Rosalind never really expresses any fear or remorse for her actions. In fact, we can view this as a positive result because Rosalind's character only becomes more appealing as her acting continues. This becomes evident early in the play as she interacts with Corin. She expresses an air of power when speaking with him when she tells him "Buy thou the cottage, pasture, and the flock,/And thou shalt have to pay for it with us" (II.iv.90-1). Rosalind's newly discovered assertiveness and confidence only become moreso, which is clearly observed in her encounters with Orlando. Many of the conversations that they share would not have been possible had Rosalind not been Ganymede. As a result, Rosalind learns things about Orlando because Orlando is more comfortable opening himself up to Ganymede. These circumstances only enhance Rosalind's experience as a male figure and will only benefit her after she finally returns to her life as a woman.
One surprising result of the two women playing the role of men is the fact that it…