Viola makes her entrance into the play in Scene 2, when she emerges out of the sea after a ship wreck. She is distraught the first time we meet her, as she has just lost her twin brother in the ship wreck. The fact that she is so distraught needs to be emphasised in the staging of the play; I think a girly, vulnerable yelp, as well as almost hysterical tears would be appropriate. This is the only time in the play where Viola is openly female and vulnerable and therefore I feel that this needs to be emphasised to the audience.
One of the most interesting questions I had about Viola was why she did not go home after the ship wreck. It cannot be that she did not have enough money, as we know she does, ‘For saying so there’s gold.’ It also could not be that home is too far away, as Orsino had been mentioned by her father, ‘I have heard my father name him.’ I think that the reason Viola does not go home is because there is nothing left for her there, as we know her father has died, ‘My father had a mole upon his brow.’ We can tell this from the use of the past tense. Her mother is also not mentioned at all in the play, apart from in a figure of speech by Sebastian.
Therefore I feel that Viola has no family left in where she lived before, so she would have no need to go back there. Another reason I feel she would not want to go back to her home country is that if she was there she would have to mourn for her brother in the way Olivia has to mourn for hers. Viola would not like to mourn for her brother the way Olivia is; as it would not be for herself it would be for other people. This therefore shows the contrast between the two women’s ways of mourning.
When the captain tells Viola that Olivia has also lost her brother, Viola instantly sees a parallel between them and wants to go serve her, ‘O that I served that lady’. This shows Viola’s instinctive to help others and her natural urge to care for others. She wants to help Olivia get through what she is also going through.
The captain tells Viola that there is a chance that Sebastian, her brother may have survived, ‘I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves/So long as I could see.’ I think the reason he says this, whether it is necessary true or not, is because he saw that Viola was ready to throw herself back into the waves, as she was without her brother. However by saying this, the Captain is giving Viola some hope to cling on to. Viola is so glad that she gives the captain some gold.
I think the essential role of the captain in the play is to lift the spirits of Viola, so the play does continue and she does decide to live on. He is also there to create a parallel between the relationship of Viola and the captain and Sebastian and Antonio. The captain and Viola are shown to get on well, but like Antonio with Sebastian, the captain will do anything for Viola. As well as showing this through the words, Shakespeare also shows this through use of language,
In Scene 2 the question of why does Viola cross dress is raised. For me there are many reasons why Viola does this. There are first the more practical reasons of as a man it is easier to find work and there is the obvious advantage of more freedom. However, as Viola is the daughter of someone important, and she herself is a noblewoman, she could go tell people who she really is and be helped by them. Therefore I think Viola chooses to be in disguise so she can mourn alone and in her own way.
There is also the factor that as she will be busy being a servant and will not have time to dwell on thoughts of her brother. It is as if she is trying to create a safe haven for herself to recover in. She is making herself invisible to the rest of the world till she is ready to face them as herself again. By dressing up as a man Viola is also essentially becoming Sebastian, as she will look like him and when she looks in the mirror she will see him. It is a way of combining herself and her twin into one body and letting him live on.
I think it is important that this part of Scene two where she decides to live as a man in Illyria is staged appropriately so it does not seem too much of a random thought for Viola to have. The way I would do this is by having Sebastian’s trunk on the edge of the shore, as though it has drifted in from the shipwreck. This way it will look as though Viola has seen the trunk and as well as getting memories of Sebastian from it, she will also think of this idea of cross dressing to be a man. It will also emphasise the fact that when she is cross dressing she is trying to let Sebastian live on in the exterior of herself.
In Scene 4 Viola makes her second appearance in the play apart from this time she is a man; Cesario. She is also with Orsino, whom she is now a servant for. This is an important transformation; not only will she have to act appropriately, but her costume should also realistically show her to be a girl dressed up to be a boy in the dress of the time, but also so people would not know she was a girl. At the time ‘Twelfth Night’ was first performed the person playing Viola would have being a boy playing a girl playing a boy. This would be perhaps even more confusing for the audience and may have even made it harder to stage. I would dress Cesario in a simple costume like one that a servant in the Elizabethan times would wear. The reason I think it should be simple is that so it is realistic; in many productions I have seen the costume that Cesario is wearing is too fancy for a boy and a servant.
Another important aspect of the staging in this scene is how to stage the relationship between Orsino and Cesario. The reason this is so important is because of the sexual ambiguity in the relationship between Orsino and Cesario. To show this sexual ambiguity I would create sexual tension on stage by making it seem awkward when they sit next to each other on a bench. This sexual ambiguity is shown through the fact that after only three days, already Orsino has told Cesario all about his love for Olivia because he has been so impressed by him. The love between could be seen as platonic or perhaps even paternal as Cesario is a lot younger than Orsino. However for me the love between them is a sublime platonic love with a hint of homoerotic. The fact that Orsino has told Cesario all this shows that Cesario inspires trust. We can also see this from the fact that Orsino trusts Cesario to go tell Olivia how he feels, but this could also show Orsino’s idleness.
In Scene 4 Orsino asks Cesario to go tell Olivia how he feels for Olivia; sending messengers, instead of going yourself was a traditional aspect of courtly love. I think Orsino has chosen Cesario to do this job because not only does he trust him, but he sees in Cesario himself in his youth. Orsino may think that Cesario’s youth would be a good portrayal of him and may make Olivia associate Orsino with Cesario’s youth. It is also interesting to note how Viola reacts to this proposal of Orsino’s. She does not seem to keen, ‘I think not so, my lord’. Orsino can see the failings of Orsino’s plan already; she is more perceptive and is showing her female intuition.
Scene 4 ends with the rhyming couplet; ‘Yet, a barful strife!/Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife’, spoken by Cesario/Viola. This reminds the audience that Cesario is a girl and lets the audience know Viola’s feelings for Orsino, adding more confusion to the already confused plot. She notifies the audience that her feelings will make wooing Olivia on behalf of Orsino an even more of a difficult task than it already is. However Viola is still going to carry out this task showing her braveness, as well as how she would do anything for him. It is an almost selfless act, as if she does manage to make Orsino’s love for Olivia requited, she will never have her wish of marrying him.
In conclusion I think Shakespeare presents Viola in a brave, caring way, which has led to her being considered as one of Shakespeare’s golden girls. She is almost shown to be a heroine. The reason I think she has being presented by Shakespeare like this is to show the contrasts in the Elizabethan society between people of different natures as well as status. The fact that Viola decides to cross dress also ties in with it as the fact she that she is brave and a conformist, as this is what she is doing when she cross dresses. However I do feel that for all these ideas about Viola’s character to come across affectively to the audience these scenes need to be staged appropriately.