William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and the Zen meditation event I attended both offered a surprising and similar theme on the issue of identifying one’s self. The quiet activity of meditation allows a person to reflect deeply about the thoughts that go through their minds. One of these reoccurring thoughts I experienced with every session of meditation is the idea of identifying myself by reflecting on the day through the way I acted and the way I come off to others through my actions. People are sometimes oblivious to the fact that they have come off as rude or fake, and with this, do not know how they affect the people around them through their actions. Meditation has allowed me to look deeper into my actions and has allowed me to better understand myself. Everyone has the desire to find their own identity, and the answer lies solely on being yourself. You do not have to be someone your not to fit in with a certain group of people. Pretending to be someone your not will indirectly affect the people around you, as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night clearly makes evident.
Shakespeare’s play introduces a brother and sister, Viola and Sebastian, who came to the false realization that they lost each at sea during a shipwreck. Going their separate ways and living a new life apart from each other, Viola ventured out to the palace of Duke Orsino, where she went incognito as a man known as Cesario. This decision of misidentifying herself led to a series of misfortunes that astonishingly produced grand and delighted events for many of Shakespeare’s characters.
One of the more important events where Viola’s disguised character indirectly affected someone else occurred with the scene of Antonio confronting Sir Toby and Sir Andrew in defense of his assumed dear friend, Sebastian. Antonio is cut short of saving Viola, which he mistakes for Sebastian, and was arrested by officers. When pleading to Viola that he needs some of his money back that he lent to Sebastian, Viola responds to Antonio in amusement, claiming she does not know who Antonio is and that he must be insane. Antonio tells Viola, “In nature there’s no blemish but the mind / None can be call’d deform’d but the unkind / Virtue is beauty; but the beauteous evil / Are empty trunks, o’erflourish’d by the devil” (Shakespeare 52). Here, Antonio scolds Viola for deceiving him. He tells her she may look good on the outside, but is flawed inside. He continues by saying that a person’s flaws are judged according to their mind and soul. People are not deformed by their outward appearance, but through their heartless actions. Antonio says virtue is beauty, and a virtuous life corresponds to a life of truth.
Another instance where Viola’s false identity aroused trouble occurs with the incident of Olivia attempting to explain the marriage between herself and Viola, whom she mistook for a man. Viola denies Olivia’s claim that one of the priests just recently married them and this misunderstanding throws everyone into a state of confusion. Olivia tells Viola, “Alas, it is the baseness of thy fear that makes thee strangle thy propriety… Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st” (Shakespeare 64). Olivia essentially tells Viola that she is hiding her identity out of fear and that she should acknowledge her good fortunes. She relates to Viola a valuable life lesson: by being the person you know you are, you are capable of being as strong as the people you fear and want to fit in with.
During the last scene of the play when Viola and Sebastian’s true identities are revealed to the rest of the cast, Sebastian takes Olivia’s hand in marriage and Viola and Orsino agree upon marriage as well. In Orsino’s last dialogue, he tells Viola, “Cesario, come / For so you shall be, while you are a man / But when in other habits you are seen / Orsino’s mistress and his fancy’s queen” (Shakespeare 70). Orsino will continue to call Viola by her pseudonym, Cesario, while she remains in men’s cloths. Once she dresses like a woman, then she will be the queen that he desires and they can embrace their love for each other. The valid point that Orsino offers is that when a person truthfully identifies and expresses themselves, others around that person are able to understand and accept that person for who they are.