Disguise: Shakespeare’s Weapon against Male Domination

  • Dr Vipin K Singh


The display of women in male disguise is a theme that William Shakespeare had a great liking for and that has perplexed the critics most. Scholars have endeavoured to find out the nub of Shakespeare’s interest in presenting a woman in a man’s robes. Was it the requirement of the plot of the plays or did he use the device of disguise only for “the compounding of comic confusion”.1 What did Shakespeare think in regard of women when he presented them in male disguise? What pressing situations did he face in which his heroines impersonated men? Was a male disguise compulsion for them or did they disguise themselves only for entertainment? This paper aims (i) to examine from the feminist viewpoint the situations that induce Shakespeare’s female characters to adopt to the male disguise, (ii) to asses Shakespeare’s contention in displaying only his female characters impersonating men and not vice-versa, (iii) to explore the patriarchal set-up of the society that compel women to hide their identity for survival. The paper attempts to demonstrate disguise as a weapon that Shakespeare’s female characters generally adopted against the male domination. It chiefly deals with three plays of Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.

Keywords: Disguise, Feminism, Shakespeare’s Comedies and his comic heroines, patriarchy and androcentric double standards in society, Elizabethan society.


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Author Biography

Dr Vipin K Singh

Dr Vipin K Singh is an Associate Professor with the Department of English, Central University of South Bihar, Gaya, Bihar, India.


1. Kate Clarke. “Reading As You Like It”, Shakespeare, Aphra Bhen and Canon. Ed. W.R. Owens and Lizabeth Goodman. London: Routledge, 1996, p. 202.
2. F.H. Mares. “Viola and Other Transvestite Heroines in Shakespeare’s Comedies”, Manner and Meaning in Shakespeare, ed. B.A.W. Jackson. Canada: McMaster University Library Press, 1996, p. 97.
3. Ibid.
4. Jane Freedman. “Sexuality and Power”. Feinism. New Delhi: Viva Books Pvt. Ltd., 2002, p. 66.
5. Ibid.
6. Kate Clarke. p. 206.
7. F.H. Mares. p. 96-109.
8. Kate Clarke. p. 203.
9. Ibid.
10. Shirin Kudchedkar. “Feminist Literary Criticism: The Grandwork”. Journal of Literary Criticism. Ed. Rajnath. Allahabad: Saraswati Offset Printers, June 1996, Vol. VIII, No. I, p. 33.
11. Simone de Beauvoir. “The Second Sex”. Translated and edited by H.M. Parshley. (New York: Alfred A, Knaff, 1949, p. 273.
12. Kate Clarke. p. 203.
13. Ibid., p. 205.
14. F H Mares. p. 97.
15. Harold Bloom. “Twelfth Night”. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998, p. 231.
16. Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, p. 231.
17. William C. Carole. “To Be or Not To Be: The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night”. Metamorphosis of Shakespearean Comedy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 86.
18. Kate Clarke. p. 194.
19. Bertrand Evans. “The Fruits of the Spot: Twelfth Night”. Shakespeare’s Comedies. London: Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 127
20. Ibid., p. 128.
21. Joseph H. Summers. “The Masks of Twelfth Night”. Shakespeare: Twelfth Night. Casebook Series, Ed. D. J. Palmer. London: Macmillan, 1972, p. 89.
22. Bertrand Evans. p. 127.
23. Ibid., p. 119.
24. Ibid.
25. Ibid., p. 120.
26. Penny Gay. “Twelfth Night: Desire and Its Discontents”. As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women. London: Routeledge, 1994, p. 17.
27. Alexander Leggatt. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974, p. 147-8, 251-2.
How to Cite
Singh, D. V. “Disguise: Shakespeare’s Weapon Against Male Domination”. Contemporary Literary Review India, Vol. 7, no. 2, May 2020, pp. 109-21, https://www.literaryjournal.in/index.php/clri/article/view/557.
Research Papers