In Stephen Greenblatt’s essay, “Fiction and Friction”, he explores the medical theories of the time period in which Shakespeare’s comedies were written and performed. These theories on the male and female reproductive systems similarities led the people to believe that they were the same, but for a deficiency in lack of heat that created a female out of what would have been a male had there been no errors. This theory that everyone was meant to be male and only by mistake were females in existence creates a question as to the nature of gender relations. For example, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola dresses as a boy in order to gain access to a position in the duke’s court. Her presence in the play as a boy leads to the interesting plot twists, and character actions, and comic situations. Were the story to take place in reality, the situation would have been found more horrifying than comic in the time period, which lends it even more credence as a comedy. Horrific situations have a tendency to appear funny to those not involved in them personally.
In Greenblatt’s essay, he claims that the natural friction between the genders is the point of creation for the play. Without the friction between man and woman there would be no play, and without distinct differentiation between the two, there would be no man and woman. Without separation of genders, there would be no play and therefore no life because plays are exaggerated reenactments of life. The only problem with the basic theory presented in the essay is in the contradiction between the belief of the time period in which the pieces discussed were created of an all male society with defective males taking on the role of woman, and the declaration that friction between the two genders is natural and necessary for creation.
Viola and Rosalind are both exemplary women of their time periods. They were both beautiful and intelligent. They were both capable of deep and abiding love. They were both loyal and constant in their beliefs. Both women dressed as men in order to overcome strictures of the society in which they were placed. Both women used friendship to cultivate love. Both heroines fall in love at first sight. Viola and Rosalind both won the love of the men they desired. The women were both good listeners to the men they sought and allowed the men to accept their disguise throughout the plays:”Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It”. Both plays were created around the complications created by the disguises of their main heroines. Viola and Rosalind, even while successfully impersonating males extolled the virtues that were prized in the women of their time period.
While the two heroines are alike in many ways, there is one very large difference between the two and the situations in which they disguise themselves. Viola does not meet Orsino until after she is fully in disguise and never throughout the fulfillment of the play does he see her natural guise of woman. In contrast to Viola, Rosalind and Orlando meet in their natural roles of man and woman. They meet and entertain each other and both fall in love at first sight, although they have no time to declare or explore their feelings before the action of the story creates Ganymede in the place of Rosalind. The appearance of love notwithstanding the disguise creates a lot of extra comic relief in Twelfth Night as Orsino and Cesario become close despite the guise of boy that Viola is adept at wearing. In As You Like It, the comedy and friction comes from a closely related, but distinctly different situation in which Rosalind’s disguise enables her to eavesdrop on the feelings that Orlando has for her without him knowing that he is actually making the declaration in truth.