After I watched the play, The Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, I had an epiphany on life that people are not always what they seem, and often true happiness is inextricably linked with seeking sincerity and authenticity in one’s relationship with others and oneself. “Suburban”, by John Ciardi, “Ode to American English” by Barbara Hamby and “The Cask of Amontillado” each explore this theme – in vastly different ways. The Twelfth Night, while based on a love triangle, provides a poignant tale of unrequited love that ultimately fails because of a lack of authenticity and because of deception. Indeed, in my own life, when I am not forthcoming with others about my feelings or when I am dishonest about myself (perhaps even to myself), I suffer consequences, even if they are not as dramatic as Furtunato’s demise or Viola’s shattered heart. Ultimately, perhaps, my life more closely parallels Ciardi's flowerbed, and I hope eventually to appreciate Hamby's enthusiasm for the special qualities of the American identity. After seeing the play and reading these works, I am left wondering what it means to be authentically me.
Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to American English” and Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night each explore what it means to be authentically oneself. Hamby specifically adores all things American and generally contemplates how languages and culture shapes one’s concept of self. First, she introduces how she is in love with “American English” and the entire culture that it represents. She reminisces romantically on curious American phrases, the citizens’ energetic modes of thought, and America’s unique blend of heterogeneity and homogeneity. Further, she provides a distinctive contrast with the language and culture of the English. Shakespeare, an Englishman, similarly explores identity, but through the prism of gender. In The Twelfth Night, Viola, a woman who disguises herself as a man, Cesario, because of peculiar circumstances, eventually falls desperately in love with a man who does not even know that she is available. She ultimately realizes that she will only be happy if she is authentic about her identity. Indeed, as long as she is in disguise, she can never be with her beloved. Both Hamby and Shakespeare, therefore, explore this theme of authenticity – that in order to be truly happy, one must explore and eventually embrace one’s core, authentic identity. After exploring these two works of art, I have reflected on how I am honest to myself, ways in which I am not honest, the benefits of living authentically and deliberately, and the sacrifices of self-deception.
In John Ciardi’s “Surburban,” a misunderstanding occurred in Ciardis’ neighbor’s yard. The neighbor, Mrs. Friar, claims that Ciardis’ dog deposited “a large repulsive object in [her] petunias.” Instead of Ciardis opposing her claim (because he knows the truth that his dog is actually in Vermont with his son), he agrees with her and apologizes. Ciardis indeed wants to argue with Mrs. Friar, but he also realizes it will likely lead to further problems. Throughout The Twelfth Night, I realized a similarity with Viola’s thought process when torn between her heart and her head. In an intense scene, Viola while pretending to be the man Cesario, longs to tell Orsino that she is actually a girl. Her heart pines for him, because she loves him and wants to be with him. However, in her thoughts, she realizes that it would be a poor choice to tell him, because Orsino would be astonished by her deception. Upon reflection, I realized how both the play and the story explored struggling with telling the truth. For myself, I believe that sometimes telling the truth is inadvisable because it might hurt others, and arguing often will not accomplish anything productive.
In “The Cask of Amontillado”, by Edgar Allan Poe, the primary character, Montresor, sends his servants away during the carnival season so that he can implement his devious plan. He then invites Furtunato, a man against whom he is homicidally seeking vengeance, to his house for a “wine test”. Montresor is duplicitous, charming Furtunato with a phony facade. He plies Furtunato with drinks until he is drunk and takes him to his basement, chaining him to a wall while he meticulously builds a new wall in which to encase him to die slowly, brick by brick. Montresor’s revenge is exquisite, but perverse. I was struck by the comparison with The Twelfth Night’s Viola who is duplicitous not only with others but also with herself – although not a murderer. She creates an entire other identity, Cesario, in order to work for Orsino, the man she loves, just like Montresor feigned friendship with Furtunato, in order to extract his revenge. The parallel among the themes is that often we do not know what motivates someone – whether they have ulterior motives to use us or perhaps even if they are deceiving themselves and we are just caught up in the play.
Hamby, Ciardi, Poe, and Shakespeare encouraged me to reflect on the level of authenticity that I bring to my relationships with others and with myself. While many of these characters are larger than life and are embroiled in situations I will most likely never encounter, I am able to relate to the duplicity that many of them employ. Indeed, I am fake around certain people for certain reasons, such as personal gain or fear, and I am also obsessed with certain parts of life but do not confess it to others, even though it might well benefit me. In addition, I do not confront situations because I am uncertain of the future, and in certain social situations I pretend to be someone else because I am intimidated. Each of these authors is arguably challenging the reader to explore what it means to be authentic and to consider the consequences of duplicity – be they for the better or the worse.