True Love in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night Essay

True Love in Twelfth Night

Unlike the other characters in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, Viola’s feelings of love are genuine. She is not mistaken about Orsino’s true nature and loves him for who he really is, while the other characters in the play seem to be in love with an illusion. Viola’s love for Orsino does not alter during the play, nor is it transferred to another person.

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Viola, alone in a strange land, disguises herself as a man in order to gain access to Duke Orsino’s palace. She plays the role of Orsino’s servant, Cesario, to be near him for she knows that he is the man who can help her in Illyria. On first hearing Orsino’s name, Viola says: “Orsino! I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then.” This reaction suggests that Viola already respects Orsino as a ruler before she begins to love him.

When the Count urges her, Viola agrees to try persuading Olivia of his love for her, but it is evident that she has feelings for Orsino herself when she says: “I’ll do my best to woo your lady: [Aside] yet, a barful strife! Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” This shows her devotion to him as she wants him to be happy, even if it is not with her. Viola’s love is selfless and her feelings for Orsino are so strong that she will not leave when Olivia’s servants tell her to. She is more determined than Orsino’s previous messengers: “Make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house, write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night….”

Although Viola might be able to relate to Olivia’s grief at first, her love for Orsino is so great that she cannot understand why Olivia would deny him. When Olivia expresses affectio…

…d Consulted:

Barton, Anne. Introduction to Twelfth Night. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. 403-407.

Bradbrook, M. C. “Robert Armin and Twelfth Night.” Twelfth Night: A Casebook. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1972. 222-43.

David, R. W., ed. The Arden Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost. London: Methuen, 1951.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1975.

Erasmus, Desiderius. In Praise of Folly. Trans. Hoyt Hopewell Hudson, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Potter, Lois. Twelfth Night: Text & Performance. London: Macmillan, 1985.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, ed. Sylvan Barnet, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1972.


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