Love in Twelfth Night
Love is an integral part of all romantic comedies. In his play twelfth night, Shakespeare explores love in detail. Love is hardly superseded by any other theme in the play thus making it the dominant play. Romantic love, self-love, sibling love, and friendly love have been illustrated in the play. Romantic love especially characterized by the relationship between a man and a woman who has a happy ending in the play as reaches its fulfillment in marriage in the play.
We are first introduced to Orsino’s love for Olivia in the first scene. Shakespeare portrays Duke Orsino’s hopeless love for Olivia as subjective. The Duke is mistaken about what love should be. He tries to woo Olivia but she turns down all his advances. Olivia who was mourning her deceased brother did not want to be involved in a relationship. In spite of his failed attempts, He refuses to engage in any other activities and instead spends his days in a bed of flowers listening to music and fantasizing about Olivia. According to him, music is food for love and he chose to overindulge in it in order to cure his suffering of love. In his misplaced passion, he uses sweet words to describe Olivia. In his description, Olivia is the epitome of perfection and purity. He sends Cesario to woo Olivia for him and is extremely hurt when Olivia declares her interest in him. Orsino’s love of Olivia which lasts almost to the last scene is proven as illusory when he accepts Olivia’s marriage to Sebastian and transfers his affection to Viola and eventually gets married to her (Ray, pp.88). His prior infatuation for Olivia was unrealistic and mistaken and he did not realize it.
Further, Olivia’s love for Cesario which is also subjective is illustrated. At the beginning of the play, Olivia turns Down Orsino’s Overtures of love because she was overwhelmed by sorrow and the morning of her brother. She had promised herself that she would not want to see another man for seven years. This, however, changes when she meets the Dukes young messenger Cesario. Her love for Cesario is stirred up by his honesty and straight-talking. Cesario gives a passionate account of what he would do to win Olivia over where he in his master’s shoes thus prompting Olivia to want to meet him again(Ray, pp90) She, therefore, sends her stewardess to convince Cesario to visit her again. She found herself inviting him over to visit again every time he came over. She expresses her love indirectly later when she sends him a ring. Later when Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother arrives Olivia mistakes her for Cesario and proposes marriage. Even when Cesario reveals himself to be a woman that is Viola, Olivia’s mind is not changed. She goes ahead and ties the knot with Sebastian with no prior courtship or flirtation.
Violas’ love for Orsino, on the other hand, is sincere and true though it is restrained by her disguise as a man. She represses her feelings and acts as her master’s messenger Cesario to help him win over Olivia (Ray, pp.89). Her love is only expressed after her identity as a woman is revealed. She is ready for any kind of punishment Orsino my dim fit for her deceit. In a twist of events, however, Orsino reciprocates her love and they end up getting married.
The other love relationship in the play, though not as intense or self-absorbing, is that of Sir Andrew Aguecheek to Olivia. Being a high position in society and possessing a lot of fortune it was normal for Olivia to attract suitors from her social status like Sir Andrew. Olivia has no interest in him too. Her uncle Sir Toby, however, encourages his friend and gives him false hopes to continue pursuing Olivia.
Lastly, Shakespeare portrays love between Sir Toby and Maria and the love of Malvolio for Olivia. Malvolio is Olivia’s steward that she regards in high esteem as one of the loyal workers. Malvolio, on the other hand, misinterprets Olivia’s respect for him and thinks that she loves her, a kind of love that would eventually lead to marriage. This is later revealed when Malvolio finds a letter that he believes comes from Olivia and follows to the later. Maria and Sir Toby’s love relationship is down to earth, unlike the others. Their relationship is built on friendship and although it is threatened by Toby’s occasional carefree behavior, Maria remains true and committed to the relationship.
Apart from romantic love, other kinds of love are eminent in the play. Such include friendly love like that between Sebastian and Antonio (Ray, pp.90). Antonio had become very fond of Sebastian while taking care of him after the shipwreck. In spite of Orsino being his enemy, Antonio follows Sebastian to Orsino’s domain where he is arrested. The relationship between Orsino and Viola (disguised as Cesario) can also be described as friendship. Though they hardly know each other, Orsino opens up about his love for Olivia. Orsino trusts Cesario to deliver his love messages to Olivia and help him win her over. It due to this friendship that he feels betrayed and hurt when Olivia declares her love for Cesario.
Finally, there is self-love where characters are self-absorbed and egocentric. This is illustrated by Malvolio, the arrogant and selfish. He thinks that everybody and especially ladies like him and would like to be with him and especially his lady Olivia. He interprets words and situations to suit what he wants them to be. For instance, he twisted Olivia’s words in order for them to sound as if she likes his yellow stockings. Olivia and Orsino are also portraying self-love throughout the play through self-indulgence. Although they make it seem like they suffer over their caring of other people all they all cared for was themselves. Olivia declares seven years mourning and in the process shutting herself off from the rest of the world is selfish. He ends up drawing more attention to herself. Additionally, Orsino’s overindulgence in his infatuation to Olivia is also an illustration of self-love. His desperation and lovesickness draw attention to him.
Ray, Ratri. William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Atlantic Publishers. 2007.