Twelfth Night by Shakespeare Essay
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a comedy play with Viola, an affable female lead as a protagonist. As a result of a shipwreck, Viola who is originally from a noble background washes up on the Illyrian shore. She believes that her brother Sebastian who was with her on the ship has most likely been killed, and thus penniless, she seeks employment at first Olivia’s house and finally finds it at Orsino’s house disguised as a man and calling herself Cesario. This paper looks at the dynamics and evolution of the relationship between two of the central characters, Orsino and Viola.
Orsino is the powerful ruler of Illyria who spends his time obsessing about Olivia whom he wants to marry. But she doesn’t give him the time of day and this is increasingly depressing for him. Says he, “Oh, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, Methought she purged the air of pestilence. That instant was I turned into a hart, and my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, Eer since pursue me.” (Act I, Scene I, 18-22).
Viola, disguised as Cesario secretly admires Orsino and works in his household. Once when Curio the jester is playing a love song for Orsino to entertain him, Orsino asks Viola disguised as Cesario what he thinks of it believing her to be a boy. Orsino asks her, “Thou dost speak masterly: My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye Hath stay’d upon some favour that it loves:Hath it not, boy?” (Act II, Scene 1, 20-23). During that discussion Viola confesses that she is a little bit in love with someone. Upon inquiry Cesario tells Orsino that that person is a lot like him.
At the beginning of the play, the relationship between Viola/Cesario and Orsino is an uncomplicated one of master and servant, but as the story progresses their relationship evolves. Orsino confides in her his unrequited love for Olivia and uses Viola/Cesario as a messenger to Olivia to convey his love letters. Sending her to Olivia he says, “Once more, Cesario, Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty. Tell her my love, more noble than the world”. (Act II, Scene IV, 77-79). By this time Viola’s secret admiration of Orsino has taken seed and she keeps working it subtly into conversation whenever Orsino broaches the subject of love. Olivia also develops strong affections for Viola disguised as Cesario but this love goes unreciprocated for Viola is in love with Orsino. Says Viola “How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly, and I, poor monster, fond as much on him, and she, mistaken, seems to dote on me. What will become of this?” (Act II, Scene II, 31-34), summarizing the story’s main love triangle.
In exploring the dynamics of the relationship between Orsino and Viola/Cesario we look at the main theme which centers on love induced suffering. Orsino talks of it as “appetite” that he wants to satisfy. (Act I, Scene I, 1-3). Distressed by her love for Orsino and unable to express it because of her disguised identity, Viola also laments how she is “desperate” for her master’s love (Act II, Scene II, 35).
Finally, when Sebastian comes to Illyria, Viola’s disguise as Cesario falls apart. Olivia, thinking Sebastian is Cesario asks him to marry her and he obliges. The confusion heightens when Viola/Cesario pretending to be Sebastian meets Orsino who also mistakes him for Cesario and is furious with him for backstabbing him and marrying the woman he is in love with. All ends well, because Sebastian appears and the truth comes out through a dialogue between Sebastian and Viola who rejoice to see each other alive. Viola sheds her disguise and agrees to change into her woman’s clothing. Orsino proposes to Viola, “I’m offering you my hand in marriage because of your loyal service to me, which was far from what any woman should be expected to do, especially a noble woman. You’ve called me “master” for so long. And now you’ll be your master’s mistress.” (Act V, Scene I, 312-317). Thus Viola and Orsino’s relationship enters its final form as married lovers as the play comes to a close.