Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a mix of romance, love and infatuation. Shakespeare explores love in four different forms: romantic love, lust, friendship and self-love. In the play, love is seen as completely irresistible. The performance opens with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, expressing his deep love for the Countess Olivia. Following this the play develops to have several 'love circles' where two characters may love the same person but they love someone else. But unlike his early comedies, Shakespeare also strikes up some conflicting notes inTwelfth Night, including a conception of other themes that are not part of the conventional romantic comedy. Is Viola the only person to experience true love in this play, or is there more to it, than meets the eye.
Orsino is a very interesting character. To us, it seems he is 'in love with love' and he claims his love for Olivia is genuine. However, Orsino is by no means an active lover as he rarely seems to see Olivia in person, preferring to send his friends or servants to declare his love on his behalf: "be clamorous and leap all civil bounds, rather than make unprofited return". He feeds his emotions with music, played by Feste, and elaborate poetic imagery "O when mine eyes did see Olivia first methought she purged the air of pestilence". This is an example of hyperbole as Orsino describes the effect that Olivia has on him. As he is so madly in love, he employs a messenger who he will send to Olivia to 'woo' her on his behalf. This may be because Orsino lacks the self confidence to speak to Olivia face to face. He does not want to face the fact that he is not loved back. In Act II Scene 4 Feste points out that Orsino is an inconsistent character, 'for thy is a very opal'. This metaphor emphasises Orsino's ever changing moods. He begs Feste for music which reflects his mood and then rapidly becomes bored. This nature of changing opinions and moods makes it far more believable at the end of the play when his attention turns from Olivia to Viola. Olivia describes him as 'virtuous ... noble ... a wealthy, well educated, courteous and handsome man'. It is these qualities that immediately attract Viola, and eventually make her fall in love with him.
I think that we have established that Orsino is romantically in love with Olivia but he can change at the flick of switch. He is so preoccupied by the emotion of love that he does not care who he hurts. However he finally experiences a relationship at the end of the play with Viola.
We first encounter Viola in Act I of the play. She has been washed ashore on the coast of a strange land unknown to her, with no male family member to protect her. However, as Viola is a practical person she makes the best out of her situation as a shipwrecked orphan. Viola was brought up by a respectable family, but on her own, with no possessions, there is no way of proving that she is a 'gently born lady'. Travelling alone may attract unwanted attention as it was extremely rare for a woman at that point in time to be on their own and have fend for themselves. She decides to disguise herself as a eunuch, posing under the name Cesario. This shows her courageous and resourceful character, making her appealing to a modern audience.
Viola shows characteristics that enable her to gain Orsino's trust and confidence. She is an attractive and quick witted companion who is not afraid to argue her point of view. These are the same qualities that cause Olivia to fall for her at first sight. Despite this, Viola proves to be completely loyal to Orsino, continually trying to win Olivia's love for him. This seems to become difficult for her as we learn that she has fallen for the Duke herself: 'Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife'. In this aside to the audience Viola establishes an intimacy with the audience and we find ourselves relating to her. She still comes across as an honest person, which is ironic as she is "living a lie", forced to act as someone else for her own survival.
When Viola reports back to Orsino that Olivia 'cannot love him', she tries to persuade him that there are other women that may love him. There are "other fish in the sea".
When Olivia can take it no more, she declares her love for Cesario. This is a very deep, powerful feeling of love that appears to be very real. Olivia's love for Cesario is moving because she is blissfully unaware that Cesario is Viola.
Olivia can act in a very compassionate way and has lots of depth of feeling, she tells Orsino a story in Act II Scene 4 in which she says: 'my father had a daughter lov'd a man...'
I am left wondering whether Olivia's supposed love for Cesario is true love or just infatuation. There are certain aspects that suggest this is no more than lust. Although Olivia clearly accounts for Orsino's attractive qualities, she has absolutely no problems rejecting him as her lover. Her situation is comically ironic due to this preposterous pursuit of Cesario.
In this way Olivia has much in common with Orsino, she is quite a shallow person; her feelings for someone end instantaneously and are often transferred from one person to another. Due to this she may be incapable of holding down a relationship.
Olivia's love for Sebastian becomes apparent in Act 4, Sebastian is astonished that a beautiful women who he has never met before loves him. He says to her 'Nay, come, I prithee; would thou'ldst be ruled by me!'
To which he replies 'Madam, I will'. He is saying here that he will be ruled by her, after this encounter they hastily set of to marry immediately. I have doubt whether Sebastian loves her just because of her looks and personality, I think that his love is also driven by the fact that she is rich and powerful. He was taken by surprise when he found out that she loved him because he didn't even know her. He did not really get to know her before they rushed of to marry. There is no exchange of vows between Sebastian and Olivia. He may have just fallen for at first sight. Despite this, Sebastian seems like a nice person. He is a likeable character which is why he gets away with it.
This marriage is very quick; it seems as though Shakespeare is tying up loose ends by quickly marrying them off, we hear of the marriage as second hand information, he also does this with Maria and Sir Toby.
Maria and Sir Toby have an extremely off stage love, there love never takes centre stage and I think this is what was intended by Shakespeare. There love is of a genuine mature kind of love. Maria and Sir Toby have very similar minds and this may be one the reasons they fall in love, they share a similar sense of humour and this is shown when they are plotting against Malvolio.
Another reason for this love is the fact that it was based on friendship and it was their almost cruel sense of humour that brought them together. Although they do share this slightly cruel sense of humour, they are appealing to the audience as it is funny. They are having fun at Malvolio's expense, whether it is deserved or not is another question!
Sir Toby's great admiration comes across when he describes her as 'amazons' and saying 'thou most excellent devil of wit' implying that he admires her strength of character.
These two lovers never appear in a conventional love scene but we do get updates of sort through Feste. Like a news feed, we hear developments of their growing relationship. It is still second hand information and we do not see for ourselves the love developing. They are definitely not treated like other lovers in the play; they are unique in the fact that it is behind the scenes love in a play that is based on love. Sir Toby prizes her above status and wealth which shows this love is a strong genuine love.
At the end of the play, they get married. I think Shakespeare has shown there love up to a point, but because they are not the central characters to the play he ties of the sub plot of their love by marrying them.
Malvolio's arrogance and self love is strong throughout the play but when in Act 2 his arrogance is resented by Maria who devises a plan to convince Malvolio that Olivia loves him. Malvolio is socially inferior to the likes of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and he resents the reckless knights disorderly behaviour. Malvolio is always a very serious puritanical character with no sense of humour. He is also always dressed in black which makes it even more funny when he is convinced he needs to wear bright yellow cross gartered stocking to win Olivia over: 'She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered'. Olivia is shocked as is everyone else when he appears in his new clothing as it is so unlike him.
Beneath his hard puritanical appearance is a vain, chauvinistic, hopeful which attracts the attention of the jokers in the play.
Malvolio thinks so greatly of himself that when he receives the letter which was written by Maria, he doesn't doubt that Olivia would love him as he sees himself as an attractive well mannered person. He can easily pick up on other people's flaws but not his own: 'You must amend your drunkenness.'
I think that Shakespeare's Twelfth Night does not convey that only Viola's love is genuine, I believe that Sir Toby and Maria's love is genuine as well. As we have seen, Shakespeare delves deep into the different forms of love and there are many forms of it present in this play, but Viola is not the only one in this play to experience true, genuine love.