Love, obsession and disguise all play key roles in the actions of the main characters featured in Twelfth Night. Orsino is obsessed Olivia and with the idea of being in love, but this does not bring him happiness, but makes him melancholic. We see he is also quite a wise character as well at times, when he is giving advice to Viola. . “Then let thy love be younger than thyself, or thy affection cannot hold the bent: For woman are as roses, whose fair flower being once displayed doth fall that very hour.” He is a changeable character as we see from his opening speech, where his mood, which reflects his feelings about love, quickly changes. He also talks much about love but does very little.
Viola is affected by love and disguise throughout the play, from the point when she decides to disguise herself as a man. The first example of love we see is one for her brother Sebastian. We see that she is a practical and resourceful character when she says “Conceal me what I am … I’ll serve this duke”. She falls in love with Orsino yet continues to woo Olivia for him whilst showing him to have self knowledge and understand love properly.
Olivia is also affected by love and obsession throughout the play. To the same degree, she is an obsessive character, as we hear from Valentine that “The element itself, till seven years hence, / shall not behold her face at ample view” and her obsession for Viola. We can understand both these obsessions with the idea of love, that is, a love for her brother and father, and a love for Viola.
The only other character affected by love, obsession and disguise is Malvolio. He is obsessed with the idea of class and Olivia we see this when he says “To be Count Malvolio!” He is in love with himself, and disguises his feelings for Olivia.
Act 1 Scene 1 is mostly exposition. For example it makes the audience anticipate Olivia’s entrance when Orsino says “Her sweet perfections.” But we also find out about Orsino’s idea of being in love and that he is obsessed to some degree.
The first lines of the play are by Orsino who is speaking in poetic verse. He says “If music be the food of love, play on /Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting, /The appetite may sicken, and so die.” This signifies him as a main character.
Orsino’s opening lines are complex metaphors as he is trying to gain control over love. He asks the musicians to give him “excess of it”, that the “food of love” will make him overdose and he won’t feel the need for love anymore this shows us that he is obsessed with love.
We see that he isn’t just the poetic lover, but the melancholic lover who isn’t really in love with Olivia but is in love with the concept of love. “The appetite may sicken and so die.” This suggests to us that Orsino doesn’t yet have self knowledge and sets up the play for somebody to show him how to begin to love.
Then after only a few lines he says “Enough no more! /’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.”
We see that he can sometimes be quickly bored. And that sometimes he is unpredictable and erratic in his behaviour as he is unhappy in love.
The Duke has asked for no more music yet continues to talk about love. “O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, /Methought she purged the air of pestilence;” This suggests that he is obsessed with being in love with love and he is possibly obsessed with being melancholic.
His speech uses images of disease and death “surfeiting … sicken … die.” This tells us that he doesn’t know what love really is and so uses his imagination.
Orsino links connection between love and imagination. “So full of shapes is fancy, /That alone is high fantastical.” And so raises the question, does the human brain create love merely as something to do or does love really exist?
When Valentine tells Orsino that Olivia is in morning for her brother for seven year Orsino reacts to it rather differently. Valentine says “A brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh.” To which Orsino replies “To pay this debt of love but to a brother, /How will she love … with one self king!” This explicitly shows us the extent of Orsino’s obsession to be in love. He can’t see that Olivia isn’t interested in him and as he’s the Duke no one will tell him this. The fact that Olivia is obsessive is good news for Orsino as he seems to be equally obsessed with being loved by her.
These few lines also tell us that Olivia isn’t just mourning her brother but is mourning him “Till seven years hence,” and “she will not behold her face at ample view” This strongly suggests that she is obsessed with mourning for her brother.
Shakespeare uses punning as a way to show that Orsino’s language is very important to him. As Valentine asks him “Will you go hunt … the hart” to which he replies “Why I do the noblest that I have.” This explicitly tells us that Orsino is obsessed with Olivia and trying to be the poetic lover and implicitly tells us that as he is the Duke he is trying to play a dukes role; playing at being in love. It also suggests that he is well educated and noble.
Throughout the play we see Orsino’s character progress from a person who has little self knowledge and is obsessed with the idea of love to a person who is taught to love, to someone who learns to love. We first see this when Viola and Orsino meet in Act 2 Scene 4. We also see in this scene how wise Viola is about love.
At the start of this scene Viola implicitly tries to show Orsino that she loves him by saying that “It gives a very echo to the seat where love is throned.” Here she is saying that love is like an echo. This is because an echo strikes twice and so does love. She is trying to tell Orsino that he isn’t in love with Olivia, which is the sound, but has a spiritual/platonic love for Viola which could develop into a relationship, which is the echo.
We see Orsino is also quite wise about love for other people. Cesario admits her love and tries to imply that she is in love with Orsino by telling Orsino that she is in love with a woman “Of your complexion.” Which Orsino replies “Too old, by heaven” He says that women become emotionally mature younger. And men at that age are “giddy and unfirm”, so to satisfy women’s needs they need and older man. Which Viola agrees with because she does love an older man.
And finally in this scene Viola tries again to show Orsino that she love him by saying “My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be,” when Orsino asks what happen to her Viola replies “a blank … she let concealment like a worm i’th’ bud/Feed on her damask cheek;” Viola is trying to tell Orsino subtly that she loves him, because she doesn’t tell Orsino she has a sister, she says my father had a daughter which refers to Viola being the daughter. As Viola knows the concept of love and has self knowledge then she knows that if she hides away her feelings she will become old, damaged and lonely.
We see that Orsino’s language of love is changing, when he asks Cesario to tell Olivia that “my love, more noble than the word … I hold as giddy as fortune” He is saying that he doesn’t love Olivia for her money but because of her class and because “That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.” We see that he is starting to change from the melancholic lover.
The next time we see Orsino is towards the end of the play. Instead of just talking about love, he actually does something about it and decides to visit Olivia. This shows that he has changed his approach in love because of Viola has taught him to.
When Orsino hears that Olivia is married he threatens “sacrifice the lamb that I do love/to spite a raven’s heart within a dove.” This shows that Orsino has changed his view of Olivia completely because he has been shown by Viola that Orsino and Olivia aren’t matched. It also shows that he has realised that he is in love with Viola. But as Viola says “And I, most jocund, apt and willingly, /To do you rest, a thousand deaths would die.” I think that Shakespeare is trying to imply that love is so close to madness that Orsino or Viola could easily become insane where one lover becomes a killer and the other a sacrificed lamb.
Act 1 Scene 5 is used largely also exposition and exploration of the relationship between Olivia and Viola who is in disguise as a man. As it sets up the next scene when Viola and Olivia meet. We also see that Olivia and Viola both speak in verse as this makes them high class and noble.
We see that Olivia’s obsession for mourning for seven years is shown to be a waste of time by feste who says to Olivia “The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven.” Later on in the scene Olivia realises that what feste has told her is right. So she breaks her vows to not love anybody.
Viola arrives and after being questioned from Olivia she tells her that “Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: I am a gentleman.” Since Olivia says afterwards to herself and the audience that “Even so quickly can one catch the plague?” it tells us that she is in love with Cesario because she is using “the plague” as a metaphor for love. We also see from this that she couldn’t love Cesario if he wasn’t a gentleman. This shows us that class plays an important role in who she can love.
Olivia disguises her real feelings for Cesario, as she tells Malvolio that he was a “peevish messenger” and doesn’t say to him, that she has fallen in love. This is self deception. She also brings Cesario back under false pretences. But as Viola knows the concept of love, she quickly realises that Olivia has fallen in love with her. We know this because she says in a speech “She loves me,”
Before Orsino and Olivia under stand love they use images of disease, illness, or death to describe love. For example Olivia says “Even so quickly can one catch the plague?” And Viola uses the same language to describe how Orsino would love Olivia. For example “With adorations, fertile tears, /With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire.” But when Viola describes how she would love someone she says that she would build a willow cabin outside Olivia’s gates where she would write love songs and sing them out in the middle of the night. She would also “make the babbling gossip of the air cry out ‘Olivia!'” The language that Viola uses is exaggerated and was used by poets and lovers in Shakespeare’s time. This makes Olivia very attracted to Viola as she has a different view on love and wants to be taught by Viola, this ‘new love’ which Viola has.
Throughout the play we see Olivia’s character progress from somebody who has been obsessed with mourning, who disguises her feelings of passion for Viola, and has fallen in love but doesn’t really know how to love. Into somebody who learns how to love. This is achieved by Viola, a woman, in disguise as a man, Cesario.
Throughout Act 3 scene 1 instead of Olivia using poetry, puns and imagery which is signified in Shakespeare plays as the language of love she is very direct in her questions. For example “tell me what thou think’st of me.” This suggests that Olivia is being to understand love and herself.
We first see this in Act 3 scene 1when Viola and Olivia meet for the second time. When Olivia tells Cesario that she loves him they have a bit of an argument because he is defying Olivia which she isn’t used to. Then Olivia suddenly asks “tell me what thou think’st of me.” Olivia is letting down her disguise of her feelings and wants to know how Viola feels about her. To which Viola replies “That you do think you are not what you are.” Viola is trying to guide Olivia into having self knowledge. To which Olivia replies “If I think so, I think the same of you.” To which Viola almost lets down her disguise by saying “I am not what I am.” It would seem that Viola has begun to dislike the disguise that she wears, because it puts her in awkward situations.
Then just after that heated moment Olivia says “I would you were as I would have you be!” To which Viola replies “Would it be better, madam, than I am, / I wish it might, for now I am your fool.” Here we see that, Olivia wants Cesario to be her lover, and wants Cesario to be like she wants him and no other way, like she trying to mould him into being her idea lover. Cesario’s reply is if I were moulded into how you want me, then I wouldn’t be myself so I couldn’t love you, and would which would made both of them unhappy. We see here that Viola uses her disguise to teach Olivia that she can’t always have everything that she wants and has to give a little. Viola shows her how to love which sets up the scene where Sebastian marries Olivia because the two characters are compatible as they now both know how to love.
At the end of that scene both Viola and Olivia talk in rhyming couplets. For example Olivia says “I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.” Shakespeare has done this to summarise the scene
Because Viola has taught Olivia how to love, Olivia is now ready to love Cesario. She asks Sebastian who she thinks is Cesario “would thou’dst be ruled by me!” and as Sebastian is identical twins with Viola he also knows the concept of love and so agrees. Olivia is direct at asking Sebastian to marry her because she understands herself and love.
The first time we learn about Malvolio’s character is from Olivia. She says “O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio.” We instantly realise that Malvolio has self love and so this sets him up as the comic part in the play.
We find out that he has an obsession for Olivia and for class in Act 2 scene 5. For example he says “To be count Malvolio.” He thinks he can be count Malvolio and marry Olivia, but he isn’t aware of class issues, that a noble person like Olivia has. This shows us his self obsession. An example of his obsession for Olivia is “Having been three months married to her, / sitting in my estate-” Here we see Malvolio talking to himself unaware he is being watched and making a fool out of himself, he talks about his obsession to marry Olivia. He is also disguising this from Olivia and doesn’t want to marry her because of love but for his own purpose because he hates Sir Toby and wants to rule him, he also wants the title “Count Malvolio” and wants Olivia’s money, all of this feeds his self obsession.
When he sees the letter it has the letters “M, O, A, I” as a code to who the letter is written. He comes to the conclusion that “M, O, A, I” means Malvolio. As he says “it would bow to / me for every one of these letters are in my name.” He comes to this conclusion because of his self love.
Maria who wrote the letter is very clever and can read both Malvolio’s and Olivia’s character very well. She does this so successfully because Malvolio is full of self love and obsession so the letter would appeal to him. For example part of the letter reads “Remember who commended thy / yellow stockings,” Maria knows that for Malvolio to wear yellow stockings would disobey his puritan laws but she can see that Malvolio is a very weak character so would disobey the laws for his own greed. Maria also knows of Malvolio’s self love and self obsession because otherwise he would never have gone along with the letter.
When feste makes Malvolio think that there is a vicar in the room, who is going to help him, but really its feste in disguise and it’s just to scare Malvolio for fun, that is where the joke goes too far. For example when Malvolio is locked in a dark room feste acting as Sir Topas says to him “there is no darkness but ignorance.” I think that Malvolio didn’t deserve as harsh a punishment as he received because it hurt him deeply and might never be able to trust anyone again, which might make relationships difficult for him in the future. I think Shakespeare is trying to show us that if you humiliate someone it can cause them great grief in the future.
At the end of the play when Olivia just says “Alas, poor fool! How have they baffled thee!” It’s no wonder Malvolio says “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” This shows that because Malvolio is the only person who hasn’t got self knowledge, so is excluded from the general happiness that the other characters have. It seems like Olivia is the only person who seems to care about Malvolio when she says “He hath been most notoriously abused.” This is because Olivia is a compassionate woman and has been taught this by Viola.
It seems as though obsession, self love, disguise, and not having self knowledge seem to be incompatible with love. Because Orsino had obsession, and didn’t have self knowledge so couldn’t love Viola. Olivia had obsession, disguise, self deception, and not having self knowledge stand in the way of loving Cesario or Sebastian. And Viola had disguise which got in the way of her loving Orsino. At the end of the play, Orsino isn’t obsessed with being in love any more, and has self knowledge and love and so marries Viola.
Olivia isn’t self deceitful anymore, doesn’t disguise her feelings, knows how to love and has self knowledge so marries Sebastian. And Viola has got rid of her disguise so marries Orsino. Malvolio is the only person who didn’t learn anything because he began with self love, self obsession, disguising his feelings, and not having self knowledge and stayed that way. Apart from feste he was the only character who didn’t get married. And he is the only character who wasn’t happy at the end and wanted revenge.
I think Shakespeare wrote this play to show us that in order to love, you have to be open and free of obsession and disguise. I think he did this by using Viola as the character that has self knowledge and to teach this to the characters Orsino and Olivia. Shakespeare used this to show the audience that if you are free of obsession and disguise and have self knowledge and know the concept of love, you will be happy, but if you don’t then you could turn out to be like Malvolio; bitter and sour.