Character Analysis of Olivia
Throughout all of Shakespeare’s plays, he incorporates complex characters that add depth and a deeper significance to the overall plot of the literary work. In William Shakespeare’s comical play, Twelfth Night, his character, Olivia, surfaces as a very particular young lady who has no desire for love in her near future, yet she reforms into an affectionate member of a seemingly never-ending love triangle. Olivia’s reformation is strictly made possible through her love interest and foil, Cesario, or rather, Viola.
In the beginning of the play, the reader learns quite a bit about who Olivia is, her personality, and how what she is going through has an effect on all of that. Olivia is described as a young woman from Illyria whose brother just died. After the sorrowful death of her beloved brother, Olivia has no immediate family members left. She is depressed by this and decides she will not marry or attempt at love for seven whole years. Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, both express to the young woman their deep affection for her numerous times, yet Olivia still refuses until Orsino sends along Cesario to deliver a letter regarding his hopes for his and Olivia’s relationship. Despite her original reluctance, allowing Cesario to speak with her was the very change in mindsets that was needed in Olivia in order for the play to make a positive and hopeful transition. Olivia expresses her quite possible newly found lust for Cesario in stating,
I do I know not what, and fear to find / Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind. / Fate, show they force: ourselves we do not owe; / What is decreed must be, and be this so. (I. v)
In meeting Cesario, Olivia becomes a bit more optimistic and lively in an attempt to bring herself out of the immersed sadness she has dwelled in day after day.
Through this beginning occurrence of Olivia’s affection for Cesario, the reader starts to get a glimpse of how the two are foils to one another. Shakespeare uses Viola masked as a male in order to develop the character of Olivia in full transition. In addition, Olivia is used to bring out the complexity of Viola; they help to reveal each other’s characters. It is because of the complicated situation that Cesario, or Viola, is in that changes Olivia, whether or not it is of her knowledge yet. Viola, so flattered yet baffled, does not know what to do with the feelings of Olivia that have come to her attention. Viola is so sure of her own love for Orsino and strictly friendship for Olivia. Olivia, on the other hand, is positive of her love for Cesario and unwillingness to love Orsino. Viola flustered and confused expresses:
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? As I am man. (II. ii)
These differences between Viola and Olivia, help to establish the character that Olivia truly is. Olivia is loved by Orsino, but wants love with Cesario. Viola is loved by Olivia, but wants love with Orsino. Olivia knows what she wants and is slightly demanding, yet Viola is more kind-hearted and reserved about her love, mostly because she is disguised as a male. To many people, Olivia is seen as very lovable and worthy of marriage. On the other hand, Viola is more a friend figure to all, then again because she is dressed as a male. The disguise of Viola as Cesario allows for the reader to really discover who Olivia is. Even though the two characters are so contrasting, Viola helps to bring out a side of Olivia that otherwise would have never been shown. In the beginning, Olivia makes it very clear she does not desire any relationship, however Cesario, or Viola, changes this for her. The reader gets to see a high-spirited, deeply-infatuated side of Olivia, and it never would have been possible without the contrasting character of Viola.
Olivia is such a vital character in this Shakespeare play because of her complete transformation as a character in the presence of Viola. The conflicting love triangle between Olivia, Viola, and Orsino may never have worked out if Olivia did not let down boundaries and attempt at love with Cesario. Although this does not exactly work out, in the end, though, love does. All members of the complex love infliction are able to fall in love with someone they did not foresee themselves doing so with from the start. None of this would have been made possible if Olivia’s character was not made changed by Viola. In Twelfth Night the complete alteration of Olivia, from a restricted, unlovable character to a loving, passionate character, is strictly influenced by love and the effects of love.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Project Gutenberg, November 1998.