In Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, we see that Orsino and the one he loves, Olivia, are presented under the same light. They both have the same characteristics and, moreover, they share the same idea of: in love with the fact or idea of being in love but not loving truthfully. Concerning Olivia however, she seems to be, in the audience’s point of view, more appreciated than Orsino. She acts in a cleverer, more inventive and in a true approach compared to Orsino who seems to be irritating, stupid and who compares love to food!
This essay will describe how Shakespeare presents her in a more likeable way than Orsino, what are the deeds of Olivia for her shrewdness to be distinguished from Orsino and lastly why does she seem more sociable seen from our eyes. Firstly, let us have an overview on the comparable characteristics of Olivia and Orsino. To begin with, Olivia and Orsino are both very wealthy and come from the privileged social classes. In the case of Olivia, she is a countess and concerning Orsino, he is the Duke of Illyria not neglecting the fact that they are both visited by Feste the fool.
Next, the theme of love which associates these two is apparent seeing that they are somehow in love with only the fact of being in love, that is they do not love whoever they say they feel affection for with but the only idea of being in love; especially Orsino who should have been expressing his love counting on himself and not on others: “Orsino: O then unfold the passion of my love, Surprise her with discourse of my dear faith;”*1 Regarding Olivia, who pretends loving Viola ends up marrying Sebastian.
There we make out that Olivia is irritated towards Orsino and thus refuses his love. In my opinion, I believe that Olivia’s love is truthful and Orsino’s phony. However, supporting the fact that they are just in love with the idea of being in love, they both end up marrying different persons which they did not pretend to love although the persons they end up marrying are, in a certain point of view, male and female versions of the same person(Sebastian and Viola).
Meanwhile based on another aspect of their similarities, we discover that both are in love with people who do not love them for example as revealed by act one, Orsino loves Olivia who is not in love with him and same concerns Olivia who has affections for Cesario (Viola disguised) but that affection is unfortunately not reciprocal. Finally yet importantly regarding their similarities, they are simply among the main characters and protagonists of the play. Secondly, we will find out why Olivia appears under a more likeable light than Orsino.
First of all, in the very beginning of the play, we find out that Olivia repudiates the love letters and verbal messages sent from Orsino. This first event of the whole play addresses the theme of stupidity directly to Orsino. Sending messages expressing his love means that he is not brave enough to go and express that love on his own. Later in the play, we observe that he is tipped (given a hint) by Cesario (Viola) that she is not a castrated man but a disguised woman. There Orsino apparently did not manage to understand what Viola meant: “Viola: I am all the daughters of my father’s house, And all the brothers, too – and yet I know not”*2
Consequently, we spectators, tend to give less admiration to Orsino following the disastrous mental abilities (stupid and irrational) he demonstrates in the play. Thirdly regarding Olivia, we see that to refuse the proposals of Orsino, Olivia pretends that she is mourning her dead brother and father for seven years, here relating on the theme of sadness rather than death: “Valentine: The element itself, till seven years’ heat, Shall not behold her face at ample view;”*3 The end of the seven years, at that time, would mean that Olivia would already be an old-aged lady in reason of the low life expectancy in those days.
In addition, in the middle of the play where Olivia declares her love to Viola (who she thinks is Cesario) and remains open with her proves that the supposedly ‘mourning’ of Olivia was only an excuse to stay distant from Orsino. Moreover, in order for Cesario to return, Olivia sends her a ring knowing that she will not accept it therefore she will feel the obligation of returning it. These examples show the clever abilities Olivia present, for instance, we spectators offering to a certain extent more admiration towards her.
Lastly, we also feel some compassion and sympathy towards Olivia knowing that she lost not only her father but brother too. Finally, we come to a conclusion that Shakespeare makes Olivia appear more likeable than Orsino even though both share the same characteristics by demonstrating cleverer and more inventive methods of solving problems in the side of Olivia compared to Orsino. We can also conclude, speaking about the audience now, that this example demonstrates the limitation of the human brain as it is known that most persons will favour mentally stronger people (Olivia) than weaker ones (Orsino).