Shakespeare uses a wide range of skills to portray the development of a character throughout the play. Through using the stage and actions of the actors to convey the drama and emphasise how the characters are feeling, and through careful language that allows the audience and reader an insight into the characters personality, both being responsible for creating dramatic impact creating interest which draws the audience in. This scene is the introduction of the first meeting between Viola and Olivia, and both have a presumption of how each other behaves and have a small expectations which alter as the text continues.
Olivia is a character we have yet to be properly introduced until this scene so far in the play, all that is known to the audience and Olivia, is that she is of Noble status, in mourning for the death of her brother, and the object of the Duke’s desires. She is veiled which gives her a literal disguise, as sense of anonymity which acts as her defence mechanism against the Duke. With the status of being a “Lady” there is a respectable, educated manner that is presumed of her, to which she upholds throughout the play always holding the conversation and keeping control of where it leads. This is shown through the structure of the text, where she is usually asking the questions:
“Where you sent hither to praise me?”
“How does he love me?”
“Are you a comedian?”
Viola’s personality is however familiar to the audience in the previous scenes and the audience is aware of her disguise. This causes visual impact, as the audience is aware of something the other characters are not which creates a tension between the audience and the stage. Not only is Viola physically disguised as Cesario she is also disguised mentally as Cesario. She has to take leave from her female noble status into a young male servant to which she has to learn to be accustomed to. Not only are they disguised in their appearance, they are disguising their feelings. Viola has feelings for the Duke and is actually incapable of revealing them for the fear of her true identity being revealed. Through the twists in the plot Olivia becomes attracted and bemused with this young youth Cesario before her, she is attracted to his frankness and welcomes his audacious approach.
Twelfth Night is all about roles and role playing which is dramatic in the figurative form. The further we get into the play the further they move from their roles into something that is more personal and true to themselves. Olivia in this scene with Viola moves from her immediately dismissive almost protective anonymity where she uses complex words to show off her importance and heritage to undermine the messenger, “’tis not the type of moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue”. This however does not work, and Viola’s persistence in identifying who the Lady is through the veiled disguise, warrants Olivia’s interest leading to her revealing herself literally, breaking an oath she claimed she never would. Viola says: “Are you the Lady of the house?”, for she does not want to “cast away her speech” for which she says “was excellently well penned” on someone of no significance. Olivia later replies, “we will draw the curtain and show you the picture”.
Viola is incapable of remaining impartial throughout this scene, and becomes impertinent in her approach, she steps out of her role, and through blind jealousy of the Duke’s passion for this lady before her, begins to almost size up the competition, and remarks rather snidely when Olivia is asking for approval of the beauty of her face, “Excellently done, if God did all” and further more accuses he of being proud, “I see what you are, you are too proud”. For a servant this is completely outrageous remark, after all she is accusing a Lady of one of the seven deadly sins. Olivia however does not upbraid Cesario, only simply says, “you are now out of your text.”
Olivia also reveals begins to reveal herself to Viola. At the beginning she is very cynical and dismissive of the messengers speech, and remarks quite coldly when Viola refers to the Duke’s love lying in his bosom, “O. I have read it: it is heresay.” Further on in the conversation however she reveals a more honest and forthright insight into her feelings for the Duke. She states simply that no matter how suitable he is for her, and how many qualities he has, she wants to stick to the romantic notions of love and says simply to Viola, “But yet I cannot love him: He might have took this answer long ago.”
Dramatic irony is continually featured in Twelfth Night and especially in this scene, the audience is capable of knowing the immediate circumstances of the story than the actual characters within it do; the audience is able to see a discrepancy between character’s perceptions and the reality they face. Viola and Olivia’s beliefs become ironic because they are different from the reality of their immediate situation, and there intentions are likewise different from their actions will have. This not only creates tension between the characters, but between the audience and the characters as the audience has to wait in suspense for the truth to be revealed.
They are both trying to outwit each other which for Olivia is battling between class difference, and for Viola it is about jealously of Orsino’s love and trying to demote Olivia’s womanhood. After their introductions they become very personal, and Olivia asks, “what are you?” “what would you?” to which Viola ironically replies, “What I am, and what I would, are as secret as maidenhood.” This has an explicit meaning as well as an ostensible one. There is a more significant underlining meaning behind this statement, the fact that she is a maiden is oblivious to Olivia, she only sees the surface truth of that line.It is also clear that Viola is left in the dark also about Olivia’s character, she says, “I see what you are”, this is far from the truth. She thinks she is seeing the real Olivia however she still manages through being blinded by her jealousy, fails to notice the humility and honesty of what Olivia is telling her because she is refusing to believe that Olivia could be any way near being as good of a suit as she herself would be for the Duke. As this is only being perceived by the audience it is very humorous for them.
As the scene develops the initial formalities carried out by servant and Lady are lost, and they continue their conversation in a more familiar manner. Olivia is entangled in Cesario’s romantic vision of how he would love her if he were the Duke and ironically Viola is wishing that she was also the object of such passion from the Duke.
Olivia is so used to the passive images that the Duke leaves her to imagine in his speeches, that she is overwhelmed when this attractive youth is romantically preaching about the “willow cabin” and love that is beyond “the elements of air and earth”, she is captured by the romantic image that Cesario is creating. Viola’s objective was not to attract Olivia for herself though this is clear through Olivia saying very enthusiastically, “You might do much”. When the audience is aware that this is in fact what she has succeeded in achieving, much to Viola’s dismay it is very humorous and just adds layers of complexity to the triangle which causes great humour.
Humour and Irony is also something that can be acted well on stage, something for which Shakespeare was famous for doing. It is hard to interpret a play from a book of text, whereas when it is played on stage it has all ready been interpreted for the audience by each character, and manipulated in a way that causes the most impact on the audience. If this was a tragic play like Othello this would be done through creating chilling tension and a tragic ending.
Twelfth Night is however a comedy and revolves around creating so many silly complications between the characters through whit and disguise that ultimately creates such an amount of irony, that the audience cannot help take an interest, and wait to find out if the mess is ever entangled. The actors emphasise certain lines, and in some cases over act certain actions to emphasis certain parts to make the audience aware that either something humorous is happening a twist is being revealed in the plot.
The reason this scene is so effective on its impact on the audience is because we are comparing two people who under their disguises are incredibly similar. They are both mourning the supposed death of their brothers, they are both originally of Noble status and they are both hiding the true objects of their affections. Both characters at the beginning of the scene were very formal and respectful of their different roles in society, end up letting down their guards, talking more familiarly and exposing subtly their vulnerabilities without it being too obvious to one another.
This is clear for Viola through her jealousy and Olivia through her changing simple language and gentle tone. The dramatic irony that comes from the audience knowing the immediate circumstances of the story, and the characters being oblivious with entirely different perceptions of what reality they also face creates the tension and interest that makes the audience want to keep watching, which in affect is the whole objective of a play.