At the start of Act 1; scene 5 we already know a little about each character and their role in the play. We have learnt that Countess Olivia has sworn to shut herself away from the world since her brother died. She has decided to veil her face in front of others, to stay inside her house and to deny any form of pleasure for seven years. We also know that Count Orsino has fallen in love with Olivia and is attempting to woo her. He has sent Cesario/Viola, his most trustworthy eunuch to her and he has been instructed to wait by Olivia’s gate until he is permitted to speak with her. However the eunuch is not all he appears to be. He is in fact a she, who is herself in love with Orsino.Order now
Maria is the first to inform Olivia of Viola’s presence. She depicts her as a well-spoken gentleman and as the initial complementary description of Viola, it fares an important step on the way to make Olivia fall in love. However Olivia sends her most arrogant courtier, Malvolio to dismiss the gentleman if he be yet another tedious page from Orsino. She is determined to grieve and has made it clear that under no circumstances does she want to speak to a suitor from Orsino. “If it be from the Count, I am sick, or not at home – what you will to dismiss it.” The next part of the scene is unimportant, although even drunken Sir Toby describes Viola as a gentleman, a term not often used when talking about a page.
Malvolio then returns after failing to remove Viola. This surprises Olivia, as not many people would be unfazed after a meeting with the pompous Malvolio. This determination intrigues Olivia causing her to interrogate him, as she is keen to discover more about the mysterious gentleman. Malvolio’s descriptions gives Olivia the impression that Viola is a handsome man who is not too old, yet not too young. “He is very well favoured and speaks shrewishly. One would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him.” This short description is enough to persuade Olivia to invite Viola to speak with her. She is curious to learn more about the man who is prepared to persistently wait for his master.
Viola enters and her first words are direct. This makes Olivia pay attention as she is used to a more stale approach, which is what she usually would receive from Orsino’s other courtiers. This sincere manner immediately intrigues Olivia and she is impressed by Viola’s openness and intelligence. Viola admits to being sensitive and her genuineness provides an instant liking between the two women. Olivia then goes on to probe Viola for information about herself, although she is not eager to hear Orsino’s speech of love as she has heard it so many times before. Likewise she becomes bored with Orsino’s praises and is impatient to discover Viola’s own feelings. “Come to what is important in’t: I forgive you the praise.” Viola’s ability to contest Olivia and Maria’s criticisms cause Olivia to be attracted to her intelligence and wit. The quote “I am not that I play” spoken by Viola adds mystery to her character and Olivia is keen to find out more.
All of these small events cause Olivia to request her servants leave her alone with the courtier. To have Olivia’s private company is further than any other servant of Orsino’s has ever managed to get. This is significant as it is the first obvious sign of attraction and growing fascination.
The next few lines of the play cause another turning point in Olivia’s behaviour. There is something in these lines that persuades Olivia to unveil herself. She has evidently become captivated with Viola’s vitality and fresh appearance. Her unveiling is a surprise to the audience as suddenly she seems to have completely forgotten her vows of mourning and has become preoccupied with showing off to Viola, a mere servant. Olivia is proud of her beauty and is desperate for Viola’s approval. She welcomes her compliments, but replies mockingly when Viola hints at having children. “If you will lead these graces to the grave, and leave the world no copy.” This witty bantering shows signs of fondness between the two women.
In order to satisfy Viola that she has done her best to carry out Orsino’s message of love, Olivia asks her more about Orsino’s love. She still, however, tries to keep it brief by then asking what Viola would do in the situation. Viola replies with Shakespeare’s best-known love poetry, the Willow Cabin speech. Her dramatic, passionate and sensitive wording could not fail to have an effect. “Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house.” These powerful words seal the process of falling in love for Olivia. After this display of sensitivity she continues to quiz Viola over her background.
Finally Olivia asks Viola to return to Orsino, but quickly gives an excuse for her to come back to see her. “Let him send no more – Unless perchance you come to me again, to tell me how he takes it.” Viola exits the scene leaving Olivia to reflect on what has happened. She quite clearly reveals to the audience that she has fallen ‘head over heels’ in love. Thoughts of her brother have long since passed as she plans to secure Viola’s return.
Now the ‘love triangle’ is confirmed, Act 1;scene 5 leaves the audience keenly anticipating the next few scenes.