Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Who Loves Whom in Twelfth Night?

Love and confusion in Twelfth Night
For portions of the play, the characters of Twelfth Night don't know who they're in love with, but one thing is for sure, there is a whole lot of love going around. 

Fortunately, for the purposes of comedy, but, unfortunately, for the characters, it is often unrequited. However, in the interests of a ‘happy ending’, mistaken identities are cleared up and confusion is eventually lifted.

Of course, it's worth keeping in mind that romantic love is by no means the only type of love dealt with in Twelfth Night. Love between siblings and friends is equally prominent and important. 

However, the love connections discussed below are predominantly amorous in nature and, with just two exceptions, are one-sided infatuations.

Orsino Loves Olivia

The first romantic attachment we become privy to is Orsino’s passion for Olivia. In the opening scene, the lovesick duke suggests, rather fancifully, that music may cure his infatuation. “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,/The appetite may sicken, and so die.”(I.i)
Toby Stephens as the love-sick Orsino

Shortly after which, the aptly named (or perhaps not so aptly named) Valentine enters with a message from Olivia: she refuses to hear from any suitor for seven years. This time she intends to spend mourning her dead brother.

In the first scene, it is clear that Orsino has repeatedly sent messengers to her, in a manner that could perhaps get him arrested for stalking. This pattern continues when young Cesario (Viola in disguise) begins to work for Orsino. Strangely, her principal 'job' quickly becomes wooing Olivia on his behalf. 

Unfortunately, this plan backfires rather spectacularly.

Olivia Loves Cesario/Viola

Despite her vow to refuse all suitors, Olivia experiences an incredibly sudden change of heart when she meets Viola disguised as a man. “How now!/Even so quickly may one catch the plague?”(I.v) The plague, indeed.

Little does Olivia know, she's barking up the wrong tree

In order to ensure Cesario’s return, Olivia sends Malvolio with a ring; claiming that the Duke's messenger gave it to her. 

When Malvolio catches up with Viola and throws the ring at her, she attempts to fathom Olivia’s motives. And can only reach one conclusion: “…what means this lady?/Fortune forbid my outside have not charm'd her!”(II.ii)

Viola is subsequently reluctant to return, but is sent frequently and repeatedly by Orsino. 

She, of course, attempts to discourage Olivia’s infatuation, “I have one heart, one bosom and one truth,/And that no woman has; nor never none/Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.”(III.i) Alas, to no avail. 

Meanwhile, poor Viola’s disguise is causing her another romantic complication.

Viola Loves Orsino

While working for Orsino, Viola has developed something of a crush on him. A crush that she cannot act upon, however, because, as far as he is concerned, she’s a man.
Poor Viola cannot reveal her true feelings
without revealing her true identity

And, of course, she cannot reveal the truth without admitting that she deceived her way into his employ.

Viola, beloved of Olivia and in love with Orsino, finds herself in a bit of a pickle. 

As she so eloquently describes, “As I am man,/My state is desperate for my master's love;/As I am woman, -now alas the day!-/What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!”(II.ii)

Sir Andrew Loves Olivia

In many ways, Sir Andrew’s role is that of buffoonish sidekick to Sir Toby. However, Shakespeare also uses the opportunity to add a further strand to the entangled love plot. 

Of course, because Andrew is a potential suitor, albeit a grotesquely unsuccessful one, it creates wonderful jealousy as he watches Cesario/Viola woo (or so he thinks) Olivia.

This ultimately leads to one of the most humorous and clownish scenes of the play. When Viola and Andrew, neither of whom are proficient in fighting, attempt to duel one another.

Maria Loves Sir Toby

It is unclear when this relationship began to blossom. 

Some productions offer clues in the form of meaningful glances between the pair.
William Evans Burton and
Mrs Burton, as Sir Toby and Maria
However, it is not until Maria concocts the plan to trick Malvolio that any word is spoken to acknowledge affection between the two.

However, Toby’s, “She's a beagle, true-bred, and one that adores me: what o' that?”(II.iii) may suggest that he does not return her feelings of adoration. 

Nevertheless, making a fool of Malvolio seems to endear her to him greatly. And, at the end of the play, we learn that the two have married.

And speaking of Malvolio.

Malvolio Loves…

Olivia? Well, probably not. Although he throws himself at her in a ridiculous manner which verges on the ‘dirty old man’ (see Nigel Hawthorne’s portrayal in Trevor Nunn’s 1996 film version), Malvolio’s one great passion is, in fact, himself.

The unromantic truth is that he probably merely views Olivia as a means to advance his social status.

A version of this post was first published by the author on Suite.101

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