This past weekend, I finished the play Twelfth Night that I had been reading with my dad. It was a wonderful play, and the ending was both hilarious and happy. Since I have finished, I thought I would share some of the things that I did regarding this play. I did several exercises with my dad, including a found poem on the character Feste, which I already published, and a page about the definitions of comedy and examples of them from the text. In that exercise, I discovered just why things are funny, and what Shakespeare used to create comedy. Just today, I wrote a short piece on the consequences of love in the play and how different characters showed their love. The piece may be confusing to those who have not read the play, and I warn you that is a spoiler too. Happy reading!
Tangling Up the Love in Twelfth Night
"O time must untangle this..."
Explore the theme of love and different characters opinions about it. How do they struggle with it? How do they express their love for others? In which ways are they similar in their approaches and reactions to it? In which ways are they different? Is the quality of their love the same?
Here is my writing on this topic...
In the play Twelfth Night, love can be as tangled as a plate of spaghetti. Favors are fought for and refused, wits are sharpened, tears are shed, and in the end most everything works out fine. The overriding romantic feel of the play is of mistaken love, one sided love, and hidden love. As the threads of endearment untangle, we find unlikely matches amongst the people of Illyria.
The first love mentioned in the play comes in the very first scene. This is the one sided love of Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia. Only one of many examples of one sided love, this shows that just because the Duke falls for Olivia does not mean she will feel similar. Orsino has spent quite some time trying everything in his power to gain the favor of Olivia, yet she refuses even to speak with him. This theme of one sided love appears again and again throughout the play. Olivia woos Cesario with no reciprocation, Cesario secretly has a passion for Duke Orsino, and Malvolio has hidden his love for Olivia. The people of Olivia and Orsino’s courts are troubled deeply by their personal worries, and the secret love begins to eat away at some, causing spontaneous outbursts of passion that are often met with disgust. In Act Three, after a teary confession to Cesario, Olivia immediately regrets showing her passion, which is not felt at all by Cesario. As she humbly puts it, “I have said too much unto a heart of stone, and laid mine honour too unchary on’t.” She may feel sorry for herself, or purely embarrassed that she shared such personal feelings to someone who feels nothing in return. This attempt to show her love is very similar to the approach of Malvolio, who is tricked into thinking that Olivia feels the same way. Malvolio embodies the belief that some will do anything for love, as he dresses like a madman and goes to meet Olivia with great confidence. The theme of one sided secret love is hugely prominent throughout the play, and many characters hide their feelings, only to display them when they believe the time is right. Some, like Olivia to Cesario, are left disappointed, while others such as Viola to Orsino, are in for a pleasant surprise.
Another form of love in Twelfth Night is mistaken love, or a lover who was tricked. Perhaps the greatest example is that of Viola and Sebastian’s involuntary switch in Act Five. Sebastian secretly marries Olivia, a woman he is meeting for the first time, while Olivia is sure that he is Cesario, the “man” that she has fallen desperately in love with. Olivia is tricked by appearance alone, which shows something about the depths of her feelings for Cesario. Her love for him was rather more shallow than the other relationships in the play, as she had fallen for him at first sight. This leaves us to wonder how deep her love was, or whether it was purely attraction to his physical features, as she knows very little about Cesario’s real personality or background. If she can confuse Viola with her brother, she must not know Viola/Cesario very well. Concomitantly, there is the case of Malvolio and the infamous letter written to him from Olivia. When Malvolio receives the false letter, he not only believes that it was written by Olivia, but he also follows the outrageous advice in the letter. If he had truly known Olivia’s personality, he would realize that she would never ask him to dress like a madman, or even feel the same way about him. Love in Twelfth Night is both confusing and shallow at some times, and most of the characters share similar faults when it comes to love. People like Sir Andrew and Olivia are very facile lovers, who care for only status and handsomeness, respectively. In people such as Viola, there is a sense that they have fallen in love for a good reason. For example, Sir Toby marries Maria because she helped him in the plot against Malvolio, thus proving to him that she has a wit to match his own.
By the end of the play, it seems that most of the characters are either happily married or soon to be. Somehow, the tangled yarns of love, unrequited and false, shallow and one sided, mistaken and true, are free and bring together people in happy unions. Illyria is soon to host a magnificent double wedding, and life will be perfect. At least, for everyone except Malvolio.