Compare and contrast the characters of Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night.


Twelfth Night

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Viola and Olivia are both gentlewomen raised to self-esteem, manners, breeding, wealth and luxury (Olivia more so) who both recognize and accept the role of Fate in their lives. This is where their character descriptions part company. Olivia's overriding trait is emotional foolishness. Her brother has recently died after a good religious life because Feste declares him to be in "heaven." Olivia's response of mourning is to mourn for seven years with her face under a veil while refusing all declarations of love and weeping daily.

Viola, in contrast, has lost her brother and takes the encouragement offered by the Captain to hope for the best results for her brother. She accordingly develops a plan for coping with life without her brother and pursues it, even though it is certainly a plan for life that she never would have thought of prior to her loss. Both women fall in love at first sight, but Viola falls only once whereas Olivia falls once and switches once when she marries Sebastian. Speaking of which, Viola seems to have made the worse choice in her object of affection while Olivia seems to have made the better choice: Orsino is emotionally volatile and changeable whereas Sebastian is Viola's twin, which suggests her twin in character traits also.

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