How can Duke Orsino switch his affections so quickly from Olivia to Viola?

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enotes | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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At the conclusion of Twelfth Night, Viola sheds her disguise as the young officer Cesario, Duke Orsino instantly drops his opposition to her (and her twin brother Sebastian's) love for Olivia and then "switches" his affections to a young woman whom he has thus far known only as a man. The gender confusion aside, this turnabout seems extremely odd, for Orsino has doggedly pursued his Olivia, praising the singularity of her character and charms. From the outset of the play we are directed to the fickleness of Orsino's moods, as when he first orders music to accompany reverie over Olivia and then suddenly commands it to be stopped. Although seemingly steadfast in his suit for Olivia, by end of first scene we realize that Orsino is not truly in love with Olivia; rather, he is in love with his own role as an irrational lover immersed in a romantic reverie. Indeed, Orsino openly boasts of his "unstaid and skittish" conduct, which he displays as a symptom of his self-exalted status as a romantic lover.

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