Twelfth Night Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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

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The most important qualities Viola and Olivia share in Twelfth Night are, first, their profound grief and, second, their opennness to folly and improvisation. Both women have lost their fathers, and both believe they have recently lost their only brothers. They are alone in the world and, as they are young women, are likely making their own decisions for the first time. Olivia's choice is to withdraw from the world, ostensibly for seven years. In doing so, she ignores the natural call of youth, which typically draws—at least in Shakespeare—the person toward love. Viola withdraws into her male identity, seemingly denying her feminine youth as well, becoming something of a counterfeit Sebastian.

Viola immediately decides to improvise a life in Orsino 's court. She is open to falling in love with him and is able to connect to all the various characters in Illyria. She accepts the madness of love and human existence but pushes forward. When she is forced to woo Olivia for Orsino, she does so as...

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