Explain the emotions of Viola in Act I, Scene 2 of Twelfth Night.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this scene from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Viola is concerned about finding her twin brother and worries that he has died.  However, the sea captain, whom she trusts--"For saying so, there's gold"--tells her that he may yet be alive since he last saw her brother staying afloat by tying himself to a strong mast.  Then, in response to Viola's questioning, the captain tells her that the Duke Orsino rules in Illyria where they have landed; he also relates to her that Orsino is in love with Olivia, the daughter of a count. With some hope in her heart, Viola wishes to work for this noblewoman anonymously for a while so that she does not have to reveal her identity:

Oh, that I served that lady

And might not be delivered to the world

Till I had made my own occasion mellow,

What my estate is! (1.2.43-46)

However, after losing both her father and her dear brother, Olivia wants nothing to do with men. So, because Olivia has become so reclusive, the captain tells Viola it is impossible for her to work for the noblewoman.  Hearing this, Viola devises another plan:  She will serve the Duke as a eunuch, disguising herself.  Being practical-minded, Viola arranges for employment so she can live in Ilyria and, then, hopefully discover the whereabouts of her beloved brother.  And, with her praising of the captain's genuineness, Viola herself shows that she is authentic and has noble intentions.

Germane to her noble intentions of finding her brother, Viola states a significant theme of Shakespeare's:  Appearances vs. Reality.  This deception of appearances is what the comedy is built upon as mistaken identities become the cause of much humor for the audience.