How does Shakespeare portray love in Twelfth Night?

Love triumphs at the end of Twelfth Night, but not before it drives the play's characters nearly out of their minds, making them behave strangely and also making them miserable as they navigate both their passions and a series of mistaken identities.

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In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare portrays love as something wild and passionate, something that takes people almost out of their senses and makes them do things they normally would not do, something that comes upon them suddenly and often makes them miserable. Yet he also depicts the triumph of love in the end (when the characters finally find the right person to love).

As the play begins, Duke Orsino laments his unrequited love for Olivia. He is miserable but determined. Olivia has renounced all love as she grieves for her brother, but the Duke will not take no for an answer. He bothers Olivia unendingly with proposals, vowing not to leave her alone until she says yes to him. He sends messenger after messenger, but finally he sends one too many, and Olivia, too, falls in love, just not with the Duke!

The last messenger Orsino sends to Olivia is Viola, disguised as the young man Cesario. Olivia falls head over heals for Viola/Cesario, but Viola, of course, is not at all interested, for she has fallen in love with the Duke. Viola manages to control herself (she must to maintain her disguise), but Olivia does not. She chases “Cesario” shamelessly, behaving in a way that would normally be completely incompatible with her serious nature.

Somehow, though, Olivia fails to notice that Viola's brother, Sebastian, is not Cesario. Yes, the siblings look a lot alike, but the fact that Sebastian has no idea who she is or what she is talking about should have tipped her off that something is amiss. Olivia's love blinds her, however, and she gets a promise of marriage out of Sebastian and even a betrothal ceremony, for he has fallen in love with her as well, perhaps simply out of the fact that a beautiful woman is in love with him.

In the end, however, everything works out for the best. Cesario is unmasked as Viola, and the Duke decides he can love her just as well as he can love Olivia and maybe even better since she returns his love. Olivia and Sebastian remain deliriously happy, and love seems to have triumphed all around.

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Despite ending in three marriages, love seems to be portrayed more as a sickness or even a kind of madness in Twelfth Night rather than as a lasting source of joy and companionship.

Notice the amount of unrequited affections among the characters. Orsino wants Olivia, while Olivia pines for Cesario. Both Orsino and Olivia are not necessarily in love, but infatuated with the idea of the object of their affections. This latter idea is emphasized in Olivia's case, since Cesario is not even a real person, but the alter ego of Viola.

Forbidden love, particularly love with homoerotic overtones, makes its way into the play as well. The sailor Antonio's passion for Sebastian is often interpreted as romantic in nature, and it too is unrequited, as well as forbidden by the socio-religious context of the setting. Viola longs for Orsino,...

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who can never be hers as long as she is disguised as his male servant. Her speech about Cesario's "sister" and her unrequited love sums up the pain of such longing:

She never told her love,But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,d with a green and yellow melancholyShe sat like patience on a monument,Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? (2.4.108–113)

While the play ends happily, love is never presented as devoid of complications and pain. Indeed, it seems to cause pain more than it does fulfillment in the play's world. The sad reality that love can cause pain is emphasized by the fact that neither Antonio nor Malvolio end the play in marital bliss.

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Love is a very common theme in Shakespeare's comedies.  The structure of a classical Comedy is such that, after a series of complications for at least one romantic couple, the play ends "happily" in at least one marriage.  Though not everyone actually says his/her vows before the play's end, Twelfth Night concludes in three marriages -- Viola and Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian, and Sir Toby and Maria.

Love is depicted in a number of ways.  First, there is the melancholy, unrequited "sickness" that is Orsino's love.  He opens the play mooning over Olivia and the fact that she will not return his love.  He seems to be the sort of lover that actually takes a sort of delight in his own misery.  Viola mirrors Orsino when she dresses as Cesario and takes on the role of a young man serving in Orsino's household.  She falls hopelessly in love with Orsino and describes herself this way:

...[S]he never told her love,

But let concealment like a worm i' th' bud

Feed on her damask cheek:  she pin'd in thought

And with a green and yellow melancholy

Sat like Patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief.

Olivia, unable to return Orsino's affections, falls in love with Cesario (Viola), and her love is a sort of unrequited sickness as well.  However, when Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario, the two are wed, really even before Sebastian knows what has happened to him.  Sebastian's love is "love at first sight" in the extreme.

Then there is Malvolio, who fancies himself in love with Olivia, but seems, rather, to be very much in love with becoming the lord and master of her household. Sir Andrew also falls into the "unrequitedly in love with Olivia" category.  Shakespeare uses him to spoof the actions of a young courtly man -- pursuing her through making good friends with her male relative (Sir Toby) and challenging his rival (Cesario) to a duel.

And, though Sir Toby and Maria (Olivia's serving woman) never have any scene in which they confess their love for each other, it is reported at the end of the play that Toby was so grateful to Maria for the part she played in duping Malvolio that "'[i]n recompense. . .he hath married her."  Is there love between them?  Shakespeare doesn't answer this question.

The links below will connect you to essays that further investigate the topic of love in Twelfth Night.

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How does Shakespeare unfold the love triangle in Twelfth Night?

Typically as one of Shakespeare's comedies, this play involves mistaken identities, cross-dressing, disguises and people falling in love with people they shouldn't fall in love with. Thus it is that we are introduced in Act I scene i to the Duke Orsino, who is swift to declare his undying love for Lady Olivia:

O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,

Methought she purged the air of pestilence.

That instant was I turned into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

E'er since pursued me.

This situation is immediately complicated by news of Olivia's unremitting resolution to not marry for love of her dead brother:

The element itself, till seven years' heat,

Shall not behold her face at ample view,

But like a cloistress she will veiled walk...

So, it is clear that Olivia does not return these feelings, as we see from her distaste of being forced to listen to them once more from Cesario. However, this situation is further complicated in Act I scene iv by the irony of Viola dressed as Cesario being forced to take messages of love from her master to Olivia when she is in love with Orsino herself!

Yet a barful strife!

Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife.

Then of course note Olivia's response to Cesario in Act I scene v:

Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Methinks I feel this youth's perfections

With an invisible and subtle stealth

To creep in at mine eyes.

So, three characters, each involved in a crazy tangled up relationship involving disguises, secret loves and unrequited love. The real question of course is how on earth is Shakespeare going to resolve this situation in this "comedy"?!

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How does Shakespeare show love in Twelfth Night?

Two sides of love that Shakespeare depicts in Twelfth Night are unreasoned love at first sight and the elements of successful love. The first, love at first sight, is depicted in the characters of Orsino ("If this be the food of love, play on; /... to sweet beds of flowers; / Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers."), Viola, Olivia and Sebastian.Orsino confesses that when he first saw Olivia, he instantly turned to loving her. Viola goes to work for Orsino disguised as Cesario and within three days she is in love with Orsino. Olivia hears Cesario/Viola speak one time and falls in love. Sebastian consents to be taken by a lady who is essentially a stranger to be united in marriage. These are unreasoned loves.The Shakespearean theme that ties music to love gives a glimpse at those who metaphorically sing the song of love well enough to be successful and those who don't. The key to success lies with Viola. She says in Act I that she can sing to lots of kinds of music and therefore is sure to be able to please. Feste supports this in the final scene of the play when he sings that bragging and boasting never won in marriage suits. Interestingly, Sir Andrew fails to impress Maria because his musical instrument isn't impressive enough. Shakespeare doesn't suggest that what is not good enough for person X will be good enough for person Q because it is all a matter of perception. On the contrary, he suggests that succeeding or losing in love depends on how well it is done by the suitor.

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How does Shakespeare present love in Twelfth Night, and what techniques does he use?

Another term for a literary technique is literary device. Literary devices are any methods an author might use to tell the story or illustrate a point. Common literary devices are narrative techniques, plot devices, symbolism, recurring motifs, and any language devices, such as figurative language and repetition. Shakespeare certainly makes use of many different devices throughout all of his plays depending on what he wants to convey. In particular, in Twelfth Night, one thing Shakespeare conveys about love is that it can be very cruel and painful. We can see devices he uses to portray love as cruel and painful in the very first scene. Specifically, Shakespeare uses apostrophe to personify love as cruel.Apostrophe is a certain type of personification in which some abstract idea is not only personified but also addressed as if it was a person that was physically present. Dr. Wheeler gives us an example from John Donne, "Oh, Death, be not proud" ("Literary Terms and Definitions"). Since here, Donne is addressing death and commanding it to not be proud, which is a human emotion an abstract idea cannot feel, we see that this is a perfect example of apostrophe. In the opening scene of Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino uses apostrophe to address love and point out its cruel nature, as we see in the lines:

O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,That, notwithstandng thy capacityReceiveth as the sea, nought enters there,Of what validity and pitch soe'er,But falls into abatement and low price. (I.i.9-13)

Not only are these lines addressing love like a person, the lines are also metaphorically likening love to the sea. Just like the stormy, turbulent sea swallows up ships and everything in ships, love also swallows up human emotions. In addition, when anything like a ship drowns in the ocean, it "falls into abatement and low price," meaning it becomes worthless. So, if a person falls in love just like one might fall into the sea, that person also becomes destroyed and thus worthless. Since Orsino is arguing here that love makes things worthless, we can also see that he is calling love a cruel and painful emotion.

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How does Shakespeare explore the theme of love through character development in Twelfth Night?

Duke Orsino is hopelessly lovesick for Olivia at the beginning of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. However, Olivia falls in love with Viola who pretends to be Cesario, and Viola falls in love with Orsino. Sir Andrew and Malvolio are also in love with Olivia, and Malvolio is tricked into believing that Olivia loves him back by a false letter written by Maria.

Because the play is more folly than seriousness, little character development takes place. Eventually, Olivia and Viola's brother, Sebastian, fall in love; Viola and Orsino fall in love, and even Maria finds love in Sir Toby. The character who is most changed by the end of the play is Malvolio. After being humiliated, made to look like a fool, and even being locked up for his craziness, Malvolio attempts to escape the folly of the play. He vows revenge, but everyone laughs.

The title of the play is key in understanding the theme of love. "Twelfth night" refers to the revealing of light and truth to those that have understanding. Once everyone in Shakespeare's play sees the true identity of those around them, they are graced with understanding and are therefore able to love each other. Character development, or rather, the revealing of each character's identity, is the basis of Shakespeare's love story.

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Discuss love in Twelfth Night.

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses the 16th century Festival of Twelfth Night to demonstrate the strange association of love to madness. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the "notoriously abused" situation Malvolio is caught in. Fabian and Toby, with Maria and Feste, aggravate Malvolio's secret and over-reaching feelings of love for Olivia and egg him on to behavior that makes him look like he has become "distracted" (mad), then lock him up in prison thereby proving his madness while simultaneously attempting to convince him of his madness.

Orsino opens the play by drawing an analogy between music and love, with the hope that an excess of music might satiate the appetite of love and sicken it so it might die. In the same scene (1.1) Orsino receives a message saying the Olivia will not allow Orsino to woo her because she will spend seven years in morning, weeping each day for her dead brother. Both these situations render love as an excess that compels the bearer of love to irrational behavior. Viola comes along and sheds some wisdom on a sounder, more stable form of love, though it too is a love borne at first sight.

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