In Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, what concessions does Viola manage to get from Olivia before delivering Orsino's message?

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huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a delicious scene! Viola, being dressed and presented as the servingman of Duke Orsino's, is asked to carry his message of love to Olivia, who is as dead-set against entertaining the Duke's professions of love as the Duke is somehow having Olivia as his own. Thus, Olivia's first barrier to speak with Olivia is to get an audience with her. She speaks with Malvolio at the gates and he refuses to let her in. He tells Viola that Olivia is sick, and Viola says she is aware of that, and that is why she wants to speak with her. Then Malvolio tells Viola that Olivia is asleep, but Viola knows better. Olivia says that Malvolio should tell "the young man" that he shall not speak with her, and Malvolio says he's already told "him" that, but "the young man" says he'll stand there until he is part of the furniture, if need be, but "he" will speak with Olivia. 

Second, when Viola gains entrance, Olivia has thrown on a veil and won't tell Viola if she is speaking to the lady of the house or not. Viola begins her speech, then stops and asks to be told if she's truly speaking to Olivia, since she's taken great pains to memorize the Duke's speech of love. Olivia admits she is. 

Next, Olivia tells her to skip over most of the speech and get to the point, but Viola protests that she has studied it and it is "poetical." She finally gets permission to deliver the whole thing, but doesn't get around to it. When the maid offers to oust Viola, she tells Olivia that her speech is for Olivia's ear alone and would be "profane" to another, so she succeeds in having the maid dismissed. 

She begins again, she asks to see Olivia's face. Olivia objects, but draws her veil aside anyway. When she does, Viola says she is beautiful indeed, if "God made all," suggesting that Olivia might use artificial means to enhance her beauty. To this jab, Olivia responds sarcastically, then asks whether "he" was sent to her to praise her. It seems, then, that she is now asking to hear Orsino's speech, but Viola won't tell it. Instead, she accuses Olivia of being too proud. 

In the course of this conversation--because Orsino's "man" will not take no for an answer and because "he" treats Olivia like a regular person, Olivia falls in love with "him." 

Read the study guide:
Twelfth Night

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