What are the different kinds of love (i.e. loving oneself) explored by Shakespeare in the play Twelfth Night?

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alaina1991 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to the Ancient Greeks, there are eight types of love: Erotic Love ("Eros"), Affectionate Love ("Philia"), Familiar Love ("Storge"), Playful Love ("Ludus"), Obsessive Love ("Mania"), Enduring Love ("Pragma"), Self-Love ("Philautia"), and Selfless Love ("Agape"). Throughout the play, most of these types of love can be seen.

Erotic Love

Duke Orsino's love for Olivia could be an example of Erotic Love. Eros could be applied to concepts of intense longing, desire, and love at first sight. The Duke's love is fleeting and, based on how Orsino describes it, intense. For example: 

But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much: make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia....

Obsessive Love

Alternatively, Duke Orsino's love could also be seen as obsessive. He's more in love with the idea of having a wife or the concept of love. Obsessed with Olivia and ignoring her wish to wait seven years to court, he sends Viola (in disguise as a man) to express his love to her. He gives "Cesario" these instructions for talking to Olivia:

O, then unfold the passion of my love,
Surprise her with discourse of my dear faith:
It shall become thee well to act my woes;
She will attend it better in thy youth
Than in a nuncio's of more grave aspect.

Affectionate Love

This type of love is also sometimes classified as "brotherly love." Friendship falls into this category and can be seen between Sebastian and Antonio. Antonio saves Sebastian from the sea and pledges to serve Sebastian. They travel together and Sebastian often refers to Antonio with affectionate words, such as "my kind Antonio" and "O good Antonio." It should be noted that some versions of the play read romantic passion into Antonio's devotion to Sebastian. Ultimately, interpreting the men's relationship is up to the reader.

Familiar Love

Familiar Love often applies to family relationships. An example of this would be the twins, Viola and Sebastian. When Viola first arives on the sea coast, she is concerned for her brother's safety and whereabouts:

And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown'd: what think you, sailors?

Then, when it is revealed he may have drowned:

O my poor brother! and so perchance may he be.


Malvolio shows self-love throughout the play. He is pompous and full of himself, convinced that Olivia has fallen for him. He uses this to his advantage, loving instead the chance of achieving status and the ability to gain power over Sir Toby. His self-love is referenced a few times in the play by other characters. Once, by Olivia:

Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste
with a distempered appetite.

Maria also addresses this vice, sounding condescending and critical in her assessment of him:

The devil a puritan that he is, or any thing
constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass, that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths: the best persuaded of himself, so
crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him; and on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work.

malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The different kinds of love include loving oneself (Malvolio being a good example) and loving others, but with regards to loving others, I think there are a variety of different loves seen throughout the play.

There is the "love from afar" that Duke Orsino feels for Olivia - one that ends up not standing the test of time...a fleeting crush, so to speak.  There is the familial love of Viola for her brother, Sebastian, who she assumes has died at sea.  We see that same type of love with Olivia's decision to remain in mourning for her dead brother for seven years.

There is also the love a servant holds for his master - Antonio decides to follow Sebastian to help him, despite the threat of death he's under for returning to Illyria.

Finally, there is the "love to end all loves" - the romantic love which we find in happy endings.  Olivia and Sebastian pair up, while Orsino and Viola are a match as well.  And "all's well that ends well"!

summer14 | Student

Loving oneself and loving others.

Self-love- the most obnoxious kind of love to be shown by malvolio, his overweening pride and outrageous conceit

 Romantic love- Orsino's "love" for olivia is of a typically romantic kind.

Love at first sight- Olivia's irresistible passion for "cesario" is a classic example of love at first sight.

Love and Marriage


Friendship love- Antionio's genuine affection, unswerving loyalty and unflinchiong generosity towards sebastion are all shown to be virtous and noble attributes.

chhandasi143 | Student

Romantic love and love at first sight are an axiom in the comic plays of Shakespeare. the heroes and heroines are voyagers in the persuit of happiness which they would get only from love they live in the rainbow world of love and idleness. shakespeare's greatest comedies, Love's Labour's Lost, and his one of the ripest comedies, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, have so much resemblence that they are about lovers and their wooings.

love, as we are reminded by the opening words of the play,is the abiding theme of Twelfth Night. virtually, all Shakespeare's comedies are on this theme,though it would be grave disserce to deny the master artist's insightinto the other dimensions of comedy.