What are some character traits of Orsino, with evidence from Act I, Scene 1 of Twelfth Night?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even though Orsino appears less in Twelfth Night than the other major characters, it is his lyrical, philosophical outpourings that are intrinsic to Shakespeare's depiction of human nature and assessment of love.

As the drama opens, Orsino's monologue is one of courtly love, a love for a beautiful woman that is often cruelly unreciprocated; this rejection throws the man into a conflicting emotional state, at once coldly castigating the love, then fired by renewed passion for her.  His first lines indicate Orsino's self-concern more than anything as he seeks relief from his suffering, 

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die. (1.1.1-3)

These lines also introduce a theme of the play; that is, love is a form of illness that strikes without warning.  Further in his speech, Orsino speaks of love as like the sea that consumes things and makes them into nothing, or at the least, unimportant. Obviously, Orsino is self-absorbed with his thoughts and melodramatic, as well, as he feels that love has control of him and he is helpless under its power.

While he suffers from Olivia's rejection, when Valentine informs him Olivia is in mourning for her brother, he admires her loyalty to this lost brother and ponders how deep her devotion will be when she does fall in love with someone:

O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft  (1.1.33-35)

Then, still self-indulgent, Orsino turns his thoughts inward again

Away before me to sweet beds of flowers:
Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers. (1.1.43-44)

and decides to drown his sorrows in the sweet fragrance of flowers.

Read the study guide:
Twelfth Night

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