In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, why does Olivia lie about the ring and why doesn't Viola tell Malvolio the truth?
The confusing scene between Malvolio and Viola happens after "Cesario" has just met with Olivia (II.ii). Olivia uses Malvolio as a pawn in a trick to get Cesario to come back and talk with her again another day. Viola does tell the truth that she did not leave a ring with Olivia, but Malvolio won't believe it because he assumes that Olivia would never lie. Also, as a servant, he is supposed to carry out his orders, so he leaves the ring on the ground for Cesario/Viola to do with as she sees fit under the circumstances. Viola realizes Olivia's game after Malvolio leaves:
"She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger"(II.ii21-22).
Olivia explains her purposes behind sending Malvolio with the ring to Cesario in the following passage:
"Give me leave, beseech you. I did send,
After the last enchantment you did here,
A ring in chase of you: so did I abuse
Myself, my servant and, I fear me, you:
Under your hard construction must I sit,
To force that on you, in a shameful cunning,
Which you knew none of yours" (III.ii.109-115).
Olivia proves with this measure of cunning that she really does not want the Duke for a husband and that she has fallen for Cesario! Now, since Cesario has the ring that belongs to Olivia, he must return it to her--and that's exactly what she wants.