Twelfth Night Act II, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis

In this scene, we are back at the Duke’s palace. Once again, the Duke wants to hear some music, the food for his love. He calls for the Clown, who happens not to be there at the moment. While waiting for the Clown to be located, he speaks with Cesario.

The Duke affirms his true love. He continues to be the passionate lover who yearns for his beloved. His emotions, as a lover, are topsy-turvy.

The Duke surmises that Cesario had once also been in love, as he currently is. He answers “yes” that she was of the same age and temperament as the Duke. He responds with his belief that the woman should be the younger of the pair, so as to ensure that the love remain robust.

The Clown returns and Orsino is eager for a love song, a song that deals with the innocence of love, such as he is experiencing. The emphasis in the Clown’s song is prophetic. It focuses on the Duke’s frustration with and failure to obtain Olivia, his heart’s desire. The lover in the song is “slain by a fair cruel maid.” In short, it’s a song of unrequited love.

Interestingly, in spite of the Duke’s praise for this song, the Clown insults Orsino in a manner similar to the way he insulted Olivia in Act I. The Clown suggests that he lacks consistency and direction, though the logical form of his expression is not so apparent as in his insult to Olivia.

The Duke sends Cesario to Olivia to woo her for him. Cesario warns him that Olivia is not open to romance with him. Cesario asks the Duke if he would love a woman just because she had an intense attraction to him. The Duke does not think that that is a valid comparison, suggesting that a man’s love is more powerful. Cesario disagrees with the Duke’s proposition. Women are capable of very strong love attachments. Cesario, in fact, refers to his father’s daughter as an example.

The Duke wants to hear some music. This is the same request he makes at the start of Act I. This suggests that his love is still strong. The frustration has failed to extinguish the fire in his heart. Again, he is in the passive role of wanting the music to work on his feelings. His request for Feste to sing again should also remind us of the festive spirit.

As the Duke speaks to Cesario, we find him in the same infatuated frame of mind as in previous scenes. Shakespeare thus illustrates the love theme. The Duke is in the state of “loving” (in Gaylin’s terms). He is not yet in the condition that Cesario perhaps represents.

Cesario presents more...

(The entire section is 698 words.)