Why can't Viola get a job in Olivia's house in Twelfth Night?

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Viola cannot get a job serving in Olivia's house because Olivia, in deep mourning and depression, will not see anyone other than members of her household. She will not admit strangers.

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When Viola comes ashore in Illyria after a shipwreck in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, she is all alone except for the kindly ship's Captain. Fortunately, the Captain knows the land, for he was born there, and he explains to Viola that Illyria is ruled by Duke Orsino who is madly in love with the lady Olivia. Olivia is in deep mourning for her father and her brother, and she will not even consider Orsino's suit.

Viola hopes that she can conceal her identity for a while and go to work for Olivia, perhaps as a lady's companion. This would give her time to get a better feel for Illyria and for her possible position there as well as maybe allow her to learn the fate of her brother from whom she has been separated by the shipwreck. Viola is vulnerable, for as an aristocratic lady by herself, she can easily be taken advantage of (or at least that is the common idea).

The Captain tells Viola that she has no chance of getting a job in Olivia's house, for Olivia will see no one outside her household due to her mourning and depression. Olivia wants to be alone; she does not want a companion of any sort, especially not a stranger.

Viola knows that she must do something, so she disguises herself as the young man Cesario and goes to work for Duke Orsino. What happens next is both unexpected and quite funny as Olivia decides that seeing someone outside her household might not be so bad after all, especially if that someone is her new beloved, Cesario.

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