Essential Quotes by Character: Viola

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Last Updated on June 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1619

Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 55–64


I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously,

Conceal me what I am, and be my aid

For such disguise as haply shall become

The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke:

Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him:

It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing

And speak to him in many sorts of music

That will allow me very worth his service.

What else may hap to time I will commit;

Only shape thou silence to my wit.


Viola, a gentlewoman of Messaline, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, along with the ship’s captain. Viola believes her twin brother, who was on the ship with her, to have drowned. On inquiring from the captain where they are, she learns that Illyria is the captain’s birthplace and that they are near the home of Count Orsino, a duke who is currently a bachelor. Viola had heard her father speak of Orsino and is curious about the bachelorhood of so rich and noble a man. The captain tells her of Orsino’s love for Olivia, a lady of the region. However, because Olivia is in mourning for her father and brother, she will accept no suitors. Viola is intrigued by this tale and decides that she would like to aid the duke’s suit. At first she proposes to present herself as a lady-in-waiting to Olivia, but the captain informs her that Olivia is not even accepting visitors. Viola then decides to disguise herself as a male eunuch (i.e., person surgically altered prior to the onset of puberty so as to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics such as a beard) to Count Orsino as a servant. Her intent is to act as a matchmaker between Orsino and Olivia because she desires to see true love fulfilled.

Essential Passage 2: Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 22–44


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.


I think not so, my lord.


Dear lad, believe it;

For they shall yet belie thy happy years,

That say thou art a man: Diana’s lip

Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe

Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,

And all is semblative a woman’s part.

I know thy constellation is right apt

For this affair. Some four or five attend him:

All, if you will; for I myself am best

When least in company. Prosper well in this

And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord,

To call his fortunes thine.


I’ll do my best

To woo your lady. [Aside] Yet, a barful strife!

Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.


Viola has presented herself to Count Orsino as a eunuch named Cesario. Within a matter of days, she has earned his trust to the point where he is comfortable sending Viola to Olivia to persuade her to accept his suit. Orsino believes that Olivia will be more accepting of “Cesario” than she will of himself. Although Viola is doubtful, Orsino points out that her feminine appearance will be less off-putting than his own. He observes that Viola’s features are closer to a woman’s than a man’s. Her mouth is softer, her voice more tender, her very appearance is womanly (this is a reference to his belief that “Cesario” is...

(This entire section contains 1619 words.)

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a eunuch and thus has retained more boyish qualities). Orsino sends Viola off with several attendants and bids them leave, as he wants to be alone. Viola promises that she will do her best to present him as a fitting suitor to Olivia, but in an aside she reveals that she is now in love with Orsino and would sooner woo him for herself.

Essential Passage 3: Act 5, Scene 1, Lines 258–284


If nothing lets to make us happy both

But this my masculine usurp’d attire,

Do not embrace me till each circumstance

Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump

That I am Viola: which to confirm,

I’ll bring you to a captain in this town,

Where lie my maiden weeds; by whose gentle help

I was preserved to serve this noble Count;

All the occurrence of my fortune since

Hath been between this lady and this lord.


[To Olivia]

So comes it, lady, you have been


But nature to her bias drew in that.

You would have been contracted to a maid;

Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived,

You are betroth’d both to a maid and man.


Be not amazed; right noble is his blood.

If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,

I shall have share in this most happy wreck:

[To Viola.]

Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times,

Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.


And all those sayings will I overswear;

And all those swearings keep as true in soul

As doth that orbed continent the fire

That severs day from night.


Give me thy hand;

And let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds.


At the conclusion of the play, all the principal characters are together on stage. Sebastian and Viola meet for the first time since the shipwreck. Because both believe the other has been drowned, they are incredulous at what they see—Sebastian more so, since his sister is dressed as a man. Yet Viola reveals herself to be a noble lady and the sister of Sebastian. As proof, she mentions the sea captain, resident in the town, who has her original clothing. Sebastian then says to Olivia, whom he has just betrothed, that she escaped being wedded to a woman. Instead, she has been betrothed to a virginal man and thus has retained her honor. Orsino wonders at Viola’s deception yet remembers that she, as Cesario, promised him that she loved Orsino as she could never love a woman. As Viola swears her love to him again, Orsino asks for her hand in marriage.

Analysis of Essential Passages

As the central character in Twelfth Night, Viola is the hub of the action and the link between the play’s different plots. She is the connection between the home of Orsino and that of Olivia, where the drama involving “Cesario,” Sebastian, and Olivia is played out. Her ability to be “all things to all men” facilitates the chaos of the disguised identities, hidden plots, and unknown twists that weave through the story.

After the shipwreck, she decides to be a matchmaker to two people who are strangers to her. Unable to play the part of a woman and serve Olivia, she ingeniously takes up the guise of a man to serve Orsino. Wisely she portrays herself as a eunuch. Because a eunuch has undergone surgery as a youth in order to prohibit the onset of puberty, her high voice and lack of beard will give some credence to her disguise, whereas a simple costume change would have immediately revealed her true gender.

Yet her femininity is still apparent, even with such a plausible disguise. Orsino identifies not just womanly features but the subtle personality differences that were attributed to a woman of that time. It is these attributes that Orsino believes will make “Cesario” more acceptable to Olivia as a messenger than if he had sent a man. This perception on the part of Orsino will also ease the way at the end from his thinking of her as a man to thinking of her as a woman and thus an “acceptable” object of love.

In one of the play’s several plot twists, Viola falls in love with the man she is to represent to another woman. Yet, against what might be expected, Viola in no way shirks this duty; she truly tries to present Orsino to Olivia as the man of her dreams. The complication arises, however, when Olivia falls in love with Viola in the guise of Cesario. The oddness of this lies not so much in the fact of their being two women, but in the fact that Cesario is a eunuch. Viola’s seeming “boyishness” hides her femininity but does not hide her attractiveness to either gender. This misunderstanding is the root of the comedic element in Shakespearean drama: in the Bard’s plays, there are most always complications on the road to love.

As the romantic resolutions unfold in the final act, it is Viola’s revelation of her gender that ties up all the loose ends. Olivia’s hasty betrothal to Sebastian is the catalyst that forces her to reveal her true identity. Olivia has believed that she has known “Cesario” for enough time to warrant marriage, yet Sebastian has known Olivia for a very short time indeed before he acceded to her request for his hand. Olivia’s confusion of Sebastian for “Cesario” propels Viola to uncover her true self. Also, her shock in finding her brother alive slows this revelation so a full explanation can advance the plot.

Almost unbelievably swiftly, Orsino transfers his love from Olivia to a person just moments before he believed to be a male eunuch. Yet instantaneous love is a typical Shakespearean element to speedily resolve conflicts and bring the plot to a conclusion. Thus all (with the exception of the embittered Malvolio) are joined in happy wedlock, completing the revelries that are associated with the “Twelfth Night” festivities of the Christmas holidays.

Essential Quotes by Theme: Love

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Last Updated on June 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1334

Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 1–15


If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

That strain again! it had a dying fall:

O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more;

’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,

That, notwithstanding thy capacity

Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,

Of what validity and pitch soe’er,

But falls into abatement and low price,

Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy

That it alone is high fantastical.


Orsino, Count (or Duke) of Illyria, is sick with love for the lady Olivia. In his chamber, he is listening to the court musicians perform a love song. Bidding them to play on, he hopes the music will increase his feeling of love until he is sick of it. Overindulgence will break the obsession, he believes, and thus release him from the pain of unrequited affection. At last he calls a halt to the music, saying it is not so sweet as when it first began: he is sick of the music but not of love.

Orsino thinks that there does not seem to be a limit to love’s capacity. Like the sea that refuses to rise no matter how much water is added to it from the rivers and the rains, his love for Olivia is full. He acknowledges that as the sea level changes with the rise and fall of the tides, love may do likewise without changing capacity. His messenger arrives to announce that Olivia will not entertain Orsino’s suit, because she is still in mourning after the death of her brother. Orsino is content to wait but vows he will not give up until he wins Olivia’s heart.

Essential Passage 2: Act 2, Scene 4, Lines 103–120


There is no woman’s sides

Can bide the beating of so strong a passion

As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart

So big, to hold so much; they lack retention.

Alas, their love may be call’d appetite,

No motion of the liver, but the palate,

That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt;

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.


Ay, but I know—


What dost thou know?


Too well what love women to men may owe:

In faith, they are as true of heart as we.

My father had a daughter loved a man,

As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,

I should your lordship.


Orsino has commissioned Viola/Cesario to plead his case to Olivia, who refuses to accept him as a suitor. He commands Cesario to force Olivia to love him, which Cesario states cannot be possible. Love is not obedient to a command, but must be given freely. Orsino, however, disagrees. He believes that a woman is subject to passion, but not to love, and therefore that her passions must be appealed to. A woman’s love, he says, is like an appetite that must be fed. A man’s capacity, however, is as big as the sea, which can accept all love and still not be satisfied. But a woman is too weak and too inconstant to be capable of so much love and therefore is easily swayed. Viola/Cesario knows, however, the amount of love a woman may give to a man. She refers to “her father’s daughter” who once loved a man, as Cesario himself would love Orsino—if he were a woman. Of course, since Cesario is really Viola, she is skirting around the edges of a confession of her own love for Orsino, to which Orsino is immune.

Essential Passage 3: Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 157–164


Cesario, by the roses of the spring,

By maidhood, honour, truth, and everything,

I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,

Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,

For that I woo thou therefore hast no cause,

But rather reason thus with reason fetter,

Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.


Viola, in the disguise of Cesario, has come to woo Olivia on behalf of Orsino, who is sick with love for her. Yet Olivia is not open to love due to the grief she feels at the death of a brother. However, this grief seems to fade when she comes into increasing contact with Viola/Cesario. Gradually, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, despite the fact that he is on a mission to win her affections for another and is (as Olivia believes) a eunuch. Olivia pushes past Cesario’s scorn and swears her love. Because Olivia woos Cesario, he has no reason to woo her in return. Yet she presents to Cesario the belief that a love that has been sought for is good, but a love that is given freely is even better. It is this better kind of love that she is offering to Cesario.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Love is a constant theme in Shakespearean comedy, especially a love that encounters difficulties. The hurdles that love encounters in Twelfth Night are varied, yielding to many twists and turns until the final resolution, when all marry the person they are somehow destined to marry.

Count Orsino represents love that is unrequited. His devotion to Olivia is rejected, not so much because of the source of the love, but because of the circumstances in which the love is first acknowledged. Orsino, however, also believes that love is pure emotion. As an emotion, it can be controlled, in the case of the opening act by cranking up the level of that emotion until its very weight causes it to fall into a more manageable state. It is a habit that can be overcome. It is delicious treat that can lose its appeal by surfeit. The emotion of love is temporary, so it must be satisfied before it dies away.

Yet in his argument with Viola (who is disguised as Cesario), it is a woman’s love that Orsino stamps as emotional rather than stable. This is indicative of the ephemeral nature of his love, which will become apparent in the final act as he so easily transfers his “undying passion” from Olivia to Viola. The near-anagram state of the two women’s names perhaps indicates that it does not really matter whom one loves, just so long as one loves someone (at least in Orsino’s point of view).

It is Viola, however, who has the clearest understanding of love. Although her love has come quickly to fall upon Orsino, it does not change. In fact, it rises to the level of self-sacrifice, as Viola does not renege in her duty to encourage Olivia to fall in love with Orsino, despite Viola’s own feelings for him. Her steadiness is perhaps not deserved by so vacillating a person as Orsino, but nevertheless, she bestows it freely on him.

As Olivia freely gives her love to “Cesario” (and by extension to Sebastian), Olivia also reflects the nature of love. It is love unsought and therefore of a higher value. Like Orsino, Sebastian quickly decides he loves Olivia, with as little thought.

The women in Twelfth Night thus show a more thorough understanding of constant love than do the men. Despite Orsino’s contention that a woman’s love is based on mere passion, it is the women who give their hearts thorough examination. Despite the obstacles, as usual, love conquers all. As the fate of the flawed hero is ruled by destiny in Shakespearean tragedies, so too destiny rules in the matters of love in the comedies.


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