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Significant Allusions

Allusions to Ancient Greece and Rome: The English Renaissance brought about a renewed interest in classical works, namely Greco-Roman mythology and history. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses allusions to mythological figures in order to characterize Orsino’s declarations of love as hyperbolic and inauthentic. Notable mythological allusions in Twelfth Night include the following:

  • In act 1, scene 1, Orsino hopes that Olivia will someday be struck by love’s “golden shaft,” an allusion to Cupid, the Greek god of love. Cupid’s golden arrows inspired insatiable love and desire in mortals. Orsino’s allusion to Cupid suggests that his love for Olivia is externally motivated and forced upon him, rather than founded on true affection. Cupid’s arrows were also often considered a source of misery, especially in cases of unrequited love. 
  • Also in act 1, scene 1, Orsino compares Olivia to Diana, the Roman goddess of chastity and the hunt, by alluding to the story of Diana and Actaeon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. After being caught watching Diana bathe, Actaeon is turned into a “hart,” or male deer, and hunted down by his own...

(The entire section is 365 words.)