I uploaded my Twelfth Night essay last night for my distance learning class at the University of Indiana. The question I chose was “Why does Oliva fall in love with Cesario? ‘Love’ is her word: be sure to say what you think is the nature of her attachment.” The essay is exactly 900 words and my thesis is “Olivia falls in love with Cesario not because of who he is as a person, but rather because he speaks eloquently and descriptively, which triggers her to fall in love with his words and the feelings of love.”
“I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide” (3.1.159-60) professes Olivia to Cesario. But why does Olivia love Cesario? What about his character or person does she love? Or, is Olivia’s love for Cesario a different type of attachment that she perceives as love? The person who professes the love defines that love, so it would be erroneous to say Olivia is not in love with Cesario– she believes she is in love, thus she is in love. However, since Cesario is actually Viola in disguise, how can Olivia be in love with someone who does not truly exist? It is because Olivia has unknowingly come to terms with her grief for her recently deceased father and brother which has created a void in her heart that allows her to fall in love. Olivia falls in love with Cesario not because of who he is as a person, but rather because he speaks eloquently and descriptively, which triggers her to fall in love with his words and the feelings of love.
Olivia’s veil is an outward display of her grief and she wears it when her interest piques at Cesario’s determination to have an audience with her. Her admission of Cesario indicates that she is not grieving as much as she tells her attendants. When Cesario requests she remove her veil, she complies, further solidifying the belief she is no longer deep in grief. With her veil removed, her heart is no longer veiled and is open to new emotions. Her heart begins consider love when she tells Cesario, “I heard you were saucy at my gates, and / allowed your approach rather to wonder at you than / to hear you,” (1.5.195-97). And wonder she does as their conversation continues.
Cesario’s speech from Orsino forces Olivia to tell Cesario, “but I cannot love him./ He might have taken his answer long ago,” (1.5.264-65), but Viola does not want to disappoint the man she loves. Thus, she tries another tactic by telling Olivia, “If I did love you in my master’s flame… Make me a willow cabin at your gate / and call upon my soul within the house, / write loyal cantons of contemnéd love / And sing them loud in the dead of night, / Hallow your name to the reverberate hills / And make the babbling gossip of the air / Cry out ‘Olivia’ O you should not rest / Between the elements of air and earth” (1.5. 257, 270-78). These eloquent and descriptive words capture Olivia’s heart and she instantly falls in love with them, confusing her attachment of Cesario’s words with feelings of love towards him. She begins to examine Cesario as a potential mate by asking him of his parentage. “Above my fortunes, yet my state is well./ I am a gentleman,” (1.5.282-83) is Viola’s answer. Viola begins to depart back to Orsino, but love struck Olivia wants Cesario to return to her. She requests he return the next day with Orsino’s response, but it is clear Viola will not accept the offer. In the garden after Viola’s departure, Olivia reflects upon Cesario’s response of his parentage and admires him, “thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit / Do give thee fivefold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!” (1.5.297-299). Olivia falls more deeply in love as the seconds pass. She mistakenly perceives her attachment to Cesario as love, but her attachment to him is not love, rather, her attachment is to the feelings of love that are triggered by the sight of Cesario.
Cementing the fact that Olivia is in love with being in love rather than with Cesario, are the events that transpire at the end of Act IV and the beginning of Act V. Olivia betroths Sebastian, believing him to be Cesario. Although Sebastian and Viola’s physical appearance may be identical, Olivia rushes into marriage without a second’s hesitation as to why Cesario has changed his mind or how his voice became deeper. This indicates Olivia was not closely paying attention to Cesario’s character, just his physical appearance and the few insights Viola gave her. Olivia is momentarily devastated when Viola denies their betrothal, but as soon as she discovers Cesario is a disguise put on by Viola and that Sebastian is still willing to marry her, she exclaims, “Most wonderful!” (5.1.236). Olivia does not express any unhappiness that the person she fell in love with was actually Viola, not Cesario, and not Sebastian. Without hesitation she is happy to marry Sebastian as she has already transferred her love of Cesario to Sebastian. She knows nothing of his character, only his outward appearance, thus she could have only loved Cesario based on his appearance.
Olivia believed she was in love with Cesario, thus she was in love, but her ability to instantly transfer her feelings for Cesario to Sebastian calls into question the depth of her love for Cesario. Olivia was able to fall in love with Cesario’s eloquent and descriptive words because she was no longer grieving for her father and brother. She quickly equated the feelings of being in love with his words to being in love with Cesario himself. Olivia could not have been truly in love with Cesario; otherwise she would not have been so willing to marry Sebastian after she knew the truth about Cesario.