Twelfth Night Essay

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.

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a Shakespearean comedy about love and mistaken identity.  Orsino, Duke of Illiyra, has fallen in love with a countess, Olivia.  She does not love Orsino and told her attendants she will not accept any visitors for the next eight years as she mourns the recent deaths of her father and brother.  Meanwhile Viola and Sebastian have been shipwrecked just off the coast of Illirya but each believe the other to be dead. With Olivia refusing any visitors, Viola has no other choice to be concealed as a man and presented as a eunuch to serve Orsino.  Within a few days she realizes she has fallen in love with Orsino, but since he is lovesick for Olivia, he sends Viola (using the name Cesario) to Olivia to tell her once again of his love.

Olivia is surprised by Cesario’s persistence to have an audience with her and agrees.  However after their brief conversation in which Cesario spoke eloquently of Orsino’s love and what he would do if she were his love, Olivia falls in love with Cesario – creating an amusing love triangle of Orsino, Olivia, and Viola/Cesario.  A subplot emerges with the attendants of Olivia – Malvolio has upset each of them for different reasons and so Sir Toby (Olivia’s uncle), Sir Andrew (a suitor of Olivia’s and friend of Sir Toby) and Maria (pronounced ma-rye-ah) scheme to get  back at him by forging a letter from Olivia that says she is in love with him (as we soon realize Malvolio is in love with Olivia) and wishes to see him in yellow stockings that are cross-gartered.  This attire actually appalls Olivia but he keeps smiling as per the request in the letter.  Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria take delight in laughing amongst themselves at Malvolio.

The plot continues with the joke landing Malvolio in prision for be insane and Cesario going back and forth between Olivia and Orsino trying to get Olivia to love the man she loves.  The Fool makes puns of everything said to him and sings songs.  As we get into the fourth act, the audience catches up with Sebastian who has now arrived in Illirya and is mistaken to be Cesario.  When Olivia proposes again to Sebastian thinking he is Cesario – Sebastian accepts and they are married.  The final scene reveals Cesario as Viola and Sebastian to be Viola’s brother.  Sebastian and Olivia now must have a new ceremony because she married Cesario who is does not really exist.  Orsino releases Viola as his attendant and asks for her hand in marriage.  Orsino, Viola, Sebastian, and Olivia agree to have a dual ceremony soon at Olivia’s estate to celebrate their marriages and the joining of their estates.

I loved Twelfth Night – it is comical, romantic, and light-hearted.  There are several one liners that I loved – “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage” (1.5.19) and “Have you commission from your Lord to negotiate with my face?” (1.5.229-30) are two of my favorites.  I love Maria’s wit and comebacks.  She definitely knew how to keep the house in line.  And you can’t help but become attached to Viola/Cesario and wonder how the love triangle will play out.  My essay I’m writing addresses the question, “Why does Olivia fall in love with Cesario?’  I define why she thinks it is love and why she falls for Cesario who is actually Viola.  And if you think back to when the play was first presented, a boy played Viola who was disguised as a man!  A man as a woman playing a man!

I would recommend everyone to read the play – but since Shakespeare is hard to read, buy The Folger Edition of the play.  These books give great summaries before each scene to help direct your attention.  The right side of the page is the play and the left is explanations – definitions of terms, illustrations, and modern day synonyms  for the words.  I found it easier to read than the textbooks from high school.  If you’re more visual – I also watched a BBC version of the play which is very stage-like.  Filmed in 1980, it gave me the actor’s interpretation with facial movements and spoken words.

The next play I will read is Measure for Measure.