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Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night Essay

Duke Orsino and Olivia, both bound by strong emotions and acts of self-indulgence, have many traits, and emotions shared between each other. Orsino and Olivia are worth discussing together, because they have similar personalities, traits, and attributes. Both seem to be buffeted by strong emotions, but both ultimately seem to be self-indulgent individuals who enjoy melodrama and self-involvement more than anything. When we first meet them, Orsino is pining away for love of Olivia, while Olivia pines away for her dead brother. They show no interest in relating to the outside world, preferring to lock themselves up with their sorrows and complain around their homes.

Viola’s arrival begins to break both characters out of their self-involved shells, but neither undergoes a constant change. Orsino reacts with Viola in a way that he never has acted to Olivia, thinning his self-involvement and making him more likable. Yet he persists in his belief that he is in love with Olivia until the final scene, in spite of the fact that he never once speaks to her during the course of the play. Olivia, meanwhile, sets aside her grief when Cesario (Viola) comes to see her. But Olivia takes up her own desires of loveing, in which she pines away, with a self-indulgence that mirrors Orsino’s–for a man who is really a woman.

In immediate expression of Orsino’s personality, Shakespeare begins the Twelfth Night with Orsino pining his love for Olivia. He does so by introducing Orsino saying;

If music be the food of love, play on

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting

The appetite may sicken, and so die.(Act I,1,1-3)

It is clearly implied that Orsino is a man of many emotions but us as the readers aren’t so sure about his other traits. As the Play continues the readers begin to see a more clear picture of Orsino as a person. Even though he has more interest in Viola than with Olivia his conscience never accepts the fact that he isn’t in love with Olivia.

Olivia also shares many of these traits because she too is a person bound by strong emotions. As Olivia is introduced to the readers Shakespeare gives the readers a strong idea of her personality. She is pining away for her brother and decides to mourn for an extremely long time. But just the next day she is in love with another man (Viola)! Does this tell the readers that she is not a strong willed person? Or that she just desperately desires to be loved.

As we look at Orsino and Olivia in this Play, their minds are only set on two things. Orsino is focused on his love with Olivia and later on with his love with Viola. Never do we see him not talking about loving someone. He probably cant use the bathroom without desiring the love of Olivia. Olivia on the other hand pines for her brother and then deeply desires Cesario! We never see her not talking about her brother or Ceasrio.The similarity between Orsino and Olivia does not diminish with the end of the play, since by marrying Viola and Sebastian, in reality, Orsino and Olivia are essentially marrying female and male versions of the same person.

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