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Character Analysis Viola In Twelfth Night English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1733 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Twelfth Night” is a perfect blend of romance and comedy by William Shakespeare. Orsino, the Duke of lllyria, is in love with the Countess Olivia. She swore to avoid men’s company for seven years in order to mourn her brother’s death. Thus, she rejects him. Viola, who has survived in a shipwreck arrived Illyria. Viola thinks that she has lost her twin brother. She decides to dress as a boy so that she can get work as a page to Duke Orsino.

Despite the rejection Orsino sends his new page Cesario, who is Viola in disguise, to try to win affection from Olivia on his behalf. Viola is unwilling to go as she has already fallen in love with Orsino. Olivia is attracted by the Cesario when he comes to woo Olivia for Orsino.

Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who has also survived in the shipwreck, comes to Illyria. His friend, Antonio, is a wanted man for piracy against Orsino. The resemblance between Cesario and Sebastian leads the jealous Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel. Antonio intervenes to defend Cesario whom he thinks is his friend Sebastian, and is arrested. Olivia has met and was betrothed to Sebastian.

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Cesario is accused of deserting both Antonio and Olivia when the real Sebastian arrives to apologise for fighting Sir Toby. Seeing both twins together, all is revealed to Olivia. The play ends as Orsino welcomes Olivia and Sebastian and, realising his own attraction to Cesario, he promises that once she is dressed as a woman again they, too, will be married.

It is a play with characters that display intelligence, wit and humor. The characters of Twelfth Night are varied in terms of their personality. Each character has his/her role to help the plot to develop.

Viola is introduced to the play when she is in mourning for her twin brother who she believed she has lost. Despite suffering from grief, she is strong enough to decide on a course of action. When she begins work for Orsino she falls in love with him immediately. Meanwhile, Orsino is in love with love and is self-indulgent in his lust for Olivia.

Viola tries to discourage Orsino from trying to woo Olivia. She still helps him to do so out of loyalty for him. This is also because she wants him to be happy. She overcomes her emotions by using her humor. She shows her wit when she mocks the second-hand love she conveys to Olivia by using rich and over-the-top language.

Like other Shakespeare’s heroines, Viola is a very likable figure. We can understand her decision to dress as a man, since it sets the entire plot in motion. She is the character whose love seems to be the purest. The other characters’ passions are capricious: Orsino shifts his love from Olivia to Viola, and Olivia shifts her love from Viola to Sebastian. Only Viola seems to be truly, passionately in love, compared to being self-indulgently lovesick as Orsiono. As she says to Orsino, describing her love for him:

She pined in thought,

And with a green and yellow melancholy

She sat like patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? (2.4.111-114)

Orsin can only answer with a yes.

Viola’s main problem throughout the play is her identity. Because of her disguise, she has to be both herself and Cesario. This identity crisis culminates in the final scene, when Viola finds herself surrounded by people who each have a different idea of who she is and are unaware of who she actually is. The pressure from other people might cause Viola to break down. Sebastian’s appearance at that moment, however, effectively saves Viola by allowing her to be herself again. Sebastian, who independent of his sister is not much of a character, takes over the aspects of Viola’s disguise that she no longer wants to maintain. Thus, because of her brother’s appearance, Viola is free to shed the roles that she has accumulated throughout the play, and she can return to being Viola, the woman who has loved Orsino and won Orsino’s love finally.

To commence with, disguise allowed people to break away from the trappings of self and identity and become someone contrary to who they actually were. The idea of wearing a mask or disguise allows the person to be someone different than what they really are and it also functions as a way to protect the person. In this play, Viola, who believes her twin brother Sebastian was dead from the shipwreck, finds a way to protect herself since she has no other family or relatives to support her.

At that time, women were not educated unless they were wealthy, even that was to a small extent in that they were only taught a few subjects that are appropriate for them. Disguising herself as a man and becoming a servant was a way for her to get close to Orsino, and to somehow win his love. In one scene, her ambitions are recognized although they are hidden from the other characters, she is going to talk to Olivia for the Duke and as he exits she says,

“I’ll do my best to woo your lady. [aside] Yet a barful strife! Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (1.4.40).

Viola’s disguise is awkward because she is trying to fill a role that she does not know how to play. Through this awkwardness the reader can sense that Viola herself is a young tenenager, perhaps at the age of seventeen and comes from a wealthy family. She is still confused with the male and female roles. It is evident as she is taught how to be a man by Orsino with their talks about women. Later, she is the confused young woman who is falling in love with Orsino. Viola’s willpower, maintaining her disguise through all of the events that transpire illustrates her strength and intellect.

In a conversation with Orsino, Orsino tells Viola that the love of a woman is not nearly as strong as the love of a man. All the while Viola speaks her heart and one little slip Orsino will realize that she is not a man but a woman, but he doesn’t notice what she is really saying or how she is saying it:

“Duke: There is no woman’s sides

Can hide the beating of so strong a passion

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

So big, to hold so much. Women lack retention.

Alas, their love may be called appetite.

Not motion of the liver, but of the palate,

That suffers surfeit, cloyment, and revolt;

But mine is all as hungry as the sea

And can digest as much. Make no compare

Between the love a woman can bear me

And that I love Olivia.

Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man;

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

I should love your lordship.

Duke: And what’s her history?

Viola: A blank, my lord: she never told her love,

But let concealment like a worm i’ the bud

Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,

And with a green and yellow melancholy

She sat like Patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief. Was this not love indeed?

We men may say more, swear more; but indeed

Our shows are more than will; for still we prove

Much in our vows but little in our love.” (2.4.94)

When Cesario declares, “As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should love your lordship” she is saying in a indirect way that she has a crush on Orsino. However, Orsino seems to be blind by her words. Perhaps he doesn’t hear what she is saying since he is too obsessed with Olivia at that moment.

While Viola falls for the Duke Orsino. Oliva, the woman that Orsino is in love with seems to fall for Viola as Cesario. “Yet come again; for thou perhaps mayst move that heart which now abhors to like his love” (3.1.165). This shows that Olivia begins to fall in love with Cesario when Viola tries to tell Olivia of Orsino’s love.

At this moment, Viola as Cesario tries to let her secret out by talking to someone, when she states, “Then think you right. I am not what I am” in her conversation to Olivia (3.1.143). The whole disguise takes on a new level. We can see more complications arise because of Viola’s disguise.

People would question why Viola has to be disguise. She disguises as a boy mainly for protection because she has no family and believes that her brother has died in the shipwreck. If Orsino found out who she actually is a female dressed up as a man, she would be a female alone in the world with no one care for her. If Viola’s true identity was revealed earlier in the play, the play would fall apart. She will not only lose the chances to survive, but she will also lose the trust of Orsino and Olivia. Although at times she lets certain things slip about her identity, it is never revealed because the other characters are blind to what Viola says.

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Viola keeps her true identity and self hidden. Meanwhile, we can see that Shakespeare sees love as a joke. The play shows that Olivia loves Cesario at the beginning. Later on Sebastian arrives. He looks exactly like Cesario and he easily replaces Viola at the end of the play. Orsino who was in love with Olivia shows that he has affection for his male servant Cesario, who is actually a female. Through the unraveling of the plot, the reader gets a deeper understanding of Viola’s character and why she had to hide her true self from those around her.

To conclude, disguise saved Viola’s life by providing her a sort of shelter in a new environment. Viola has the courage to put on a mask. Thus, she is able to get closer to Orsino because of the disguise. Viola’s disguise allows us to see that we can become someone else even only for a little while. Viola learns that in the role of Cesario she had to be quick on her feet, and defend the probing questions and statements as to her love and others love for her. As well she acquired the skill to bide her time, until the time was right, lest she reveal her true self or intentions. Unlike other Shakespearean female characters who adopt disguises, Viola does not remove her men’s clothing at the end of the play, and the rest of the characters, including Duke Orsino, are left to take her true identity on faith.


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