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William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

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Essay title: William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is a rich comedy delving into the innate human desire for love. Each character within the play has their own ideal view of what true love is, but Shakespeare uses these characters merely as vessels for a larger insight into society as a whole. No person wants what they can truly have, but rather, what they cannot. Within this play, what the characters want is not always for the purest reasoning, but instead what will allow them self gain. Shakespeare conveys a cryptic portrayal of romance where his characters are masochists, and his theme is self advancement. Through Duke Orinso, Countess Olivia, and steward Malvolio, these themes are exemplified most.

When the reader is first introduced to Duke Orinso, he is accounting the first time he laid eyes upon the lady Olivia. Through the use of language, the Duke speaks of a love that he wishes he could be full of and die away, “If music be the food of love, play on / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting / The appetite may sicken, and so die” (1.1.1-3). This is not the usual language one uses when speaking of one they are fond of. In the Dukes case, he seems to be self indulgent, and gains enjoyment from being melodramatic. From the on set of the play, he gives off the impression that he knows he will never obtain the love of Olivia, but he enjoys wallowing in self pity, and encouraging others to be sympathetic to his situation as well. In a separate speech, the Duke refers to his desires for Olivia as “…fell cruel hounds / E’er since pursued me” (1.1.20-24). It seems as though love or romance for him is a game, rather than an emotion to be taken seriously. Throughout the rest of the play, his pursuance of Olivia never ceases, and at one point the even threatens to kill his own servant Cesario because of Olivia’s mistaken thinking that Cesario was the man she had just married. With that threat from the Duke, this comedy could have potentially been turned to tragedy. The Duke never once elaborates on the finer feelings for Olivia, he merely pines over her in a superficial way, and had Olivia given in to his persistence, the Duke would have gained a trophy wife, just someone pretty to look at. Only when Cesario revels himself as a woman, Viola, does the Duke show the capacity to love someone he has had a deeper relationship with than just looks. With this ends his masochistic ways of loving someone who will never love him back, but it says nothing for the sometimes transparent emotions the Duke has.

Another character that falls deeply into a self satisfying love affair is Countess Olivia. When we first meet her, she is devastated over the death of her sole remaining relative, a brother which she promises she will mourn in blackened veil for seven years to come. This promise is short lived. Much like Duke Orinso, Olivia’s self involved air leads her a chase a fantasy lover that will never return the favor. When Olivia first encounters Cesario, he is trying to convince her of his master, the Duke’s love. As Cesario is telling Olivia of how he would go about gaining her love, she in fact does start to fall in love with what appears to be an eunuch and servant. She describes love as something that comes upon her unexpectedly and out of nowhere, “…Not too fast; soft, soft / unless the master were the man. How now? / Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” (1.5.282 -284). Through the next few acts she schemes to obtain the love of Cesario, a measly servant rather than giving her love to the Duke or Sir Andrew to retain the power she has being the woman of the house. It is hard to take the character of Olivia seriously when we first find her in such despair that she doesn’t want to be seen by

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