Love Is Love… Or Is It?

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare illustrates love in various forms and suggests that, like beauty, the true meaning of love exists in the eye of the beholder. Love is seen as bordering on insanity, a frivolous game of ever-changing affections, and the cause of bizarre behavior. Through the characters of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare explores love as an infatuation, a fabrication of the mind, and a conventional form of love. Each kind of loss yields different results and their consequences are as uncertain as the true meaning of love itself.

Some characters are devoted to love, while others are more concerned with the mere concept of it. The play begins with one such character, Duke Orsino, who is madly in love with Olivia. After repeated rejections from Olivia, Orsino says he would like to be so full of love that it would destroy his taste for it forever. He says, “If music be the food of love, then play on. Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.” (1.1.1-3) At this point it seems as if his main desire is Olivia, but he goes on to say, “O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou, that, notwithstanding thy capacity receiveth as the sea, naught enters there, of what validity and pitch soe’er, but falls into abatement and low price even in a minute, so full of shapes is fancy that it alone is high fantastical.” (1.1.9-15) As he speaks these lines, it becomes clear that Orsino’s love is not directed at any particular individual. He is completely drowned in his obsession with love and admires it with great fascination. When Orsino finally realizes he will never receive Olivia’s love, he becomes enraged and threatens to sacrifice “the lamb,” Viola, but immediately moves on and decides to marry Viola as soon as he hears that “he” is really a woman. Orsino’s madness for Olivia vanishes as quickly as it had appeared, exposing the inconsistent nature of crazed love. Orsino sees love as a higher power, one that feeds his soul and provides it sustenance. Orsino’s infatuation has no end; instead, it results in a shift of interest from one love to another and proves that he is really in love with love itself.

While Orsino depicts infatuated love, Malvolio and Olivia portray love of another kind. Malvolio is a character that lives in his own fantasy world and nurses a love that has no ties with reality. He forever dreams of marrying Lady Olivia and believes she, too, is in love with him. As he walks along the garden, Malvolio recites, “Having been three months married to her, sitting in my state…” (2.5.42-43) His vanity and confidence in his love prove fruitless and mirror the love Olivia feels for Viola. In Olivia’s case, she has unknowingly fallen in love with Viola. Viola knows Olivia’s love will never be fulfilled as she says, “Poor lady, she were better love a dream.” (2.2.26) Malvolio’s and Olivia’s fabricated loves are true in their minds alone, and their feelings are never reciprocated by the ones they love. Malvolio and Olivia expose the falsehood of imaginary love and its failure to blossom. To these two characters, love is what they have created in their minds, and their confidence rests in their fabrications.

The final type of love is portrayed by Viola, and it is the conventional love that is more readily recognized. Viola goes under the guise of a young man, Cesario, to help Orsino in his plight of love, but meanwhile finds herself in love with him. Since Orsino is in love with Olivia and identifies Viola as a male, he fails to recognize her affection and does not return her love. Viola says, “My master loves her dearly, and I, poor monster, fonds as much on him…”(2.2.33-34) Viola sees love as the traditional connection between a male and a female and does not wish to hurt others for the sake of her love. She does not see love as a forceful infatuation or imaginative certainty, rather a longing of her heart. Viola acquires Orsino, and only her perception of love proves fruitful.

Shakespeare uses the characters in Twelfth Night to display various types of love and the consequences that come with pursuing each. He shows that the true meaning of love lies in the individual character-love is whatever he believes it to be. There is no definite consistency or guarantee in the realm of love, and it is safe to expect the unexpected. Feelings of love that turn into infatuation are often false loves, and the individual may just be in love with the idea of love. Love that is fabricated in the mind has no ending because of its unreality; only conventional love has possibilities of both failure and happiness. All in all, the nature of love rests in the beholder, which Shakespeare portrays superbly in Twelfth Night.

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