The Unconditional and Diverse Loves Of Twelfth Night
Love, one of the most impactful and meaningful words in the English language. Stories have been told about it, poems and sonnets, and even grandiose gestures. It is what keep the heart pumping. In Twelfth Night we see evidence of this “true love” but in many ways. Maria and Sir Toby Belch love each other in an unconditional way, yet they remain in a state of denial for most of the play.
Count Malvolio loves Olivia only in the way a large man looks at a burger, it’s purely greed. Olivia loves Viola, or in this case Cesario, in a way that shows lust for the flesh, with maybe some truly kindred heart ship. The only true and unconditional shown in the play is that of Viola for Orsino, and Orsino for Olivia. To understand the web of love and to find all of it’s divers and unique happenings, we must first analyze the script, and deduce who really loves who.
In the opening scene, we find a ship wrecked Viola, confiding to her Captain. She tells the Captain of her brother, whom she loves dearly. She fears he is dead, and weeps, feeling hopeless. The only thing that keeps her moving, is the Captain saying he saw him in the water so there’s a chance he survived. Here we have a very clear case of sibling love, but not in it’s sexual connotation. It is the kind of love that keeps a family connected, a understanding for one person, and an all-encompassing love.
Orsino has a very popular monologue in which he says “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken and so die, That strain again! It had a dying fall. O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odor. Enough; no more.” (FTLN 0001-0007). This opening scene shows Count Orsino showing his unconditional love for Viola, in which he makes her sound angelic and fantastical. Orsino reflects the one-sided love that a nerd would feel for the popular girl in a movie, hopeless but yearning. Orsino has what is called Limerence. Limerence is defined in the Webster Dictionary as a state of mind resulting from romantic attraction, characterized by feelings of euphoria, the desire to have one’s feelings reciprocated.
This is shown when he sends people to Olivia’s gate, begging her to come out, “Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her. Be not denied access. Stand at her doors” (FTLN 0265-0266), literally trying to force Olivia to love him. So, nerd love turns dark in this obsessive form. We have not seen the end of this love, however, where we see Olivia throw a ring to Malvolio, trying to make Viola return. She then states “Desire him not to flatter with his lord, Nor hold him up with hopes. I am not for him. If that the youth will come this way tomorrow, I’ll give him reasons for ’t. Hie thee, Malvolio.” (FTLN 0605-0609), showing that she is having a euphoric moment of profound love, resulting in the need to convive Viola to reciprocate those feelings.
Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, loves Olivia in a way that can only be manifested in greed and ego. Malvolio walks around the estate telling people what to do and criticizing them, acting as if he is in charge. Once Maria, Toby, and Andrew have had enough, they decide to forge a letter, to convince Malvolio that Olivia is infatuated with him. This trick takes his hold and Malvolio comes to Olivia cross gartered, wearing yellow stockings, and smiling consistently. He then says to the lady Olivia “Not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs. It did come to his hands, and commands shall be executed. I think we do know the sweet Roman hand.” (FTLN 1575-1579), in layman’s terms saying, “hey baby, you got what you wanted”. Malvolio may have done this to please his lady Olivia, or he may have been doing it for the financial status that comes with it. It is implied however that the letter overinflated his ego, causing him to greedily descend on Lady Olivia.
Viola feels a true and honest love for Orsino. She helps him win Olivia’s favor, even though she knows it would mean she could not have him. Viola is selfless for her true love, and wishes no ill will to him, and purely and unconditionally loves him. She does not try to alter his feelings because she is undercover as stated, “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid For such disguise as haply shall become The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke. Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.” (FTLN 0099-0102). Her family name is not received well in Illyria, so she pretends to be a eunuch, which is a male without reproductive organs, and to show her love for Orsino means she would have to lose her disguise. This love is also shown between Toby and Maria, but they don’t know it yet. As shown, “She’s a beagle true bred, and one that adores me. What o’ that?” (FTLN 0878-0879) Toby recognizes that something is there, but does not yet admit that he feels a deep love for her. Maria and him exchange a kiss, and get married off-stage once they realize their unconditional love with each other.
Love is a very tricky thing, comes in many different forms, and never comes in the way we expect. This was shown as a common theme amongst the diverse web of love in Twelfth Night. Malvolio wanted Olivia’s love, but received a kind of compassionate love from the Fool when he was in prison. Olivia wanted the love of Viola, but instead got her twin brother. Orsino wanted the love of Olivia and instead got Viola. Maria and Toby had no clue what they wanted until they found one another.
There is a complex web of love in Twelfth Night including limerence, sibling love, unrequited love, and ultimately “true love”. Past the main instance love, we also see instances of brotherly love between Andrew and Toby. All the instances of love shown can be interpreted different ways, Such as Viola being loved by Orsino (while posing as a man) and Olivia (while a woman) can be seen as same-sex love. The web of love in Twelfth Night is very complex, and shows a whole new level to the piece.
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