Twelfth Night is a play all about love. Not mutual love as in the love between two lovers but love in all other shapes and forms. During the play we encounter love of a man for a woman, love of a woman for a man, love of a woman for another woman, love for a sibling, love for oneself, love for money or power, pure physical attraction and love for love itself. Almost all of the characters are involved in love in some form or another and most of their love affairs are intertwined between each other.
At the start of the play all are in love with somebody but in all cases this somebody does not love them in return. Count Orsino opens the play using very elaborate language to describe his undying love for Lady Olivia. This shows the magnificent scale of his love; it seems so magnificent that it is almost unbelievable. He mostly uses metaphors to describe his love in a more beautiful way for example ‘O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets’.
However, it is hard to tell whether the opening speech is positive or negative because although he is speaking very positively about how much he loves Olivia he is also in great sorrow at the fact that she rejects him. He treats love like an appetite and says ‘if music be the food of love, play on’. This phrase can be read in two ways; it at first seems very positive as he wants to be fed more on the love. However, when you read on you discover he says ‘Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die’.
This not only shows his sorrow at the fact that Olivia rejects him but also his indecisiveness about whether love is a good or bad thing. He compares love to the sea ‘that not withstanding thy capacity recieveth as the sea’ here he is saying that its capacity is huge and you can get sucked in to it very deep here. It is very odd how Orsino spends very little time describing why he loves Olivia and what is beautiful about her as his only compliment of her is that she ‘purg’d the air of pestilence’. This perhaps suggests that it is not Olivia he loves but merely love itself that he is attached to.
The fact that he uses such high style language, complex metaphors and references to Greek mythology makes his love that he is describing seem more like an excuse for a show of intellect rather than true love. All in all there is an underlying feeling that Orsino loves Olivia purely for the sake of being in love rather than the fact that he is truly in love with her. When he meets Viola dressed as Cesario the audience can see that he is slightly attracted to her by the fact that he says ‘Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious;’ comparing Cesario to the same goddess he compared Olivia to in the first scene.
He doesn’t know that he is attracted to her as he thinks she is a man however this subtly hints at things to come. Viola herself feels a very different kind of love at the beginning of the play when she shows love for her brother who she fears is dead. This love is unquestionably very true and real and acts as a standard of true love to compare the other more complicated loves in the play to. Unlike Orsino and elaborate language this purity of love is shown through raw emotion when she says ‘O my poor brother! And so perchance may he be’.
Viola also falls in love with the Count Orsino when she is in her disguise. She seems touched by how he talks to her about his love for a woman, which she can only see because of her disguise, saying ‘Too well what love women to men may owe. In faith, they are as true of heart as we’. She expresses her love for Orsino in act one scene four where she says ‘ Yet a barful strife! Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife’. This seems more real than Orsino’s love for Olivia as it is said in much more normal language also she says this to herself rather than to a friend showing that these really are her own feelings.
Olivia quite clearly does not love Orsino but is sympathetic towards him and instead of plainly rejecting him she vows to live the life of a nun. This instantly begs the question whether she will be able to keep this vow. She is fine at keeping this vow when dealing with Orsino who she wants to turn down anyway but soon she encounters difficulty. She falls in love with Viola who she thinks is a man, she is so desperate to see Viola again that she leaves her with a ring which she must at some point return. Although Olivia is actually in love with a woman she is effectively in love with the man of Viola’s form.
This shows that Olivia’s love is also not very deep as she is able to fall in love with Viola purely on what she sees on the outside without finding out that she is really a woman. Unlike the first three characters that treated love in a very romantic way, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew treat it very differently. They seem to be far more interested in the sexual side of love and Sir Toby is constantly making bawdy remarks to Sir Andrew to try and encourage him to accost people. For example at the beginning of act one scene three he says ‘accost is front her, board her, woo her, assail her’.
Unlike the other characters these characters don’t care who they love as long as they have somebody. This is shown by the fact that whenever there is a woman on stage with them both of these characters seem to be very interested in her. They are not really interested in love at all and more in lust. Malvolio is also involved in love again unlike anyone else. He has great fantasies about becoming Olivia’s husband but not only because he thinks she is pretty. He also dreams of having power to command people as husband of Lady Olivia and her wealth and fortune.
He is also very arrogant and vain to believe that it could be true that Olivia might love him. This shown when he is tricked into thinking that Olivia loves him where he says ‘calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown, having come from a day bed where I have left Olivia sleeping’. He shows love for himself and love for money and power but for most other people such as Sir Toby he shows hatred. The only character that escapes love and its consequences in the play is Feste the fool. Throughout the play he shows signs of intelligence above his lowly status as a fool.
It is possible that he represents Shakespeare himself as he is a mere on looker to most of the scenes. It may reflect Shakespeare’s view of love at the fact that the one character shown to be very intelligent manages to avoid love and all the confusion that seems to come with it throughout the play. The variety of different responses to love in Twelfth Night is amazing. In the early stages of the play all that love seems to do is confuse people as it random and unrequited, shallow and blind and only causes problems.