The Theme Of Unrequited Love In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

In Shakespeare’s comedic play, ‘Twelfth Night’ is a timeless play as it displays a range of human emotions and experiences that the audience finds relatable. These texts are enduring because of their timeless relevance. The problem with romance in ‘Twelfth Night’ is unrequited love, this is explored though the love triangle, involving Lady Olivia, Duke Orsino and Viola. Shakespeare also shows that disguise leads to poor judgement when people make superficial judgements based on appearances. Finally the audience learns from this play that egotistical and pompous behavior leads to complications, witless mistakes and foolish behavior.

Love is a positive human emotion, however love that is unrequited can cause heartache and suffering. This is emotionally painful and creates complications for the individual whose love is unreturned. The concept that love is a cause of suffering and heartache is shown though the plot of ‘Twelfth Night’ with the central complication of a love triangle. This raises issues with unrequited love because Viola is disguised as a man. The complication arises as she is employed by Duke Orsino and is told to woo Lady Olivia, Viola who says “I’ll do my best to woo your lady” but has feelings for Orsino herself. And Lady Olivia who is in love with a woman but is clueless, Viola responds to this “Poor lady, she better love a dream”. The dramatic irony in this statement is that whilst the audience is aware of Viola’s disguise, Orsino is oblivious of her real identity and suffering. This is demonstrated though emotive diction and love triangle motif. In addition to this, Viola reveals it her soliloquy when she says: “My master loves her dearly, and I, poor monster, fond as much on him”. This creates suspense and intrigues the audience who want to see how this compilation will play out. The relatable problem of unrequited love is timeless.

Disguise and deception can lead to many complications which may cause confusion and/or hurt. This is a problem in many ways such as being unable to see past the surface of the person’s appearance or true identity, this leads to superficial judgement. Shakespeare's comedy ‘Twelfth Night’ demonstrates the idea that appearances can be deceptive through dramatic irony and motif of disguise. The central female character, Viola masquerades as a young man named Cesario. This leads to perplexity and hurt “Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness”. The technique shown in this quote is personification. This emphasizes the powerful negative impact of this deception. The confusion created through Viola’s disguise adds to the humour and intrigue in the play as it reinforces the use of dramatic irony.

Human folly is the state or quality of being foolish or half-witted, lacking understanding and good judgement. The human folly of vanity and poor judgement can lead to humiliation and conflict. Malvolio’s character fits well into this concept, he is depicted as a fun-hating, serious character with no sense of humour. This quote “Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do you make an alehouse of my lady’s house?” is an example of how Malvolio is characterized as egotistical, self-absorbed, pompous and only intention is to become count. Not many other characters in the play quite like Malvolio due to his character flaws, “The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths”. This quote is Maria expressing her judgement on Malvolio. In the Elizabethan era, Puritans had a bad reputation amongst theatre. Therefore, Shakespearean characters often depicted puritans to mock them. Maria insults Malvolio using metaphor and hyperbole, as a ‘Puritan’ and an ‘affectioned ass’ emphasizing the hostility between them.

In conclusion, unrequited love is a cause of suffering, hurt and heartbreak. Shakespeare's commentary on romance is that most times it is transparent, that people have their own agendas for their feelings, whether it be beauty, power, or social advancement. Disguise leads to confusion and poor judgement, which then leads to a similar consequence. Human folly leads to humiliation and future complications. These all have negative impacts. Shakespeare implies that people should open themselves to celebration and love, even if it makes them appear foolish, since it is truly foolish to deny these life forces. 

16 August 2021
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