The Themes Of Love And Desire In Twelfth Night
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, expressing an “untraditional level” of desire, there is an evident and not so subtle hint that Orsino has a mild desire for Cesario as the friendship between the two develops in most of their interactions in the first act as well. While attempting another run at Olivia, this time using Cesario as the messenger, Orsino’s justification for this is he believes Olivia will susceptible to Cesario’s youth, of which Orsino states “Dear lad, believe it; For they shall yet belie thy happy years, That say thou art a man. Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious, thy small pipe is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative woman’s part.” The interaction between Orsino and Cesario during this scene indicates a little bit more than the friendship that was established earlier in the act. Despite how these femine characteristics are both Cesario’s and Viola’s since they are the same person, it does not change the fact that they are being viewed by Orsino as qualities belonging to Cesario, therefore suggesting that Orsino by this point in the play is exhibiting desire for both Olivia and his new friend Cesario making his sexuality fluid between male and female depending on the point in the play. Viola’s disguise nonetheless also reflects a sort of gender confusion as well with her revealing her true identity in the conclusion of the play, giving a subtle wink to gender fluidity as well as demonstrating a common theater practice where men would dress to assume the roles of women characters since no females were allowed to perform.
Similarly, the same concept of a changing sexuality can be seen between Viola and Olivia as well. It is said at the beginning of the play, that Olivia has sworn off men since her brother died, creating an absence of a male figure in her life despite Orsino’s constant attempts to court her. In these constant attempts, Orsino prompts Viola as Cesario to relay messages to Olivia. However, this plan backfires when Viola goes to deliver a message to Olivia where she then confesses her love for Viola still dressed as Cesario and states:
“By maidhood, honor, truth, and everything,
I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause.”
Olivia at this moment can be said to desire both men and women, considering how Viola’s feminine qualities which obviously shown through her disguise and were visible to Orsino would also be evident to Olivia, making her attracted to women and men, portrayed by Viola disguised as Cesario.
Likewise within the sub plot, a second and unsuspecting relationship begins to develop, taking place between none other than Maria and Toby when it is revealed in Act 5 that the two have been married. Their marriage in the concluding act of the play is surprising taking into account the earlier interactions between the two, most notably how Maria is constantly looking down on Toby for his obnoxious and ungentlemanly behavior that comes to light when he has had too much to drink, which also happens to be the majority of the times he is present. Specifically in the first Act where Maria is arguing with Toby about keeping himself contained for Olivia’s sake when she says “That quaffing and drinking will undo you: I heard my lady talk of it yesterday, and of a foolish knight that you brought in one night here to be her wooer.” While Maria is not being hostile towards Toby in any sense, this still makes her appear as though she is being hard on him for his drinking habits, essentially portraying her as constantly nagging Toby throughout many of their interactions. However, the play concludes with these two getting married further feeding into Shakespeare’s established theme of desire by fabricating yet another relationship in a most unlikely place, between two characters from different classes in society too.
In conclusion it is evident that through the relationships established in the play Twelfth Night, that these relationships demonstrate a rejection by Shakespeare of traditional social norms during his period through themes of desire and love which are prevalent throughout several different acts of the play. Each relationship demonstrates something different regarding these concepts. Starting with Orsino’s desire for Olivia, his love and her ultimate rejection of him causes him clear emotional distress that borders on pain, which is described in such greatness that he is unable to go hunt, beginning a consistent pattern in the play where the strong feeling of love or desire causes suffering within said character. This can also be seen in the figurative relationship Malvolio develops in his head with Olivia, which eventually drives him to the brink of insanity. Furthermore, along with the pain and suffering which accompany the powerful notion of desire in Twelfth Night, Shakespear also employs confusion and the fluidness of gender and or sexuality through both Orsino and Olivia’s apparent attraction to the same sex depending upon the specific way Cesario and Violas characters ae viewed. This unpredictability also works its way into the sub plot, where Sir Toby Belcher uncle to Olivia ends up being married in the concluding act of the play to her maid and confidant, Maria further demonstrating how desire and nature are innately unpredictable and can emerge in the most unexpected of circumstances.