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Notes on Twelfth Night Themes

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Twelfth Night Topic Tracking: Romance

Act 1, Scene 1

Romance 1: Orsino loves Olivia so much that he cannot imagine she doesn't love him back. Thus even when he hears that she is mourning her brother and will not see any man, he doesn't give up. Clearly, he has been rejected many times, but he is deaf to her protests. He sees romance as just another intense emotion, and believes that her grief could easily turn into love for him.

Act 1, Scene 4

Romance 2: Viola, who has disguised herself in order to get away from people, has fallen in love with the Duke only three days after meeting him. She now finds herself in the comical position of having to court Olivia, the woman the Duke loves, because she is (for some reason) unwilling to reveal she is a woman.

Act 1, Scene 5

Romance 3: Olivia falls in love just as easily as the Duke and Viola did. While she, like the others, is disturbed and pained at first, she quickly decides that since it has happened, she must accept it. It seems that she has never been in love, because she is surprised at how quickly it happened to her, and wonders, "Even so quickly may one catch the plague?"

Act 2, Scene 1

Romance 4: Antonio loves Sebastian in a very different way than most of the other characters love. While his affection is presumably not romantic, Antonio cares deeply for Sebastian, and even wants to be his servant. His affection is not based on beauty, infatuation or typical "romantic" behavior: he simply wants to be with Sebastian, and to help him in any way he can.

Act 2, Scene 2

Romance 5: Viola ponders the silliness of love. Like Olivia and the Duke, she sees love as a kind of painful mess, and almost wishes she could be rid of it. She believes that their gender has something to do with her and Olivia's troubled lives: it is the nature of women, she says, to fall in love easily.

Act 2, Scene 4

Romance 6: Viola painfully hides her love for the Duke, even when he asks her directly if she has ever been in love. Her discomfort and efforts to be vague are comical: she will not lie, so she ends up saying that she loved someone a lot like the Duke. The Duke assumes this person was a woman, and reasons that any woman who looked like him was not worth Cesario's (Viola's) love.

Romance 7: Orsino offers his advice on romance to Cesario. His advice is amusing both because he doesn't realize he's talking to someone who loves him, and because he himself is such a failure at love. Earlier, Viola's captain told her that Orsino has been unmarried for many years, and has been in love with Olivia for a long time, though she has consistently told him that she cannot love him and will never marry him.

Romance 8: Viola, pretending to be Cesario, claims that women love just as deeply as men do. She disagrees with Orsino, which turns out to be significant because, while he has a change of heart at the end of the play, falling in love with Viola, and Olivia, too, substitutes Sebastian for Viola, Viola herself remains constant. She falls in love with Orsino the moment she meets him, and stays in love for the remainder of the play.

Act 2, Scene 5

Romance 9: Maria anticipates what kind of romance will appeal to Malvolio, and her letter suits him perfectly. Since he is so vain that he assumes Olivia must be in love with him anyway, Maria only has to write a few romantic cliches in order to make him sure of it. He enjoys her intentionally silly babbling, because it flatters him and allows him to think of himself as a nobleman. He is enchanted with this idea, and fantasizes in a comical way about his romantic life with Olivia.

Act 5, Scene 1

Romance 10: As with most romantic comedies, the romance, which was at the beginning of the play the cause of so much pain, ends up the cause of great joy. No love is thwarted in this play--except, perhaps, for that of Malvolio, but his interest in Olivia always seemed to stem more from her wealth and position than anything else. Orsino's long-lasting affection for Olivia is quickly replaced by love for Viola, and Olivia easily transfers her love from Cesario/Viola to Sebastian. The play is therefore not so much about love as it is about romance: infatuation, courtship, marriage, etc.

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