This was not my first reading of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but my second and this time around I did not enjoy it for its comical nature or the fact that it had more misunderstandings than an episode of Seinfeld. I was angered by the characters trivialization of love. Each character has some instance where they abuse love or transfer their seemingly profound love for someone onto a completely different person in the blink of an eye based on the convenience of a situation. From the beginning of the play we are introduced to the Duke Orsino, who is love sick above all else over Olivia. It is hard to believe that the Duke is actually in love with Olivia, because he never approaches her himself. He uses his servants to express his condition and his professions of love to Olivia. Either this is a tactic to seem more romantic or it is a clever way of avoiding rejection. Nonetheless the Duke’s attempts always fail because Olivia claims that because his long speeches are so poetic they must be false.
After Viola enters the play and conceals her identity as Cesario we begin to see how “love at first sight” takes over the play. Viola immediately falls in love with the Duke, Olivia immediately falls in love with Viola as Cesario, and perhaps the most pathetic trivialization of love occurs when Malvolio is tricked into falling in love with Olivia. When Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian decide to trick Malvolio they are the guiltiest culprits of the sins against love. What is strange about this situation is that Maria’s trickery and deception causes Sir Toby to fall in love with her so madly that he actually marries her. This is a prime example that this play shows the most unconventional methods of falling in love. Viola falls in love with Orsino even though he is constantly explaining how much he loves another woman. It is hard for me to believe that her reasoning for falling in love is that she sees how passionate Orsino loves Olivia but rather the age old idea that as humans, we want what we can’t have. Olivia falls for Cesario because of “his” good looks, which is odd because he is described as being very feminine. This suggests some kind of homoerotic and shallow attraction that Olivia has for Viola.
At the conclusion of the play when everything is resolved (in a sense), Olivia ends up married to Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, Viola to be married to Duke Orsino, Maria married to Sir Toby Belch, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew beat up by Sebastian, and Malvolio wrecked with revenge and anger. The biggest joke of all is that nothing is at all resolved at the end of this play. Both the Duke and Olivia are able to take the love they have for someone and thrust it onto someone else because it is easier to live that way. Olivia can be with the male version of Viola, Sebastian, and Orsino can be with the female Viola. The presentation of the twins Viola and Sebastian in Act 5, scene 1 creates some strange androgynous being, the culmination of Viola’s femininity and Sebastian’s masculinity. There also seems to be a jab made at female sexual orientation in the play. When Viola turns into Cesario, she ends up cursing her femininity and blames the fact that she is so in love with Orsino on her weakness as a woman. When Malvolio finds the forged letter of Olivia’s he focuses on her C’s, U’s, and T’s and the fact she uses them to make her P’s. This is a reference to female genitalia and it is clearly a joke, saying that a woman’s private parts are the only tool she has to be able to create peace in any given situation. It would appear that Shakespeare might be making the claim that love is love and sexual orientation does not matter in the scheme of love. This also represents the fickle nature of humankind, to be able to change their minds so frequently.
The only character that leaves the play with any sense of dignity or common sense is the Fool. This is a character that Shakespeare uses in most of his plays to be the sense of truth in the work. The fool is the only character that can speak truth to nature. He is able to act foolish because he is the fool but at the same time he brings out the foolish nature of all he comes in contact with, it is allowed only because of his title as the fool.