Monday, October 5, 2009

Love and Lust

In William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, the Duke transitions from an understanding of love as purely based on physical appearance, to a belief that he has a stronger understanding of love, yet finds himself lost in a contradiction, to a final understanding that love cannot in fact be based on appearances.

In the beginning of the play we learn that the Duke has based his admiration for Olivia entirely on physical appearance. “ O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, / Methought she purged the air of pestilence! / That instant was I turn’d into a hart; / And my desires, lke fell and cruel hounds, / F’er since pusue me.” (Act I, scene i) Here we see that the Duke has not a sincere love for Olivia, but a deep desire based on passion and lust. He does not understand what love truly is, and instead is lead by his desire for her physical attributes. He mistakes lust for love.
Later in the play, he appears to believe that he has an understanding of love as he gives advice to Viola. “ For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, / Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, / More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, / Than women’s are.” (Act II, scene iv). In this quote, the Duke appears to have an understanding of his own incorrect feelings about love. He admits that men are more quick to look to the physical and become bored by a woman, seeking someone new and younger. He almost seems to acknowledge his own tendency to lean towards lust over love.
Yet very soon after, when Viola questions his love for Olivia, he contradicts himself, and further complicates the readers belief in his understanding. “There is no woman’s sides / Can bide the beating of a passion / As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart / So big, to hold so much; they lack retention. / Alas, their love may be call’d appetite, - / No motion of the liver, but the palate, - That suffer sufeit, cloyment and revolt; / But mine is all as hungry as the sea, / And can digest as much: make no compare / Between that love a woman can bear me / And that I owe Olivia” (Act II, scene iv) Where as before the Duke had claimed that men’s passions were wavering and quickly lost, he now claims that it would be impossible for a woman to feel as strong a love as he does for Olivia.

This contradicts his previous observation about love between men and women, as he now claims that a man can love stronger than a woman. His mistake however, is that he is still concentrating on his passion, desire and lust rather than what truly constitutes love. He describes his love as an appetite, which is far more closely related to lust than true feelings of love. Shakespeare is attempting to show in this blatant contradiction the power of appearances, and the danger in relying solely on those appearances. In the play, almost every character is behind a disguise, whether it is Viola pretending to be Cesario, or Olivia hiding behind her veil and brother’s death. Shakespeare is attempting to show that hiding behind lust, or having a misunderstanding of lust, is just as much a disguise of the Duke, as of Viola dressing up as a man.

I believe that Shakespeare wants the viewer to focus on the Duke and his transformation. At the end of the play, he ends up discovering that Cesario is in face Viola in disguise. It is in this final chaotic scene that the Duke fully demonstrates his change in opinion. Upon learning that Cesario married Olivia (who in reality was Sebastian), the Duke is terribly upset and angry feeling betrayed and hurt by Cesario. However, when he learns that the man was in fact Sebastian, he is no longer angry and instead focuses his attention on Viola. Recognizing that he is in love with Viola not for her physical appearance but for who she is as a person, he sends her off to find her women’s clothing and announces that there will be a celebration of both wedding. His ability to let go of his love for the physical appearance of Olivia, and embrace his emotional true love with Viola, helps to show his transition from lust to Love.

William Shakespeare, through the character of the Duke in “Twelfth Night”, shows the necessary transition and understanding from lust to love. The Duke begins the play with a belief that lust and passion is what love consists of, and that the greater the passion or appetite, the greater the love, but in falling in love with someone for their personality, he is able to finally understand that love should not be based on appearances.

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