Master of Destiny: Motif of Love in Twelfth Night A motif is an image, idea, theme, character, or verbal pattern that recurs in a story, novel, poem, or play. It serves a purpose such as unifying the action or symbolizing an idea. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the motif of love serves as the main plot, a complete love triangle, and reinforces the connection of the main plot to the sub-plots. Several types of love are presented, such as romantic love, experienced by Viola and Orsino as well as Olivia and Sebastian.
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The state of being carried away with unreasoned love, infatuation, is represented by the Duke Orsino along with Olivia. Self-love, one’s admiration for himself and its consequences, is explored by Malvolio. Viola, Sebastian, and Olivia show fraternal love as they long for a sibling and Antonio demonstrates loyalty as he sacrifices himself for his dear friend, Sebastian. Romantic love, one’s unconditional love, consists of a great portion of the play as it forms a part of the love triangle and is a key element when all issues concerning identity are resolved.
First experienced by Viola, she, disguised as a eunuch, starts to fall in love with the Duke Orsino. When sent by the Duke to seek Olivia’s love, Viola makes it clear to the audience saying, “ Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (I, iv, 42) . Later on, she becomes aware of the existence of a love triangle. Viola’s situation, already complex, worsens and she states, “ My state is desperate for my master’s love” (II, ii, 36). When questioned about her love interest by the Duke, Viola answers someone “ Of your complexion” (II, iv, 26) and “ About your years, my lord” (II, iv, 28), subtly hinting her love.
Troubled by her position in the love triangle, Viola decides to ask the Duke himself, who refuses to accept that Olivia does not share his love, what to do. She seeks helpful answers when she says, Say that some lady, as perhaps there is, Hath for you love as great a pang of heart As you have for Olivia. You cannot love her; You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d? (II, iv, 90-95). Following this speech is a disappointing answer as Orsino says he will not give up on Olivia and is not interested in any other woman (II, iv). When all cases of mistaken identity are resolved, Viola’s dilemma takes end.
The Duke realises that Viola, as Cesario, has hinted her love time and time again, saying, “ Thou never shouldst love woman like to me” (V, i, 264). Viola immediately confirms her love saying, “ And all those sayings will I over-swear” (V, i, 265). Orsino soon replies, “ Give me thy hand” (V, i, 268), “ Your master quits you” (V, i, 314), and ultimately shares Viola’s love saying, Here is my hand. You shall from this time be Your master’s mistress (V, i, 318-319). Romantic love is also experienced by Olivia and Sebastian, unifying the duel sub-plot to the main love triangle.
After expressing her love to Cesario (IV, i), Olivia asks Sebastian back to her house. Sebastian, utterly confused, starts to think that he is ? mad, or else a dream? (IV, i, 62). He does not understand how a woman, whom he barely knows, is in love with him so deeply. Olivia then proposes, “…come, I prithee; would thou’dst be ruled by me” (IV, i, 65), wanting for them to form a couple. Sebastian, without further explanation of the situation, accepts the proposal (IV, i, 66). While waiting for Olivia, he questions himself about Antonio and once again, about his and Olivia’s state of mind.
She then arrives with a priest and insists on getting engaged right away, but excuses herself by saying, “ Blame not this haste of mine” (IV, iii, 22) and adds, “ Plight me the full assurance of your faith” (IV, iii, 26) since she wants him to commit to her. Sebastian blindly accepts this offer (IV, iii, 32-33), though still confused and uninformed. When all cases of mistaken identity are resolved, Olivia stays with Sebastian and forgives his mistakes since she is satisfied with him, even though he is not Cesario (V, i). In contrast to romantic love, infatuation, also a great part of the love triangle, is mostly based on physical appearance.
Orsino’s first speech shows that he does not wish to experience true love, but to wallow in love. He is mostly in love with the idea of love, rather than experiencing real emotions for another person. The Duke uses melodramatic words which show that he is overindulgent of love when he says, If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die, (I, i, 1-3). Describing how he felt the first time he saw Olivia, he says she “ purged the air of pestilence” (I, i, 20), meaning that her beauty is so great that it cleans the air from disease.
Orsino’s feelings of “ love” for Olivia are so great that he seems overwhelmed by his thoughts of her. The Duke is drawn to an emotion, which he believes is love. In doing so, he has created a false image of her, making him in love with an illusion that he puts Olivia’s name to. Deeply drawn to Olivia’s beauty, he is blind to many of the clues given by Viola about her love. Eventually, his “ love” is replaced by feelings for Viola (V, i). Similarly to Orsino, Olivia develops feelings for Cesario, which are based on his appearance and his words.
After Cesario’s passionate speech about his actions if he were to love Olivia, she says to herself, “ Unless the master were the man” (I, v, 284), meaning she would love Orsino if he was Cesario. She then adds, “ Even so quickly may one catch the plague? ” (I, v, 285), comparing love to a disease that she has quickly contracted. After receiving a ring she never forgot, Viola quickly understands that Olivia is falling for her and thinks that “ she were better love a dream” (II, ii, 25) since Olivia’s feelings will never be matched by her.
Olivia’s feelings are ultimately denied by Viola who states that she has “ one heart, one bosom, and one truth” (III, i, 158), which belong to Orsino, and says adieu. In addition to romantic love and infatuation, self-love, as explored by Malvolio, unifies the action by relating the gulling sub-plot to the main plot. Malvolio, Olivia’s chief steward, allows himself to scold others and treat them of fools. Following some of these incidents, Lady Olivia herself states the truth when she tells him that he is “ sick of self-love” (I, v, 86). He does not stop his rude behaviour and this results in other people disliking him.
Maria does so by telling him to go “ shake [his] ears” (II, iii, 118), suggesting that he is an ass and has no right to tell others what to do. She says that Malvolio is “ persuaded of himself, so crammed as he thinks, with excellencies” (II, iii, 141-142) and adds “ and on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work” (II, iii, 143-144). Malvolio’s self-regard and ambitions extend to marrying Olivia only to become “ Count Malvolio” (II, v, 33) and to assume authority and power as well as its privileges as he could “…[call his] officers about [him]” (II, v, 45) and “…have the humour of the state” (II, v, 45).
When he reads the forged letter, he accepts its instructions since he truly wants to become a powerful person. He “ will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-garthered, even with the swiftness of putting on” (II, v, 160-162). He will also “ smile; [he] will do everything that [Olivia will] have [him]” (II, v, 168-169). He adapts to any situation that make him look foolish to fit his picture of a glorious future as a nobleman. His ambitions clearly overcome his good sense, resulting in Olivia thinking he is mad (III, iv, 25) and eventually getting locked up as she instructs that he be taken care of (III, iv, 58-59).
His dreams of glory are completely diminished and he looses every chance at love with Olivia (V, i). Fraternal love, less obvious than romantic love, infatuation, and self-love, unifies the shipwreck to the main plot, eventually causing the mistaken identities to be resolved. When speaking to a captain on a sea coast, Viola says that her twin brother is deceased. The captain gives her hope saying he saw Sebastian floating, holding on the mast of a boat (I, ii). Viola is very happy to hear this and hopes that her lost brother is still alive when saying, “ Oh my poor brother! and so perchance may he be” (I, ii, 7).
Meanwhile, on another sea coast, Sebastian speaks of his sister’s death, how sad he is, and how he cries over her death to his friend Antonio. He says that “ she is drowned already…by salt water, though [he] seems to drown her remembrance again with more” (II, i, 26-28). The Messaline twins are not the only ones to have love for a sibling. Valentine, Orsino’s steward, says that Olivia refuses to love anyone for seven years and “ like a cloistress, she will veiled walk” (I, i, 28) so that no man nor woman will see her face. She does so to mourn her dead brother whom she deeply loved.
Much like siblings, Antonio and Sebastian have a strong, friendly bond. This bond is the ultimate cause for the mistaken identities to be resolved. Antonio proves his loyalty to Sebastian when he offers to accompany him to Orsino’s court, even though it represents great danger to him. He tells Sebastian, “ If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant” (II, i, 31-32). Sebastian understands that such an offer is risky so he chooses part and cry on the separation (II, 33-39). Antonio, with great love for Sebastian, is willing to risk his life and replies, But, come what may, I adore thee so,
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go (II, i, 44-45). When in Illyria, Antonio, mistaking Cesario for Sebastian in the duel, offers to fight for him, making great sacrifices once again, and shouts, Put up your sword. If this young gentleman Have done offence, I take the fault on me. If you offend him, I for him defy you. (III, iv, 299-301). With mistaken identities, Cesario denies knowing Antonio, who has sacrificed more than one would do in his whole life. Antonio therefore accuses his friend of being evil from within (III, iv, 356-357).
After all mistaken identities are resolved, Antonio and Sebastian are reunited and Antonio learns that he was never betrayed by his great friend (V, i). The romantic love, infatuation, self-love, fraternal love, and loyalty presented in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night create the main plot and unify all shipwreck, duel, and gulling sub-plots. If there was no love of any type in Twelfth Night, the storyline would be none since every complication is related to one type of love or another. The motif of love is therefore essential in order for this play to have a plot and for it to advance.