According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, love is defined as “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; attraction based on sexual desire; affection and tenderness felt by lovers; affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interest; or an assurance of love.” In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, three different types of love are experienced: friendship love, true love, and self love. Each character experiences a different type of love, and in some cases it is not what they originally expected. The twisted, yet intriguing love story allows the reader to get lost in each characters emotions and development throughout the play. Many instances of love in the play are overwhelmed with a feeling of desire, which leads some characters to fall blind to their true love. Viola, Cesario, Orsino, Olivia, Sebastian and Malvolio, all experience love in a variety of different ways, which adds depth to Shakespeare’s comical play.
One example of true love in Twelfth Night is Viola’s love for Orsino. At the beginning of the play, the reader experiences Orsino’s feelings about love. It is a confusing start however, because Shakespeare offers contradicting views on love. Orsino says, “Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken and so die” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 2-3). This means that Orsino wants the musicians to give him so much love, that he gets sick of it and doesn’t love anymore. This shows the depth of Orsino’s desire for Olivia. He loves (or thinks he loves) Olivia so much that he can no longer control himself and wants to be rid of his love for her. The entire speech plays with the idea that love is not something tangible, but more or less an imaginative state of being. This is eminent when Orsino says, “Even in a minute! So full of shapes is fancy, That it alone is highly fantastical” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 14-15).
Despite knowing that Orsino “loves” Olivia, Viola almost immediately falls in love with Orsino. And because Viola is disguised as a man, she cannot show her true feelings for Orsino. After Orsino asks Viola to speak with Olivia and professes his love to her, Viola lets the reader know what she is truly feeling by saying “Yet a barful strife! Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (Act 1, Scene 4, Line 40). This shows that even though she is willing to help Orsino pursue Olivia, Viola ultimately wants to marry Orsino. Viola’s love for Orsino is revealed again at the end of Act 2, Scene 4. Orsino is asking Viola to try harder in the quest for Olivia and he basically says that there is no love more noble or great as his, so she must love him. Viola then proceeds to say that maybe Olivia doesn’t love him; however, there is “someone” out there that does. She says:
Sooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your 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 answered?