True Love in Twelfth Night
Unlike the other characters in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", Viola's feelings of love are genuine. She is not mistaken about Orsino's true nature and loves him for who he really is, while the other characters in the play seem to be in love with an illusion. Viola's love for Orsino does not alter during the play, nor is it transferred to another person.
Viola, alone in a strange land, disguises herself as a man in order to gain access to Duke Orsino's palace. She plays the role of Orsino's servant, Cesario, to be near him for she knows that he is the man who can help her in Illyria. On first hearing Orsino's name, Viola says: "Orsino! I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then." This reaction suggests that Viola already respects Orsino as a ruler before she begins to love him.
When the Count urges her, Viola agrees to try persuading Olivia of his love for her, but it is evident that she has feelings for Orsino herself when she says: "I'll do my best to woo your lady: [Aside] yet, a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife." This shows her devotion to him as she wants him to be happy, even if it is not with her. Viola's love is selfless and her feelings for Orsino are so strong that she will not leave when Olivia's servants tell her to. She is more determined than Orsino's previous messengers: "Make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house, write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night...."
Although Viola might be able to relate to Olivia's grief at first, her love for Orsino is so great that she cannot understand why Olivia would deny him. When Olivia expresses affection for Cesario, Viola does not even feel flattered. She does not feel the same way for Olivia as she says: "By innocence I swear and by my youth, I have one heart, one bosom, one truth, and that no woman has; nor never none shall mistress be of it, save I alone. And so adieu, good madam."
Orsino's love, however, is a courtly love. He claims to be in love with Olivia but seems rather to be in love with the idea of love and the behavior of a lover. Orsino is a Petrachan lover who chooses an object that will not return his love. Because he is not ready for commitment, he courts Olivia in a formal way. By sending his messengers to her house instead of going himself, he does not have to speak to her directly. Early in the play, Viola realises that Orsino's love for Olivia is denied and that she would also reject all men for a period of seven years. Viola believes that Orsino might not be rejected if he visited Olivia himself and says to him: "I think not so, my lord," but Orsino, not wanting to see Olivia himself and wanting to keep up the role of the disappointed lover, insists that Cesario woo her.
Orsino's reaction to Cesario's true identity and the fact that Olivia has married another man is surprising....