Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Malvolio finds Cesario, who has just left Olivia, and delivers the ring from Olivia. Cesario tries to reject the ring, but Malvolio insists on his taking it. After she leaves, Viola realizes Olivia sent her the ring as a gift because Olivia is in love with her. Viola feels sorry for Olivia because Olivia's love for her is as impossible as Viola's love for Orsino.

Analysis

When Malvolio first offers Viola the ring, she responds: "She took the ring of me. I'll none of it." Why does Viola lie? Olivia, too, lied, when she told Malvolio that Cesario gave her the ring. This parallel points to many similarities between Viola and Olivia. In the previous scene the audience learned Viola's father is dead, so she is fatherless and brotherless (she thinks), just like Olivia. Olivia seems to be someone with whom Viola might be friends, so perhaps her first instinct is the polite lie to protect Olivia's dignity and reputation. She knows Olivia is defying social custom by sending a ring to a servant. Along with delivering the ring, Malvolio repeats Olivia's message: Orsino should not send anyone back to speak to Olivia unless it is Cesario. If Viola missed the implications of Olivia's earlier overtures, she certainly can't misunderstand now. As she says once she is alone on stage, "I am the man."

Viola is sympathetic to Olivia for another reason, too: like Olivia, she loves someone who does not love her back. Viola's speech in this scene neatly outlines the love triangle: "My master loves her dearly, / And I, poor monster, fond as much on him, / And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me." Viola says she has no idea how this situation came about or how it will ultimately work out—and neither does the audience. The audience also knows about another complication: the presence of Sebastian.

Also in this speech, Viola addresses one of the major themes of the play: the way disguise or deceit can cause problems in society and in love. Viola describes disguise as a tool of the devil and describes her alter ego, Cesario, as a "monster" because he is neither fully man nor fully woman in his borrowed clothes and borrowed name.

Shakespeare ends this scene with one of his favorite concluding devices—a rhymed couplet. Shakespeare wrote more than 150 sonnets, all of which ended with a rhymed couplet or a pair of rhyming lines. He used the couplet to emphasize the main idea or theme of the sonnet, as well as to wrap it up in a neat conclusion. In the same way, a couplet can cleanly indicate the end of a scene, as it does here when Viola says, "O Time, thou must untangle this, not I. / It is too hard a knot for me t' untie."

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