Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Orsino talks with Cesario about love. Viola's response makes him realize Cesario has also been in love, and Orsino asks about the object of his affection. Viola, choosing her words carefully, describes the object of her love as someone very much like Orsino. Orsino objects, because he thinks a man should choose a younger woman. The two of them listen together to a song sung by Olivia's Fool, who is visiting Orsino's house. After the song, Orsino tries to send Cesario to see Olivia again. Viola doesn't want to go, and tries to point out that Olivia definitely does not love Orsino. Orsino will not listen, so Viola attempts to tell him a story: "My father had a daughter loved a man / As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, / I should your Lordship." Orsino becomes interested in the story. He asks, "But died thy sister of her love, my boy?" Viola responds, "I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers, too—and yet I know not." Anxious to change the subject, Viola finally agrees to go back to talk to Olivia again.

Analysis

Although Orsino still believes Cesario is a boy, Shakespeare depicts this as a love scene between Orsino and Viola. He reinforces the idea through his handling of blank verse: the two of them complete each other's broken lines, once again suggesting in auditory and visual fashion that they belong together.

Orsino doesn't realize Cesario is a woman, but he picks up on the page's tone quickly enough and recognizes that Cesario, too, is in love. Viola does her best to be truthful about her loved one, describing her love as similar to Orsino in looks and age. Orsino does not approve, saying the man should be the elder in the relationship. Shakespeare is again returning to the topsy-turvy theme: an older woman with a younger man would be wrong by Elizabethan standards. (Viola, of course, is younger than Orsino.)

Orsino loves Olivia because she is beautiful, but he has had very limited interaction with her. Earlier in Act 2, Sebastian described Viola as being both beautiful and intelligent, and her intellectual qualities are on full display in this scene. She listens sympathetically to Orsino, but she also challenges him. She asks why he cannot accept Olivia's refusal—a question that seems to trouble him. Although a few minutes earlier Orsino spoke reverently of women's faithfulness in love, he insists no woman could ever love him the way he loves Olivia.

Viola talks to Orsino about herself using oblique references at first. She talks of her father's daughter who loved a man "as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, / I should your Lordship." When Orsino questions her further, she effectively tells him who she is, saying "I am all the daughters of my father's house." Somehow Orsino does not catch on.

Viola follows up with "I am all the daughters ... And all the brothers, too." Her masquerade is connected to her grief for her brother, Sebastian. She looks like Sebastian, and she uses her male disguise to keep her brother's memory alive. The audience now knows Sebastian is alive, so Viola will not need to continue her masquerade much longer.

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