I really enjoyed Twelfth Night but I still have mixed feelings about the way it ended. I was surprised about the way Shakespeare chose to end the play. The last few lines of the play led me to believe that there may not be the happy ending that everyone was rooting for: “Cesario, come- for so you shall be while you are a man; But when in other habits you are seen, Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen” (5.1.372-5). Although there is nothing that gives it away in these particular lines, the fact that Shakespeare did not end the play with that happy marriage scene reveals that maybe it doesn’t happen that way after the play has ended. Malvolio, the character who has been wronged the most in this play, exits the play with his last line being “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” (5.1.365). Since he has been “notoriously abused,” this last scene is meant to show that Malvolio may well be off somewhere planning his revenge on the ones who wronged him. This was one aspect of the play that made me uneasy, especially since I really grew to like Cesario as a character.
But if the play was to go on and Cesario did end up marrying Orsino with no interference from Malvolio, I believe that Cesario/Viola comes out as the character with the most successful ending. Viola/Cesario starts out as a character whose intentions aren’t too clear, expect the audience comes to realize that while Viola is disguised as Cesario, she comes to have feelings for Orsino, while she is working for him. Initially, I believed that if she got with Orsino, she would be losing out because she would lose part of her identity as Cesario. Her identity seemed to really come through while she was in the Cesario disguise, and I thought it would be terrible for her to lose that just so she can get married to a man who is love with another woman. What if Orsino hadn’t loved her when she revealed herself? That would have been a bad situation, but lucky for her, Orsino seemed to really be into the fact that she came in a disguise that enabled her to be herself more than if she hadn’t come with a disguise. Orsino says to Viola “Your master quits you, and for your service done him so much against the mettle of your sex, so far beneath your soft and tender breeding, and since you called me master for so long, here is my hand. You shall from this time be your master’s mistress” (5.1.310-4). What he is saying is that he actually respects Viola for her service to him, that shouldn’t need to be done by a woman, but that she went out of her way to serve him. He sees this as a noble deed and decides he can marry her.
In the end, Viola wins because Orsino has reciprocated her feelings, and better yet it seems that it is coming from a place of genuine admiration. He wasn’t thrown off by her assertive personality, he was attracted to that about her. She can still be herself, but back in her female presentation if she wishes to. It seems like Orsino wouldn’t mind either way.