Was Twelfth Night Just Another Love Triangle?

It seems to be that Shakespeare thoroughly enjoys writing his plays and involving bizarre love triangles within them. This is something that always grasps my attention and makes me wonder why he does it. He had some crazy love triangles in A Midsummer’s Night Dream and again, he has a love triangle (or square if you include Sebastian) in Twelfth Night. Shakespeare is very elaborate with how he portrays the characters in each loving situation. All the while, leaving the readers “confused” and “wanting more.” I can only continue to wonder if Shakespeare does this because he enjoys toying with our brains.When Twelfth Night begins, we read that Orsino is completely infatuated with Olivia, but then when the play comes to a close he’s “in love” with Viola.

So, the play starts and Viola (disguised as Cesario) has begun working for Orsino, and she immediately thinks he’s this perfect human being and she likes him, but she is given the job of getting Olivia to love Orsino back. When Viola is unsure of being able to do this, Orsino gives her some advice on what to say/do: “O, then unfold the passion of my love,/Surprise her with discourse of my dear faith:/It shall become thee well to act my woes;/She will attend it better in thy youth/Than in a nuncio’s of more grave aspect”(1.4.23-7). That in itself is such a confusing love triangle to try and comprehend.

Even though Viola seems to be falling in love with Orsino, she still goes over to Olivia’s house determined to get her to love him. “I’ll do my best/To woo your lady—(aside) Yet, a barful strife—/Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” (1.4.40-1). At this point, Shakespeare must have thought to himself “The audience needs more. They need more love, and more drama.” So he transforms Olivia from this cold hearted woman, into a woman in love with Viola (Cesario). “Even so quickly may one catch the plague?/Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections/With an invisible and subtle stealth/To creep in at mine eyes” (1.5.265-8). WHAT?! After reading this all, I was so mind blown that Shakespeare’s audiences enjoyed this kind of play, because I was so angry that there wasn’t going to be an easy solution.

As the play continues, I was able to figure out that Viola was in fact in love with Orsino, more than anything, it seemed. Olivia was more than head over heels for Cesario, and poor Orsino just loved Olivia so much, but he also would basically tell Cesario that he loved him as well. Despite the fact that he meant it as a “I love you because you’re an awesome servant and helper” Viola still fell more for him.

And don’t even get me started on Sebastian! He waltzes into town and causes things to erupt (unintentionally)! Because he and Viola now look like twins, Olivia sees him and insists they see a priest and get married, and he thinks he’s hit the lottery and says yes. Viola would not have said yes to her and thus, love square. Orsino sees this and thinks Viola (Cesario) has betrayed him, so Viola has to tell him that she/he isn’t the person he thinks. She says that she is a female and not a young man. And immediately, Orsino says: “Give me thy hand” (5.1.265). or in easier terms, “let’s go get married, because I love you.” WHAT!? MAKE UP YOUR MIND ORSINO.


One thought on “Was Twelfth Night Just Another Love Triangle?

  1. ciandalton94

    I really enjoyed your blog post but I feel it would be unprofessional of me to write “lol” in a reply, but I did laugh. If you’ve seen the movie with Helena Bonham Carter in full, the scene where Feste plays Viola as Caesario and Orsino a song and the two nearly end up kissing add to the confusion that the audience must have felt if that was a scene included in the play when it was performed first. I think you’re right; Shakespeare liked toying with our minds.


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