William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a comedy, first published in 1623. Love is a key aspect of Shakespeare’s comedies in which self-identity is found through the development of love from infatuation to acknowledgement of character. Orsino is the epitome of Shakespeare’s transformation of self. In the beginning of the play, Orsino is self-absorbed and head-over-heels for Olivia. In this stage of love we see Orsino’s infatuation and selfishness in his feelings of love. As the play moves on, Viola comes into Orsino’s life and we see glimpses of Orsino’s understanding of what love is and how a person should feel with love.
By the end of the play, Orsino realizes his self worth through his love for Olivia and how love really feels to care about a person’s heart and soul. At first, Orsino is in a self-centered infatuation with Olivia. We can tell that he wants to be in love, but his notions of love are all about his thoughts of love, not the person of his love interest. “So full of shapes is fancy/That it alone is high fantastical” (1. 1, 14-15), this explains that Orsino finds love fantastic and nothing can compare with love, or in his case infatuation. Orsino also shows his fascination with love itself when he states,
If ever thou shalt love, In the sweet pangs of it remember me; For such as I am all true lovers are, Unstaid and skittish in all motions else Save the constant image of the creature That is beloved (2. 4, 15-20). In this passage Orsino doesn’t even speak of the one he loves, he just states that he is the epitome of one in love. Another quality we find in Orsino’s love is that it is purely by the attractiveness of the one he is in love with. The first thing Orsino says about Olivia is, “O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,/Methought she purged the air of pestilence” (1. , 20-21). We later see Orsino again speaking of attractiveness of women, “For women are as roses, whose fair flow’r,/Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour” (2. 4, 38-39). Orsino even states that Olivia is cruel, Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty. Tell her my love, more noble than the world,… ‘tis that miracle and queen of gems That nature pranks her in attracts my soul (2. 4, 81-87). In this quote, Orsino clearly states that Olivia is cruel to him, yet his love for her is because of her beauty.
When Viola comes into Orsino’s life, we can begin to see a small shift in Orsino’s thoughts of love as Viola tells him her views. Orsino fully trusts Viola/Cesario as he tells her to go to Olivia and pursue her for him. Orsino states, “I have unclasped/To thee the book even of my secret soul” (1. 4, 13-14), showing the reader that they have a close bond and trust between the two of them. When Orsino says, “Make no compare/Between that love a woman can bear me/And that I owe Olivia” (2. 4, 102-104), Viola contradicts him and states, “In faith, they are as true of heart as we” (2. 4, 107).
Though Orsino doesn’t reply, it seems that Orsino believes Viola. There’s also a glimpse, almost a foreshadowing, of Orsino’s realization that Cesario is Viola when he states, “Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe/Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,/And all is semblative a woman’s part” (1. 4, 32-34). In Act five, Orsino finds himself, his realization of true love comes out as he realizes Cesario is Viola, a woman, and they are a perfect match together. In the beginning of act five, it seems that the conversation between Feste and Orsino foreshadows Orsino’s realization.
When Feste states that friends aren’t as good for him as enemies, Orsino replies, “Just the contrary: the better for thy friends” (5. 1, 14). With this, Orsino realizes that people are better in themselves because of the people they are friends with. After the truth comes out about Viola being a woman, Orsino seems not too surprised as he states, “Be not amazed; right noble is his blood. /If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,/I shall have share in this most happy wrack” (5. 1, 264-266). Orsino realizes that he is lucky in the whole situation and he will come out with the love of his best friend, Viola.
He then realizes that, “Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand/times/Thou never shouldst love woman like to me” (5. 1, 267-269), this shows that Orsino puts together the fact that Viola had given him clues all along that she was a woman and that she was in love with him. Orsino also realizes that woman can truly love as men do, if not more, when he says, 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, 323-328). Orsino is the epitome of Shakespeare’s comedic process of realization of substance in a lover and self identity. He changes from infatuated and self interested to truly finding love and knowing his lover on a higher level than attraction. He marries his best friend, and realizes, while doing so, that women can love like men; that they are equal to men in passion. Orsino also realizes about himself that he never really knew true love and that his life will forever be changed because of the recent events that have happened.