What is Love?
In William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night or, What You Will, both Duke Orsion and lady Olivia are infatuated with the idea of love. The Duke is in love with Olivia but she does not love him back. Instead, Olivia falls for Cesario who is actually Viola in disguise. Although their love may seem similar at first, Orsino and Olivia have very different outlooks on what true love really is.
The Duke has a shallow perception of love and is more concerned with physical attraction than he is with emotional connection. When speaking of Olivia and how much he loves her, he only mentions physical details and never articulates his emotional feelings towards her. For example, in Act 5 when Olivia enters the room, Orsino says, “Here comes the countess: Now heaven walks on earth,” which shows that he is describing her physical perfection to that of an angel (62). Orsino constantly argues that he loves Olivia deeply but never explains why, he only mentions the details of her appearance that fill his mind with lust. The Duke becomes angry when he realizes Olivia loves Cesario and says, “I’ll sacrifice the lamb that I do love, to spite a raven’s heart within a dove” (63). Here Orsino comes close to making an emotional connection by mentioning the type of cold-hearted soul within Olivia but then goes back to physical appearance by comparing her to a beautiful dove. Towards the end of the play when Viola reveals herself, Orsino furthers proves his own shallow views of love when he says to Viola, “Give me thy hand; And let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds” (67). The Duke wants Viola to change back into women’s clothing before they get married which shows that he does not love her solely for her personality. He needs to physically see her as a woman before they can make their love and marriage official. Also, Orsino is so quick to forget about Olivia once he sees how much Viola loves him and this shows that his love for Olivia was not as sincere as he said it was. Orsino’s shallow perception of love becomes apparent by the end of the play.
Unlike the Duke, Olivia has a much more genuine and emotional perception of love. She is not in love with Cesario because of what he looks like but rather for his eloquent way of speaking and his own ideas about love. For example, in Act 3, Lady Olivia declares her love for Cesario and says, “love sought is good, but given unsought is better” which shows that Olivia views true love as a gift that goes far deeper than physical appearance (38). Also, when Cesario tells Olivia that he pities her because she cannot control her emotions, Olivia calls this “a degree to love” indicating that the emotion of pity is directly connected with love (38). It is clear that Olivia’s idea of love goes far beyond physical attraction and reaches a much more complex level of emotional involvement.
Throughout the second half of the play, both Orsino and Olivia make it quite obvious that they are obsessed with the idea of love. Although the two feel the same type of love, each has a different perception of the concept. Orsino sees love in a very shallow manner while Olivia is more concentrated in the emotional connection involve with love. Despite these differing views, both end up with a spouse by the end of the play.
During my time of service at Tunbridge I have noticed that, much like the characters in Twelfth Night, the children have their own perceptions of love as well. The kids have a very innocent perception of love and do not really understand love on a romantic level like Olivia and Orsino. Instead, they have friendships with their classmates and a sense of devotion and love for their parents, which, to me, is the most simple and pure form of love. After almost an entire semester of service learning and Understand Literature, I think the most important thing I have learned this semester is that in every piece of writing, the author chooses each word for a reason. Every sentence of every line was thoughtfully placed in order to convey a certain message. I have learned to look more closely at the pieces I am reading and I have learned to look for connections to these pieces in my daily life because they are everywhere.