Motif of Love in Twelfth Night

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  • Topic: Love, Romance, Interpersonal relationship
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Master of Destiny:
Motif of Love in Twelfth Night

A motif is an image, idea, theme, character, or verbal pattern that recurs in a story, novel, poem, or play. It serves a purpose such as unifying the action or symbolizing an idea. In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the motif of love serves as the main plot, a complete love triangle, and reinforces the connection of the main plot to the sub-plots. Several types of love are presented, such as romantic love, experienced by Viola and Orsino as well as Olivia and Sebastian. The state of being carried away with unreasoned love, infatuation, is represented by the Duke Orsino along with Olivia. Self-love, one’s admiration for himself and its consequences, is explored by Malvolio. Viola, Sebastian, and Olivia show fraternal love as they long for a sibling and Antonio demonstrates loyalty as he sacrifices himself for his dear friend, Sebastian.

Romantic love, one’s unconditional love, consists of a great portion of the play as it forms a part of the love triangle and is a key element when all issues concerning identity are resolved. First experienced by Viola, she, disguised as a eunuch, starts to fall in love with the Duke Orsino. When sent by the Duke to seek Olivia’s love, Viola makes it clear to the audience saying, “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (I, iv, 42) . Later on, she becomes aware of the existence of a love triangle. Viola’s situation, already complex, worsens and she states, “My state is desperate for my master’s love” (II, ii, 36). When questioned about her love interest by the Duke, Viola answers someone “Of your complexion” (II, iv, 26) and “About your years, my lord” (II, iv, 28), subtly hinting her love. Troubled by her position in the love triangle, Viola decides to ask the Duke himself, who refuses to accept that Olivia does not share his love, what to do. She seeks helpful answers when she says, Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,

Hath for you love as great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia. You cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d? (II, iv, 90-95).

Following this speech is a disappointing answer as Orsino says he will not give up on Olivia and is not interested in any other woman (II, iv). When all cases of mistaken identity are resolved, Viola’s dilemma takes end. The Duke realises that Viola, as Cesario, has hinted her love time and time again, saying, “Thou never shouldst love woman like to me” (V, i, 264). Viola immediately confirms her love saying, “And all those sayings will I over-swear” (V, i, 265). Orsino soon replies, “Give me thy hand” (V, i, 268), “Your master quits you” (V, i, 314), and ultimately shares Viola’s love saying, Here is my hand. You shall from this time be

Your master’s mistress (V, i, 318-319).

Romantic love is also experienced by Olivia and Sebastian, unifying the duel sub-plot to the main love triangle. After expressing her love to Cesario (IV, i), Olivia asks Sebastian back to her house. Sebastian, utterly confused, starts to think that he is ʺmad, or else a dreamʺ (IV, i, 62). He does not understand how a woman, whom he barely knows, is in love with him so deeply. Olivia then proposes, “…come, I prithee; would thou’dst be ruled by me” (IV, i, 65), wanting for them to form a couple. Sebastian, without further explanation of the situation, accepts the proposal (IV, i, 66). While waiting for Olivia, he questions himself about Antonio and once again, about his and Olivia’s state of mind. She then arrives with a priest and insists on getting engaged right away, but excuses herself by saying, “Blame not this haste of mine” (IV, iii, 22) and adds, “Plight me the full assurance of your faith” (IV, iii, 26) since she wants him to commit to her. Sebastian blindly accepts this offer (IV, iii, 32-33), though still confused and uninformed. When all cases of mistaken identity are resolved, Olivia stays with Sebastian and forgives his mistakes since...
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