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One theme of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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One theme of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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  • June 4, 2004
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One of the major themes in the play Twelfth Night by Shakespeare is love. Shakespeare explores love in two dimensions: what is a true love, and what are the different kinds of love. He portrays few types of love: love between family members, between true friends, romantic love, imaginary love and self love.

Viola, the protagonist, is capable of true love. Her love for her twin brother is not emphasized in the play, but is clear to the audience. Her romantic love for Orsino is developed already at the beginning of the play. In act I scene iv, Viola tells the audience, in a quick aside, her true feelings for Orsino: "yet a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife" (Act I, scene iv, lines 45-46). Viola shows not only physical attraction. She shows devotion and constancy in her love. She carries love messages from Orsino to the beautiful Olivia even though it is painful for her, and she does not transfer her affections to other characters after she get to know Orsino better and better, through their "man to man" conversations. She loves Orsino as he is, and not an ideal image of him. Although we, the audience, may not be so fond of Orsino, we respect Viola's feelings, and agree that her love is a true one.

Three other characters that feel true love are Sebastian, Antonio and Orsino, yet their loves are of different types. Sebastian loves his twin sister Viola, and he is happy to meet her alive and well at the end of the play. Antonio loves Sebastian enough to follow him into Illyria, even though he might be arrested there, or even risk his life. Not only that, Antonio shows his trust and affection for Sebastian when he gives him his purse of money, in case he wants to purchase something. Some critics consider Antonio's love as a "manly" love; some see it as a true friendship, and some suggest that Antonio feels an erotic attraction to Sebastian, since he uses words like "jealousy" and "desire". Anyway, Antonio's loyalty and devotion to Sebastian...