The Principle of Recompense in "Twelfth Night"

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The Principle of Recompense in "Twelfth Night" Author(s): Camille Slights Reviewed work(s): Source: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), pp. 537-546 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 07/04/2012 13:43 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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Like Shakespeare's other romantic comedies, TwelfthNight moves from personal frustration and social disorder to individual fulfilmentand social harmony by means of what Leo Salingar has shown to be the traditional comic combination of beneficent fortune and human intrigue.' This basic pattern, of course, takes a radically different form in each play. In comparison with many of the comedies, Twelfth Nightbegins with remarkablylittle conflict. The opening scenes introduce no villain bent on dissension and destruction, nor do they reveal disruptive antagonism between parents and children or between love and law. In contrast to the passion and anger of the first scene of A Midsummer Night'sDream,the restless melancholy or that pervades the beginning of TheMerchant Venice, the brutality and tyranny of LikeIt, the dominant note of Orsino's court and that precipitate the action in As You of Olivia's household is static self-containment. To be sure, both Orsino and Olivia sincerely profess great unhappiness, but, as many critics have noted, a strain of complacent self-absorption dilutes the poignancy of Orsino's love-melancholy and of Olivia's grief. Orsino's concentration on his own emotions cuts him off from real personal relationships as effectively as does Olivia's withdrawal or Sir Toby's careless hedonism. The self-absorption of the native Illyrians and Viola's involuntary exile present a spectacle of isolation rather than confrontation, not so much a society in disorder as a series of discrete individuals without the interconnexions that constitute a society. While the beginning of Twelfth Night is unusually static, the conclusion is strikingly active. Far from tying up a few loose ends, the last scene contains major events in both the double main plot and the sub-plot. Both pairs of lovers meet with full awareness for the first time. Viola finally wins Orsino's love, Orsino and Olivia, in different ways, discover whom it is they love, and Malvolio is released from imprisonment. Beginning calmly and purposefully enough with Orsino's first attempt to woo Olivia in person, the scene gathers intensity through a series of increasingly bitter confrontations. Orsino's banter with Feste is interrupted when Antonio appears, ominously under armed guard. Recognition as the duke's old enemy, however, is less galling to him than the apparent ingratitude of Sebastian (Viola-Cesario). At Olivia's entrance the tone darkens furtherwith Orsino'sjealous spite and threat to murder his presumed rival, to 'sacrifice the lamb that I do love' (v. I. I30).2 On the priest's confirmingCesario's marriage to Olivia, Orsino's rage is replaced by even more bitter contempt at such betrayal. In quick succession Viola-Cesario has provoked condemnation as an 'ingrateful boy' (1. 77) from Antonio, sorrow at the faithless cowardice of her new husband from Olivia, and, from the man she loves, a threat of death and disgusted rejection as 'a dissembling cub' (1....
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