Twelfth Night Character Study: Duke Orsino

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Duke Orsino is one of the main characters involved in the love triangle and dynamics of Twelfth Night. At the beginning of the play, Duke Orsino is very obsessively in love with Olivia. He changes his love interests very quickly when he finds out that Cesario is actually Viola, which puzzlingly suggests that he was not in love with Olivia but rather with the idea of being in love. Therefore, I imagine he is handsome, due to Viola immediately falling for him; strong, to satisfy his need to uphold his bold reputation; but with soft features, giving him a friendly edge.

Duke uses very colourful language, for example, “let music be the food of love, play on”. This simile, enhanced by Feste playing music to “surfeit…” his appetite, emphasises the music theme of the play. It also shows a ‘soft’ side to Orsino, which he tries to hide by saying, “Notable pirate! Thou salt-water thief” to Antonio. The word “notable” is suggestive that Antonio also has a reputation and the Duke tries to compete with him. He also threatens Cesario when he says, “I’ll sacrifice the lamb that I do love, To spite a raven’s heart with a dove,” which shows his arrogance and need to uphold his reputation due to his public display of his obsessive with Olivia. He tells Cesario that he never wants to see him again: “direct thy feet where thou and I henceforth may never meet” without even letting him explain which suggests that he is just angry and spiteful towards Olivia and so takes his anger, ungracefully, out on his ‘friend’. He eventually loses his arrogance and becomes self-pitying after Olivia’s rejection as he states that love is too hard and would rather die by saying “music be the food of love” to suggest that he hopes that if he “[gets] excess of it… the appetite may sicken, and so die”.

Orsino is perceived as generous and tolerant as he gives Feste lots of money for some meek entertaining and isn’t irritated by his cheekiness. We see this when he talks to Feste in Act 5: “Thou...
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