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Comparison between the two heroines of the play "Twelfth Night"(by William Shakespeare): Olivia and Viola.

By nilala Sep 13, 2006 661 Words
Despite being the two "heroines" of the play, caught up in matters of love, Viola and Olivia could not have been more different. We do not immediately meet Olivia, but are introduced to her through Duke Orsino, who describes her breathtaking beauty. Then, Valentine, who has been sent to woo Olivia for the Duke, comes back with the message that Olivia has gone into mourning for seven years during which time she will veil her face and show it to no man.

While it must be remembered that Olivia has lost her entire family within twelve months, it is neither practical nor sensible for a young beauty like Olivia to go into mourning for seven years. Viola is then introduced to the audience, in a completely different scene. She has just landed in an unknown country; she, too believes her brother to be dead, and she has nobody around her who she knows and can rely on. However, Viola is seen acting resourcefully and practically. She immediately tries to find proof of her brother still being alive, and then makes a plan to work in the Duke's court. She does not, like Olivia, go overboard and begin mourning for her brother. Immediately one can see the contrast between the two: Viola is not the damsel in distress that Olivia comes across as. Here, one must admire Viola for her resourcefulness and courage. After all, she is alone in a strange country, but manages to keep her wits about her.

In matters of love, too, Viola is to be admired. She loves Duke Orsino, and it is true that she is sometimes frustrated at not being able to declare her love for him. However, not only does she refrain from revealing her true identity, she is extremely loyal. Despite her love for Orsino, she fulfills her duty as a page to the best of her abilities- she tries to convince Olivia to love the Duke, by giving her examples of his passion. But she keeps her love a secret, and sometimes is indeed like "Patience on a monument". On the other hand, Olivia is almost selfish in her love for Cesario. She openly declares her love for him quite confident that he will never refuse her. Thus, not only does she come across as too proud, she gives herself almost more importance than others are prepared to give her! When Cesario refuses her, she cannot quite believe that he is not in love with her. She is not prepared to accept refusal, and thinks of tactics to win Cesario over: "indeed, love is more oft' bought than begged or borrowed". She is even prepared to buy Cesario's love! At this point, one feels almost disgust for her. She refused the Duke many times, rather cruelly. But she cannot accept refusal herself.

While we know that both women are beautiful, one would say that Olivia is too aware of her beauty. When she unveils herself to Viola, she says: "is it not well done?" Viola correctly sums her up as being too proud. Viola, too, is beautiful, but she wins over love not by her looks, but by her mind. Olivia fell in love with Cesario after he told her what "he" would do if he loved her: "make me a willow cabin at your gate..." It is thus Viola's passion that wins her love.

Viola and Olivia are both extremely witty and intelligent; Viola a little more so. She can hold her own against Olivia, Maria, and even the fool Feste. However, the main reason we find her a rather fascinating character is that she is at her ease in any situation; whether philosophizing with the Duke, jesting with Feste or conversing with Olivia. In Olivia's case, though we never see her put down by anybody, she appears in all her familiar surroundings, with all the same people. It can probably be deduced that were she in Viola's situation, she would not have fared so well.

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