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Orsino's Development of Love


Clip: Orsino "flirts" with Viola/Cesario

Love vs. Lust

Orsino is a comically ironic figure because as Duke of Illyria, he should be the most formal and competent character. Instead he too is fooled by Viola’s disguise and allows himself to be caught up in the exchange of love and emotions that is so prominent in this work. In the beginning of the play Orsino vows his undying love for Olivia, yet he simply sits around moping about it. Many scholars have called this type of love melancholy because the wooer is depressed. This is also consistent with the petrarchan poetry of Shakespeare’s time, which generally contained a depressed or downtrodden wooer. When Viola comes to the service of the Duke, Orsino immediately recognizes the attractiveness of him-her and so sends Viola as the messenger to Olivia saying, “Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative a woman’s part”(I.v.30-33). This initial attraction is the beginning of a string of scenes, which culminate in the profession of love from Orsino to Cesario. This ending gives the audience a satisfactory “happy ending” in one sense but, if Orsino is not supposed to be attracted to Viola as Cesario how is he so happy to marry her? Shakespeare uses this to challenge the conventions of heterosexual love as the only true love.

Development of Orsino’s Affections

Originally, Orsino is obsessed with Olivia. He begins to change, however, as soon as Viola comes into the picture. At this point he has another point on which to focus his affections. As he directs his love towards Viola he begins to give her, “part of the spectrum of love for a woman, or better … a range of feeling that is common to love for a youth and love for a woman” (Barber 113). In other words as Orsino slowly transfers his love, he applies different understanding to the relationship between his page and himself. The devotion Orsino receives from Viola to helping him with his love of Olivia leads to a deep “male” bonding which allows their love to grow.

Petrarchan Lover

When Orsino is first presented, the audience is given a view of a typical petrarchan lover, one who is preoccupied, melancholy, and fickle. One moment Orsino enjoys music the next he doesn’t. This portrayal of him sets the stage for his transfer of emotion. Because he is so highly filled with “love”, or I would assert love for the idea of love, it is easy for him to transfer these emotions to Viola. Constantly Orsino repeats how much he loves Olivia, yet when Viola speaks he seems to forget about Olivia. For example in the clip on Viola’s page, which shows the card game and the discussion of Viola’s “woman”, Orsino becomes fascinated with what will please Viola. This fascination, “ is stirring an undercurrent of feeling which is beginning to modify his emotional life quite significantly” (Draper 66). And so Orsino begins his switch from detached petrarchan lover to interested friendship, which leads to love.

“Male” Bonding

The disguise that Viola wears is a facilitator for the friendship that develops yet as we see Viola say, “Disguise I see thou art a wickedness” (II.ii.24). She says this in reference to Olivia falling in love with her, but it also applies to Orsino because the disguise, “prevents Orsino from knowing how far his affection for Cesario (Viola) may really go” (Leggatt 240). In the scene, which is displayed in the clip above, Orsino uses words that would conventionally describe a woman, and although he is essentially teasing Cesario, there is an underlying longing almost, “as though Orsino is trying to wish the disguise away” (Leggatt 240). The bonds of friendship are very strong but Shakespeare makes it evident that there is more than friendship between Viola and Orsino throughout the play.

Orsino’s Sexuality

Orsino goes through a series of changes as is noted in the previous section. The beginning must be analyzed alone to fully understand how the friendship develops. Essentially Viola is Orsino’s servant and he loves her for it. In this sense they already have a bond that is considered essential to love, service of one another. Although the service is one sided, it allows for Orsino to return her devotion at the close of the play. The idea that Orsino could just marry Viola whom he previously thought was a boy is softened by the love that they already shared. But this love also allows the audience to question the sexuality of Orsino, and whether he loved Viola as more than a servant before he knew she was a woman.

Servant-Master Relationship

The scene in which Viola almost reveals her love for the Duke highlights the importance of the servant-master relationship that the two share. This scene has been discussed so much because it is the point at which the love begins to grow into more sexual love. The problem here is that, “the intimacy of their conversation and the ease of their being together would not have occurred were Viola known to be a gentlewoman”(Lindheim 688). So the relationship that they share facilitates the bond that the two are forming.

Love at Last

Orsino seems overjoyed at the news that his page Viola-Cesario is a woman and that he can now be sexually attracted to her; however, this seems strange because if he is that happy about Viola’s sexuality, he reveals to the audience that even as a boy he had a sexual attraction to him/her. It is this fact that is central to the Orsino-Viola relationship; Orsino’s love for Viola is well established at her revelation, and there is a striking difference between the love Orsino feels for Viola and the desire he once felt for Olivia (Schalkwyk 92). The fact that Orsino changes his object of affection so quickly shows us that the love between Viola and Orsino was well established.