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Act I, Scene 4
This scene is set in the Duke's court where Viola has successfully disguised herself as a young man and changed her name to Cesario. Valentine, one of the Duke's attendants, praises Viola for the good opinion the Duke has formed of her in the past three days that she has been at Court. When Viola asks if the Duke is constant in his opinions, Valentine says he is not. The Duke decides to send Viola to Olivia with the his proposal of love and marriage because he feels that Viola's youthful appearance and easy nature will make her a better messenger than someone older. The Duke refuses to listen to her protest that Olivia will not meet anyone because she is in mourning. He promises Viola a reward if she is successful in her venture. However, Viola is unhappy as she herself has fallen in love with the Duke. Being an obedient employee, she proceeds to Olivia's house to deliver the message, noting that the painful situation of having to woo for a man whom she herself loves.
Now that Viola has been so graciously received by the Duke, her immediate future is secure as long as she keeps up her pretense of being a young man. Being resourceful has paid off. The Duke’s disclosing to her his innermost thoughts reveals that Viola is trustworthy enough to be chosen as his chief messenger to Olivia. His genuine affection for her is revealed in this scene where he describes her physical virtues as being perfect for playing the part of emissary. He, though he doesn’t know it yet, fancies Viola despite her guise of being a man. This affection for her allows the reader to accept his change of mind at the end of the play, when he decides to marry Viola and not Olivia.
What Viola thinks of the Duke is another matter. She presents an interesting dilemma when asking Valentine, whether the Duke is "inconstant in his favors." She is hoping that he will be constant in his favors to her, not to Olivia; therefore, the question is double- edged. When Valentine confirms that he is, she is disappointed because it means that he may always carry a torch for Olivia. Later, in the last line of this scene the audience understands that Viola has fallen for the Duke when she proffers to the audience an aside, ""Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife."
The dramatic irony which reveals itself in this scene is manifold. It is here where the audience first witnesses Viola acting the part of a man and can appreciate her verbal play regarding gender and her hidden identity. Also, it is ironic that Viola, who has fallen in love with the Duke must carry messages of love to Olivia on his behalf. She must do so without any objection in order to maintain her disguise and because of her guise, Viola will inadvertently set up another complicated romance between herself and Olivia in the next scene. Viola is the only one who completely understands the irony of her position as well as what is going on with the other characters; therefore she becomes the emissary of knowledge to the audience as well.