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Act II, Scene 2
In this short scene, Malvolio has been sent by Olivia to give Viola the ring. He meets her in the street and gives her the ring along with Olivia's message. However, Viola refuses to accept the ring and Malvolio throws it on the ground and walks away. Viola sees through Olivia's motive of sending the ring, realizing that Olivia has fallen in love with her. She pities Olivia, "Poor lady, she were better love a dream." She does not know what to do, for she loves Duke Orsino, the Duke loves Olivia, and Olivia has fallen in love with Viola/Cesario. She realizes that her disguise prevents her from expressing her love for Orsino, and will cause another woman pain. At the end of the scene, she realizes the magnitude of the situation and asks for help from time to help her as "It is too hard a knot me to untie."
The main plot is becoming increasingly complicated and Viola is the only one to realize the machinations of love. The confusion between appearance and reality preoccupies Viola as she dwells on the complications of the love triangle. Viola is the only one who knows the reality, yet she can neither reveal the truth, nor do anything about it without jeopardizing her identity and job which she must keep in order to protect herself. The realization that Olivia loves Cesario/Viola adds a new dimension to the plot, which forms a part of the rising action of the plot, and emphasizes Viola's helplessness as well as her contribution to the complications due to her disguise. Here she is seen cursing that which she has done, "Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness." She then ruminates on how easy it is for women to be easily swayed by men, meaning that even those without apparent disguises such as Viola’s can cause pain to women. Yet there is nothing she can do about it and so prays on Time to help her unravel this mess, which it will.
The similarities between Viola and Olivia are once again revealed, although indirectly. Both are hopelessly in love, and both are aware that what happens must be left up to Fate. One cannot force love upon another, which is what the Duke is attempting. It also reveals Viola’s compassion for people’s feelings, which will underscore the future scenes where Malvolio, who despite being a very rude and imperious person becomes the object of a maligned humor which is comic but mean-spirited. His churlish behavior and his action of throwing the ring on the ground reflect his false air of superiority and set him up for his downfall.