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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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Duke Orsino

Duke Orsino is the third character in the complicated love triangle of the main plot. The Duke of Illyria is "a gracious person." The Captain describes him as "A noble Duke in nature as in name" (I, 2). Olivia too describes him as 'virtuous' and 'noble', "In voices well divulg'd, free, learn'd, and valiant" (I, 5). He is sentimental almost to the point of being melancholy and indulgent in his love. He believes himself to be truly and deeply in love with Olivia, and plays the part of a melancholic lover because she refuses to accept his messages of love. His language too is that of an Elizabethan lover: "If music be the food of love, play on;" (I, 1). He is in love with love itself, although he claims to love Olivia.

The plot is based as much on Orsino's desire to woo and win Olivia as it is on Viola's disguise. He has fallen in love with Olivia at first sight. It is common knowledge that he "did seek the love of fair Olivia" (I, 2), yet as the main plot progresses, Orsino does not attempt to woo her directly. He sends his messages of love, and proposal of marriage first through his servant Valentine and then through his Page Cesario/Viola. "It shall become thee well to act my woes" (I, 4) he tells Viola. His love for Olivia fires his imagination, but does not touch his heart due to his preoccupation with the sentiment of love. He is also mercurial, changeable and varying in his emotions, and it is therefore not surprising that he is able to transfer his affections to Viola so smoothly.


Basically an egoist, he expects Olivia to accept his proposal without any hesitation. He is unable to comprehend how anyone can love as fervently as he does. There is no comparison "Between the love a woman can bear me/ and that I owe Olivia" (II, 4) he tells Viola. Kind, courteous, and thoughtful even with those of inferior rank, (he gives Feste money when asked) he does not hesitate to use his power as the Duke of Illyria to punish Antonio. In his anger at Olivia's obvious preference for Viola, he does not hesitate to decide that he has to "Sacrifice the lamb that I do love" (Viola). The outburst is not because he has lost Olivia, but because his vanity has been hurt by Olivia's rejection of him. When the real identities of the twins are revealed, he is willing to forget the past and marry Viola.

Although egotistical, Orsino is by no means evil. He is an amiable character drawn in the mold of an Elizabethan nobleman - wealthy, generous, and accomplished.

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