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Irony and Contrast
Throughout the main plot, Shakespeare makes use of dramatic irony to present certain aspects of the characters. Olivia decides to go into seclusion for seven years to mourn the death of father and brother. Yet the decision is short-lived. For when she meets Viola/Cesario, she has to now find excuses to allow Viola to meet her. Her decision becomes a stumbling block for her. Viola, too faces problems because of her disguise. She is in love with the Duke and yet cannot reveal her love for him because of her disguise. She has to carry messages of love for the Duke to Olivia, knowing Olivia to be her rival. The audience has knowledge of the complications, which arise from the disguise worn by Viola that accounts for much of the humor and dramatic irony.
Shakespeare also uses contrasts to further the understanding of the plot and characters. The characters of the main plot are romantic, sentimental, and, with the exception of Viola, live in a world of their own. The characters of the subplot, in contrast, are realistic and comic. Sir Toby is earthy and sanguine, a lover of "cakes and ales" while Sir Aguecheck is dry and uptight and bound up in acquiring Olivia as his wife. He has delusions of grandeur whereas Toby sees life as a playground for his antics. There is also the contrast between Viola and Olivia. Although both are in mourning, and alone in the world, the similarity ends there. Their attitudes and concepts of love differ in that Viola has a deep and unchanging love for the Duke while Olivia's love is more passionate and easily changeable. She is therefore able to transfer her affections to Sebastian with the greatest of ease.