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Twelfth Night

One of Shakespeare's comedies

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What Viola Will

  • Jun 28, 2010

Warning: Spoilers Lie Ahead

To put it bluntly, Twelfth Night is quite possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. Ever.

I have no academic reason for this, either. All I can attribute it to is a simple matter of taste. I first read the play for a college Shakespeare class, where I came to the realization that I'm far more likely to like a comedy over a tragedy, which would explain why this particular play is at least in the running for me. There are plenty of comedies I don't particularly enjoy either, though. And with the plot of this play being so ordinary, and the ending so rushed, one may understandably wonder why this of all comedies is the one I like best.

My answer? Viola.

The character, her situation, and how she handles it all make me smile. She starts out shipwrecked and alone, so she disguises herself as a boy and enters into the service of the handsome (?) Duke Orsino, and proceeds to fall in love with him. Well, being dressed as a boy at this point, she can't very well let on to this, can she? Instead, because she desires his happiness, she helps him in his efforts to woo Olivia. Olivia, however, has no interest in Orsino...but promptly falls for "Cesario," Viola's male persona.

Oh, the chaos. The delightful, delightful chaos...

Well, it's a comedy, so one can probably guess how things basically end up. Viola plunges her world into disorder by messing with nature and pretending to be a boy. But, because she's a good person, things need to end up well for her. She's revealed to be a woman once her twin brother arrives (cue dramatic soap opera music), gets her man, and lives, presumably, happily ever after. A fun, light-hearted plot with a fun, light-hearted ending. The basics of any good comedy.

What makes Viola's character stand out, though, is her devotion to Orsino. The man is blind to the poor gal's feelings, seeing as how he's blind to her actual gender throughout the bulk of the play, but she just runs with it anyway. She realizes that, if she does "what she will" as she's been, Orsino will continue to see her only as a page and not a love interest. Well, she thinks, so be it. After all, at least with this set up, she gets to be around the man she loves, right? And if she can make him happy, that's even better...even if that happiness depends on his winning the hand of another woman. Ouch.

Throughout the entire play, though, Viola stays composed and calm, even though I'm sure her heart probably wanted nothing more than to leap out of her chest a time or two. She does what she will in order to make her beloved Orsino happy, because she's happy when he's happy. It's a sappy thought, but hey, it's a far more refreshing attitude to see than the standard (and, perhaps, more natural) selfishness people tend to approach those they think they care about with.

So maybe Twelfth Night (Or, What You Will) is not an outstanding play in every sense of the term. There are weak points, to be sure, and the whole mistaken identity setup is nothing new to say the least. But it's fun, witty, and insightful. What's not to like about that?

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October 12, 2011
My thoughts exactly! i absolutely love this play and I really like Viola's courage.
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Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
My absolute favorite Shakespeare play! Mistaken identities, chaos, love...it's highly underrated, usually, but it's actually really quite good.
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Caitlynn ()
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Member Since: Jun 24, 2010
Last Login: Jun 30, 2010 01:29 AM UTC
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