Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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A thesis is a statement or principle proposed as a concept to be maintained or proven. The thesis at hand is on one of William Shakespeare's most well-known works of literature. “Twelfth Night” is classified as a romantic comedy, with passion as the central theme. The numerous characters in this play demonstrate how the theme is carried out. They show how love can cause a person to suffer and experience a great deal of pain. Characters such as Duke Orsino, Cesario/Viola, and Olivia endure as a result of this. And there is a wedding, the play concludes happily. However, most characters in the play share the attitude that love is nothing but a curse. They feel that it suddenly attacks the victims. A number of characters say that they have suffered for love, some because of unreciprocated love. The thesis statement: Love as a cause of suffering


The literary works “Twelfth Night”, “As You Like It” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” depict love as mental torture and insanity. In the play twelfth night, one of the most notable themes is love as a cause of suffering. Even though the play ends when people are in love and even get married, the play depicts that love makes people go through pain and suffering. The play’s characters see love as a curse, a feeling which you get that one is unable to escape. They view it as a trap. We can take the example of the affection that Malvolio has for Olivia and the crush that Antonio has on Sebastian. There is also a love triangle that involves Orsino, Duke and Olivia. There exist many instances in which a character’s love for another results in nothing but heartbreak, pain and sorrow.

In the play, Malvolio is depicted as someone who is interested in climbing the social ladder. He only wants Olivia to fall in love with him so that he can be regarded in higher esteem. However, due to his pompous character Olivia does not show affection for him, the rest of the household is also annoyed by his actions. As a revenge plot against him, Maria writes a letter using the handwriting of Olivia and addresses it to Malvolio. He then gets excited since he believes that Olivia feels the same way about him. “I do not now fool myself, to let my imagination jade me, for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me!”(2.5.53). after getting this news, Malvolio gets the confidence he needed in order to show Olivia how he feels about her. However, the moment he tries to approach Olivia, she gets the idea that he has gone insane. She therefore leads to him being imprisoned. The love that Malvolio felt for her only earned him rejection, suffering and imprisonment.

Duke Orsino fell deeply and unconditionally in love with Olivia, but Lady Olivia did not love him back. This made the Duke very depressed and he wanted so badly attention and love from her. The Lady Olivia was ignoring advances from Duke Orsino. Therefore when her father and brother died she mourned for seven years, and swore that she was incapable of falling in love with someone else. Unluckily for Olivia. Duke Orsino does not give up on his quest. In fact, her actions increase his affection for him. “O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first: me thought she purged air of pestilence” (1.19). “he calls for music, then suddenly for silence: he wants his love to ‘sicken and so dye,’ and yet in a moment he was asking for ‘newes’ of Olivia’ the duke then hires Cesario so as to woo Olivia on his behalf. However, she falls for Cesario/Viola and Cesario falls in love with Duke Orsino. In the meantime, Lady Olivia still does not gain interest in the Duke. “Your Lord knows my mind, I cannot love him; let him send no more- Unless perchance you come to me again to tell me how he takes it.” What the duke does not seem to notice is that Cesario is actually a woman named Viola who disguises herself as a man.

Every character ends up suffering since they cannot be with whoever they love due to reasons such as gender, affection for another or status. Olivia also compares herself to Malvolio who is thought to be crazy because of smiling all the time. “I am as mad as he if sad and merry madness equal be.” Twelfth Night III.IV 14-5. She says that she is unhappy and crazy because but this statement cannot be taken seriously since “unhappy” is used to mean “merry” even though they are antonyms. Rosalind created a connection between madness and love, though her forms a similar link between love and madness, though her explanation is awkward and funny. “Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark-house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.” As You Like It III.III.331-4

Rosalind describes this awkward explanation of love as an epidemic which has spread widely of insanity so that she can make Orlando pursue her, she does this when pretending to cure “insanity”. She explains that the fact that there are no institutions which cure insanity is that “lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.” The repetitive nature of this unavoidable insanity can be noted in the speech that she gives. The speech starts with “Love” and also ends with “love too” consequently, even her discourse is tainted with the insanity if the idea of love.

Viola gives another account about the suffering involved in love when she makes a speech which is obviously directed to Orsino. Here, she thinks about her unrequited affection and the events which may follow if she stays quiet; “She never told her love, But let concealment like a worm i’th’bud Feed on her damask cheek, She pined in thought, And sat like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief. Was this not love indeed?” Twelfth Night II.IV 106-10

Love is also regarded as insanity the moment Viola states that she will do all that she can to convince Olivia. “I’ll do my best to woo your lady. [Aside] Yet, a bartful strife! Whoe’re I woo, myself would be his wife” (1.4). This happens just a short while after Viola begins to be Orsino’s employee disguised as Cesario and takes the job yet she wants Olivia to herself.

This kind of love is characterized with sacrifice since she values his happiness more than her feelings for Olivia. The moment Viola approaches Olivia and explains the situation, an unexpected thing takes place. Viola tells Olivia that she is cruel because she did not respond to her advances. Olivia, however, cannot seem to understand how Viola grew fond of her within such a short period of time. Olivia says, “What is your parentage?” “Above my fortunes, yet my state is well. I am a gentleman.” I’ll be sworn thou art; thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit”

The character Antonio falls in love with Sebastian, Cesario’s twin brother. However, Antonio is a wanted criminal by the authorities and he gets imprisoned. He is later released but cannot be with Sebastian. This is because Olivia ends up marrying Sebastian.


The play Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy which ends in marital bliss. However, there are a number of themes in the play. The most recognizable being love. There seems to exist a complex love triangle in the play. It is also notable that most of the characters are not able to show affection to the ones they love. There are several reasons which lead to these scenarios as described above. Malvolio ended up in prison because of his love for Olivia. The duke could not be with Olivia since she ended up falling in love with Cesario. This caused great suffering and pain to Duke Orsino. This shows that as much as love is mostly depicted as a beautiful thing which should be embraced, it also causes a lot of pain.

Work Cited

Cartmell, Deborah, Ian Q. Hunter, and Imelda Whelehan. Retrovisions: Reinventing the past in film and fiction. Pluto Press, 2005.

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Walter Cohen, Eds. The Norton Shakespeare: Third International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company, 2015.

Kusunoki, Akiko. "Sorrow I’le Wed’: Resolutions of Women’s Sadness in Twelfth Night and Mary Wroth’s Urania.”." Essays and Studies: Tokyo Women’s Christian University 49 (2005): 1-14.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth night: Or, what you will. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

January 25, 2023


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