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Act II, Scene 4
Viola returns to Duke Orsino's Court where she finds the Duke in a melancholy mood once again and willing to share his feelings with Viola/Cesario. Viola's comments about love make him realize that she too is in love. Upon being questioned, Viola dexterously expresses her love for the Duke without giving herself away. According to her, the person she loves is similar to the Duke in age and appearance. The Duke advises her to love a younger woman than herself as a man's "fancies" are inconstant and apt to change when a woman's beauty fades. The clown enters and sings a melancholy song about unrequited love and is paid for his services. After he leaves, the Duke asks Viola to visit Olivia again. Viola's objections that Olivia may not love the Duke are brushed aside. The Duke will not accept Olivia's refusal. Viola asks him what would he expect of a lady who loves him as deeply as he loves Olivia, and whose love he cannot accept. "Should the lady accept the refusal?", she asks the Duke. The Duke feels that no woman can love as deeply as he does. Viola states that she knows of one such woman. Without giving herself away, she presents her case stating that the woman in question "loved" a man just as she (Viola) may love the Duke if 'she' were a woman. The lady was unable to express her love but pined and grieved at her helplessness. Upon being asked whether the lady died of love, Viola states, "I am all the daughters of my father's house." The Duke returns to the subject of visiting Olivia and gives Viola a jewel to give to Olivia along with a message that his love will not accept any refusal.
In contrast to the scene before it, this one brings the audience back into the world of melancholy and self-indulgent love. Here the differences between how men and women love are spelled out sharply in this brief scene where Violaís unrequited love for Orsino is painfully highlighted and contrasted to the weaker self- indulgent love Orsino has for Olivia. Yet ironically Orsino thinks the opposite is true when he comments that a womanís passion could never equal a manís.
Orsino is once again listening to music and ruminating on his feelings of passion for Olivia which have not been reciprocated. When Viola divulges that she too is in love with someone who is of Orsinoís age, he is quick to point out that an older woman will age quickly and diminish a manís passion for her. Viola is quick to say that women may wither emotionally even when they are at their most beautiful, commenting on her own situation of unrequited passion. This scene is full of double entendres and allusions to Violaís own love for Orsino. Unable to express her love for the Duke openly, Viola does so in an indirect manner, without giving herself away. The reader understands the hidden meaning in Viola's description of "the lady" who "sat like patience on a monument", as being reflective of her own present state. Viola's deep love for the Duke is very evident despite her disguise.
The Duke however is too preoccupied with his love for Olivia to detect any underlying meaning in Viola's description. Instead, he wallows in his love, which appears to be fired by his own imagination rather than Oliviaís presence in his life. The songs sung by Feste echo his sentimental yearnings. The one about unrequited love narrates how a young man dies without having the woman he loves ever love him. His claim of male superiority in matters of the heart is ironic, for Viola's love is deeper and stronger than his love for Olivia. She in fact comments on his attachment to the idea of being in love when she remarks, "for still we prove much in our vows but little in our love."