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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

Viola

Viola, the heroine of the play, comes from a noble family, and is the daughter of Sebastian of Messaline as well as the brother of Sebastian. That she is attractive is evident from the Duke's description of her. Her disguise as Cesario the Pageboy is the basis for the entire action of the main plot, and the love triangle. The disguise however has been forced upon her since she is a victim of circumstances. Shipwrecked and alone, she must tend for herself, and what better way than to disguise herself as a male. A stranger in a strange land, the disguise is a bold and daring plan. She is intelligent and witty, charming and very practical. Her noble bearing and easy going yet respectful manner help her become a close companion of the Duke within just three days of her having been in his service. Sir Toby concedes that her behavior shows "good capacity and breeding". Olivia too is attracted as much to Viola's personality as to her good looks.

The Duke trusts her implicitly, and she in turn is extremely loyal to him. With her heart divided between her duty, and her love for the Duke, she carries his messages to Olivia very faithfully. In fact, she tries her utmost to persuade Olivia to accept the Duke's proposal. She plays the part of a courtier to perfection, and resists Olivia's advances with dignity. Al though she is disguised, she is guileless.


The new role that she has undertaken is instrumental in causing her unhappiness and placing her in a series of unusual situations. She is unable to express her feelings for the Duke, and has to speak of love in terms of her sister's love. She is unable to reveal her true identity to Olivia, and merely hints at the fact that "I am not what I am". For her, the disguise becomes a "wickedness" entrapping her in a love triangle. However, she encounters all the complications and misunderstandings with a firm determination. At no point of time is the reader allowed to forget that she is a young woman. The feminine qualities of gentleness and modesty are evident to the reader, though not to the characters. She generously and graciously speaks on behalf of Antonio when he is brought before the Duke, and when challenged to a duel by Sir Andrew, her main concern is that her secret should not be discovered. Afraid of fighting and unskilled in fencing, she maintains a calm and dignified exterior.

The constant balance that she must maintain between Viola the young woman and Viola as Cesario add charm and depth to her character. She plays the part of Cesario with such confidence that no one can guess her secret until she is ready to reveal it. As Cesario, she is forceful to the point of being overbearing so that she can gain private audience with Olivia. As Viola the young woman, she is unable to reconcile the conflict she experiences between her love for the Duke, and her duty as a Page.

Her wit, intelligence and sense of humor are best revealed in her earlier conversations with Olivia. When Olivia asks for a direct message without the use of fancy or praise, she protests "Alas, I took great pains to study it, and 'tis political". Her brief conversation with Feste also reveals her ability to play with words. At the end of the play, she is rewarded for her dignity and loyalty to the Duke, by having the Duke propose marriage to her. She had been willing to die for the Duke when in his anger he had expressed the desire to "Sacrifice the lamb" (Viola), and then by a happy turn of events she becomes his wife.

Viola portrays a remarkable resilience and strength of character. Her calm and dignified behavior combined with wit, intelligence, and gentleness make her the most appealing of all the characters in this play. Although she could have done much damage with her disguise, she instead was sensitive to how she was being perceived by other people and merely used her verbal adroitness playfully rather than maliciously.

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