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This lesson discusses one of the main characters of William Shakespeare’s ”Twelfth Night,” Viola. She spends a great deal of time during the play masquerading as a page named Cesario. Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino while doing so.

Read the lesson, and then test yourself with a quiz!

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Dude Looks Like A Lady

Think about your crush for a second. Wouldn’t it be great if they told you everything that was on their mind? If you were privy to all their thoughts, all their secrets, you could figure out how to make them love you back, right? Now imagine that your crush is telling you how much they love another person. To make it even weirder, that person has a crush on you! That’s what is happening to Viola, one of the main characters in William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night. Forced to masquerade as a man named Cesario for most of the play, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsino, who makes her his page. Orsino then sends Viola off to his love, Lady Olivia, to convince her to accept him as a suitor. Instead, Olivia falls in love with Cesario/Viola, who is secretly pining after Orsino.

At the end of the play, Viola finally gets to reveal her true self to Orsino, who realizes that he loves her too. Before that, Viola gets in touch with her masculine side to put it lightly.

Viola’s Character Traits

Viola is first introduced to the audience as a female as well as the protagonist, or main character in the play. She has been shipwrecked and is understandably sad due to the supposed loss of her brother Sebastian.

She immediately realizes that she must provide a living for herself and masquerades as a man, Cesario, so that she can work in Duke Orsino’s household. Viola makes herself useful to Orsino and is soon made his page. Providing him with good advice, she becomes his confidant. Despite her own developing feelings for him, Viola remains loyal to Orsino’s interests and attempts to fulfill her duties as his attendant.

Though Viola was born a noblewoman, her willingness to work proves she doesn’t depend on anyone to take care of her. She displays initiative and innovation in her unorthodox way of seeking employment! Viola exhibits genuine excitement after learning her brother Sebastian could be alive, following Antonio’s arrest. Viola’s emotional response to this news reveals her strong love for her brother. At the end of the play, when she finally expresses her feelings for Orsino, he understands her love and loyalty to him all along.

Analysis

Viola is not truly allowed to be herself until the end of the play. She is internally torn between two things: wooing Olivia for Orsino, thus fulfilling her role as his friend and page, and giving in to her own developing feelings for him.

After Olivia gives her a ring, Viola realizes that Olivia is in love with her. As a result, Viola feels sorry for Olivia. This situation brings about the internal conflict that is plaguing Viola.

This conflict is her inability to be honest with those around her and to truly act upon her feelings.Viola is the character in Twelfth Night who is most constant and truthful with her emotions. Everyone else around her, from her brother Sebastian, to Orsino and Olivia, is somewhat flighty, and in Olivia’s case, moves from mourning to flirtation all in one fell swoop. While Viola has to remain untruthful about her identity, she is surprisingly true to herself in the end. She eventually realizes how she truly feels and decides to act on it at the end of the play. Despite having spent most of the play as essentially a different character, Viola is the one who rings most true to herself and with the audience in the end.

Lesson Summary

The protagonist of William Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night is Viola, a noblewoman who is shipwrecked and must pretend to be a male page in order to find employment.

Through her experiences and actions, the other characters in the play, including her boss/love interest Duke Orsino, the Lady Olivia, and her brother Sebastian, find their own happy endings.

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