Malvolio tracks down Viola (still posing as Cesario) and returns a ring that Olivia claims she received but does not want from him. At first, Viola is perplexed, but she soon realizes—much to her dismay—that Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario. By the end of her famous soliloquy, Viola expresses concern about the love triangle that has emerged: she wants Orsino; Orsino wants Olivia; Olivia wants Cesario. Too overwhelmed to know how it will turn out, Viola declares that only time will tell.
Close Reading Analysis:
- Discussion Points:
(Line 25) I am the man.
This line is important for its irony: indeed, Viola is “the man” whom Olivia desires, but more strikingly she is not a man at all! This discrepancy is the source of a major conflict in the play. Viola says it best in her next line: “Poor lady, she were better love a dream.”
(Lines 27-28) Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness / Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How are we to read and interpret this line? Is disguise really something wicked, or more of a wicked pleasure? Remember that this play is based entirely on mistaken identity and the visual and dramatic humor based on disguise; without it, the play would not exist! Would Shakespeare agree with Viola’s pronouncement?
(Lines 29-32) How easy it is for the proper false / In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms! / Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we, / For such as we are made of, such we be.
What do these lines suggest about women? Do all women in the play fit this description? Do you think Viola truly believes this, even about herself? Keep this question in mind as you continue reading.
Gender Roles: (See above quote - Lines 27-32)
Levels of Love: How does the love triangle work? Is there hope for it ever to work out? If so, how?
What might Shakespeare be suggesting about love by incorporating this love triangle?
- Literary Devices:
Synecdoche: (Line 20) methought her eyes had lost her tongue —Viola referring to Olivia: the sight of Cesario made Olivia speechless.
Apostrophe: (Lines 40-41) O Time, thou must untangle this, not I; / It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.—Viola admits that it is beyond her power to straighten out the love triangle and appeals to Time to do so for her.
1. Discuss a time when your first impression of someone has turned out to be inaccurate or untrue. What did you think about the person at first? How did your initial judgment turn out to be wrong?
2. Viola’s speech implies that women are weak-minded and easily fooled. Do these same stereotypes exist today? What about other gender-based stereotypes (for both men and women)? Describe the assumptions that people make about others based purely on their gender, then consider where those assumptions may have originated and whether they are fair or unfair.
1.VIDEO Watch the entire scene from Twelfth Night Act 2 Sc 2 QuickTime Video.
Ask the students to critique the actor who plays Viola.
Discuss alternative performances of this scene, particularly Viola’s soliloquy. How else might a performer deliver her lines? Try playing around with subtext and emphasis. Choose certain lines like “I am the man” and try emphasizing different words: (I am the man. I am the man. I am the man. I am the man.). How does the meaning of this brief line change depending on how the actor says it?