Love and Shakespeare
The love theme in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is confusing but at the same time entertaining. The love triangle involving Viola, disguised as Cesario, is in love with Orsino. Orsino is in love with Olivia. Olivia, however, loves Cesario. Orsino tries to woo Olivia with the language of love; however, his many attempts fail because the heart cannot be controlled. Orsino, a man in love with love itself, is on a mission to win the heart of his current object of affection, the Lady Olivia. She, however, has somewhat different plans as she envisions herself married to the lovely Cesario. Shakespeare’s beautiful sonnets 18 and 73 describe the changes in season and the passages of time that correlate with the play’s main theme and mood.
In both sonnets and in the Twelfth Night introduce the issue of the effect of the weather. In Twelfth Night, a stormy sea has shipwrecked a vessel leaving the passengers scattered at sea. Viola, a Sea Captain, and some sailors believe that they are the only survivors of the wreck. The Captain believes that their being saved was only as fate would have it. Viola struggles with what to do with herself in a foreign country with no male companions. She, with the Captain’s help, disguises herself as a boy so that she can protect her identity, support herself, and not be taken advantage of. The Captain agrees with her plan and convinces Duke Orsino that Viola, disguised as Cesario, is one of his noblest men. When the play ends, Viola is revealed and happily lives with Duke Orsino. The change in weather from days of stormy to calm correlates with the weather in sonnets 18 and 73. Shakespeare begins with, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and temperate: / Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And summer’s lease hath too short a date . . .”(I-4). In sonnet 73, Shakespeare writes, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, / Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang,” (1-4). Shakespeare wrote two different sonnets that referred to a change in weather. These comparisons are similar to those in Twelfth Night. The stormy weather brings confusion for Viola when she lands on Illyria. The calming of the weather in Twelfth Night resembles happiness and a new beginning just like the summer’s day in sonnet 18.
Another similarity between the sonnets of Shakespeare and Twelfth Night is the comprehension of the one day dying. In sonnet 18, Shakespeare makes the reader come to the realization that even though the person will one-day die, they will never fade away from memory because they will live eternally through words. Shakespeare emphasizes that a person cannot live forever in his bodily form, but he surely will be alive in spirit so long as the poem lives. In Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino comes to comprehend that no matter how hard he tries, Lady Olivia is never going to change her feelings for him. This understanding comes after Orsino realizes that she will no longer love him. Since Orsino is no longer in love with any particular person but the idea of love itself, it is not a hard to imagine his reaction when Viola reveals her love to him. “Cesario, come-/ For so you shall be while you are a man; / But when in other habits you are seen, / Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen,” (v.1. 380-383).
The mood in many of Shakespeare’s sonnets reflects the attitude in Twelfth Night. Both the sonnets and the play have double meanings behind them. The weather is significant in both sonnets, and as is expected, cold, dreary, and stormy are associated with death. In the 73 sonnet, the suggestion is death; however, in Twelfth Night, a violent storm causes Viola to lose, or at least assume that she lost, all her family, which is a death in itself. Also, sunny, calm days reflect the idea of youth and happiness, just as Viola lives ‘happily ever after’ with Orsino at the end of the play. The realization of the passage of time is brought to attention in both play and sonnets. In Shakespeare’s 18 sonnet he makes the reader understand that humans will die, but the works will live on forever. Orsino finally understands that his efforts to make the Lady Olivia his were a waste of his time, and he learns to focus his attention to a more open prospect, Viola.
The common themes of love are revealed in Shakespeare’s sonnets 18 and 73 and in the play Twelfth Night. Shakespeare clearly demonstrates with his beautifully crafted sonnets and poetic characters in Twelfth Night that lovers will come and go, the weather will change, and people will parish, but words will live forever.
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