Shakespeare’s play exemplifies love dilemmas by combining two inter-related plots that contradict and complement each other. The major plot involves the courtship and love dilemmas of Duke Orsino, Lady Olivia, and Viola. The subplot focuses on the merriments and hilarious interactions of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, and Malvolio. In the first plot, Viola is involved in a shipwreck and believes that his twin brother is dead.
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In a conversation with the captain, she learns of the courtship between Orsino and Olivia. She decides to work for Olivia, but since Olivia is mourning, Viola seeks employment at Orsino’s household disguised as a man and using the name, Cesario. However, Cesario falls in love with Orsino but fears revealing her identity. Orsino uses Cesario to entice Olivia, but the she falls in love with Cesario. In the second plot, Malvolio works for Olivia and mistreats the other workers. However, he believes that he is in love with Olivia.
The second plot complements the first one because of the shared interests in Olivia. In both plots, the characters are interested in Lady Olivia and attempt to win her heart. Orsino’s marriage expectations are already known across the region. Additionally, Olivia’s uncle, Toby, brings Sir Andrew to her household so that he could ask her hand in marriage. Malvolio was secretly attracted to Olivia, and he was trying to use Cesario to intervene on his behalf. The two scenes share the theme of love, and it amplifies the author’s intentions. Both focus on the same girl, Olivia.
The contradicting event occurs when Malvolio receives fake letters purporting Olivia’s love for him. The subplot deviates from the sequence and themes of the major plot. The characters engage in an entirely different venture. It creates misconceptions of Malvolio’s intentions because he starts to behave awkwardly towards Olivia. Love and courtship are replaced by deceit and trickery. Additionally, the event demonstrates that Malvolio is preoccupied with self-love and self-interests. He believes that he possesses the authority to mistreat and annoy everybody in Olivia’s household.
The plots merge again when Olivia displays her love for Cesario. Andrew proposes a fight with Viola to win the heart of Olivia. His intentions are to win the heart of Olivia by defeating Cesario. The conflict extends with the arrival of Sebastian, who gets involved in the love triangle. Although he was believed to have died in the wreckage, Antonio prevented him from drowning.
His arrival leads to a fast marriage with Olivia, who confesses her love for him after confusing him for Cesario. The conflict extends when Sebastian arrives in the proposed location for the duel. He creates confusion because everybody believes that he is Cesario. When Orsino visits Olivia to ask for her hand in marriage, he finds that Olivia is already married to Sebastian, but they both believe that Sebastian is Cesario. The shared interests in Olivia bring the characters in both plots together.
The play demonstrates that while some characters are involved in pre-arranged courtships, others experience true love and fight for it. Orsino and Olivia consider their courtship as bound by power and political positions. Additionally, Orsino refers to love as a debt that must be paid. Although the entire land is aware of their proposed courtship and marriage, Olivia does not love Orsino. She takes the opportunity of her brother’s death to block courtship advances from Orsino because she does not love him.
However, he considers the courtship as bound by duty and social responsibility. Viola is one of the few characters that declares and confesses true love. After working for Orsino disguised as a man, she starts to develop real affection for him. Additionally, Olivia falls in love with Viola the first time the two characters meet. In fact, her love for Cesario makes her break her vow of mourning for seven years. When she sees Cesario, her decisions change, and she suspends her mourning. When Sebastian arrives, he is mistaken for Cesario. The confusion makes Olivia to offer her consent for marriage.
The play demonstrates that when there is true love, the courtship period is usually small. For example, Olivia’s love for Cesario makes her abandon her mourning arrangements, and she offers her hand in marriage. She does not engage in any courtship but proceeds to marry Sebastian, whom she believes to be Cesario. Additionally, Viola loves Orsino but fears to reveal her identity. Her fear is also influenced by the negotiations between Orsino and Olivia. She maintains her new identity to avoid confrontations and conflicts within the land.
Love is also perceived differently among the knights. Sir Andrew and Tony believe that men must fight for their love. Andrew is convinced that a fight with Cesario would be appropriate to convince Olivia about his marriage intentions. The knights do not believe in a normal courtship process. They do not value the decisions of women in the courtship process. In all plots, love and courtship is portrayed differently according to the position, status, and personalities of the characters.