Twelfth Night Essay: Olivia's Denial

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After first reading Twelfth Night I was puzzled at Olivia's denial of Orsino's hand in marriage and her subsequent desire for Cesario. After considerable thought and research, I intend to propose and support the argument that Olivia is not being simply "coy" towards Orsino, nor does she desire Cesario because he/she is attracted to him/her. She denies Orsino because of her refusal to marry a man of higher rank and desires to marry Cesario because he is a man of lower rank. Olivia wants to give the impression that her mourning of her brother's death doesn't allow for the admittance of suitors. In the opening scene, Valentine says that Olivia "shall not behold her face at ample view" (1.1.27) because she "desires to season a brother's dead love" (1.1.31). Feste knows that mourning is the not real reason for her refusal to marry Orsino.

Clown: Good madonna, why mourn'st thou?

Olivia: Good fool, for my brother's death.

Clown: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.

Olivia: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

Clown: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen. (1.1.64-70)

Feste shows Olivia the foolish nature of mourning over her brother's death since he is in hea...

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...t that Olivia may have a lesbian tendeny because she is attracted to Cesario (who is really a woman) is rendered less plausible.

Works Cited

David, R. W., ed. The Arden Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost. London: Methuen, 1951.

Erasmus, Desiderius. In Praise of Folly. Trans. Hoyt Hopewell Hudson, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970.

McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Edited Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

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