Twelfth Night – Act 2 Scene 4 (2023)

Posted byAral MajidJanuary 11, 2022Posted inUncategorizedTags:English Literature 2010, Twelfth Night

Analysis: Line-by-line Literary Devices Themes Characters
  • Orsino wallows in his sadness while listening to music
  • Viola and Orsino have a conversation about love
    • Viola drops hints that she is in love with him
  • Feste sings them a sad song
  • Viola suggests that Olivia loves not Orsino, dropping hints that she is interested, but Orsino refuses to accept this


Orsino and Curio:

  • Continuing with the motif of songs, Orsino begins the play by asking Curio to sing him one
    • He then asks Curio to sing the song sung yesterday, which he thought was better than the songs of their time
      • Orsino was so in love that he saw the current times as beneath him, instead longing for the previous age, which had been romanticized in his mind due to the nature of forgetfulness. This phenomenon can also be seen in the youtube comments of old songs
    • Feste, who sung the song, was not present and had to be called for
  • The similarity of this scene to Act 1 Scene 1 highlights how love has paralyzed Orsino

Orsino and Cesario:

  • Orsino tells Cesario that if he ever falls in love, he should remember Orsino and the state he was in – unable to think of anything but love – for that is what all lovers were like
    • “For such as I am, all true lovers are,/Unstaid and skittish in all motions else/Save in the constant image of the creature/That is beloved.” is a good summary of his current state
      • Like all unreciprocated lovers, he lives in a state of uncertainty, wondering if their love is fleeting and whether their love has any emotions for them
      • Furthermore, it also highlights his ego – he believes that he is the model of a true lover
    • Cesario, when asked what he thought of the song, very poetically said that it made one feel that which a lover feels
      • It is interesting to note the difference of the language they use when expressing love – Orsino speaks lengthily and over-the-top, like his superficial love, which Viola is short and poetic, like her genuine love
  • Orsino recognizes from this that Cesario was in love. When he asked the lady’s features, Cesario responded that she had similar features and age to Orsino
    • The fact that he takes interest in Cesario’s personal life is very similar to Olivia expressing her interest in Cesario in Act 1 Scene 5. This introduces the possibility that he has some sort of homosexual attraction to Viola, which could be a reason for his insecurity (see below)
    • There is also a lot of dramatic irony at play here – the audience, knowing how close the hints are to the truth, laughs at his obliviousness
  • Orsino expresses some of his sexist opinions, and we begin to understand more why Olivia doesn’t like him:
    • He says that women should marry men older than themselves so that they could adapt to their changing desires and forever please them
    • He seems to think that it was up to the women to make sure that the relationship remained good, but that it was made difficult by the fact that their beauty faded when they got older
      • This also shows how superficial he was
  • He also shows self-awareness, however, saying that men’s (and his) feelings were generally more short-lived “For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,/Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,/More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,/Than women’s are.”
    • This, however, contradicts his earlier claims that “For such as I am, all true lovers are,/Unstaid and skittish in all motions else/Save in the constant image of the creature”. Though he has the logic in his head, he is unable to apply it to himself, showing his arrogance
    • This could also have been said because he was insecure about Cesario’s youth, good looks and dynamics, and feared that he would steal Olivia from him. Thus, he tries to deter competition
  • Orsino also employs the usage of imagery by comparing women to a rose, saying that like the flower, they decay
    • This suggests that his interest in them goes away the moment he has de-petaled/fully appreciated them.
    • Viola agrees, but perhaps for different reasons – the rose symbolises her love for Orsino, and she knows that it will decay unnoticed for her feelings are not mutual

Orsino and Feste:

  • Feste enters, and he was told to sing an old song that weavers used to sing that “And dallies with the innocence of love,”. Its sadness very much contradicts his personality
    • Once again it is seen how much he wallows in his melancholy – even the topics of his songs are as somber as his mood
    • This depicts his wittiness, for he is able to pick up on the mood and adapt to it
    • He is also able to pick up on the problem Orsino (and Viola) have – their lovers won’t ever be attracted back to them. He inculcates this realization in his song.
      • Furthermore, in the song, there is a reflection upon the innocence of love, presenting the unrequired lover as a victim in pure white clothes. This seems to apply more to Viola’s state than Orsino’s
    • His passion for his business is shown when he refuses payment
  • Before leaving, Feste flatters Orsino in a mocking way
    • He calls out Orsino on his melancholy, saying that the god of melancholy (Saturn, which sheds gloom on all born under it) should protect him.
      • Orsino does indeed indulge so much in melancholy, even enjoying to do so, that it seems like he worships it.
    • He also recognizes Orsino’s flitting mind and mocks him for that, saying that he would tell a tailor to make him a changeable taffeta – silk that changes colour when the light hits out
    • He should be a sea merchant who goes where the sea takes him, for those were the most profitable ones.
      • The sea is a metaphor for his heart, which dictates his actions

Orsino and Cesario:

  • After telling everyone else to leave (showing his trust in Cesario), lovesick, he tells Cesario to deliver the message of his love once again
    • He seems to be trying to convince himself that it is Olivia’s personality, not wealth, he is after, for he brings it up despite it never being brought up before
      • This is contradicted, however, when he compares her appearance to gems, showing how much he thinks of money: “But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems”
      • He is also trying to convince himself that his love is pure, perhaps because he’s scared of the attraction he has for Cesario
    • He refuses to accept Cesario’s suggestion that she cannot love him, showing how stubborn and entitled he is
      • Viola tries to convince him by bring up her own situation – she loves him, but has been denied, and so accepts his feelings
  • Orsino, launches into an egotistical rant, saying that women lack the depth of feelings he has and thus it is not an apt comparison. He seems desperate to prove the fact that he does indeed love Olivia
    • “That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt;/But mine is all as hungry as the sea,/And can digest as much.” is a good quote for his sexism and arrogance
    • It would have been impossible for Viola to see this side of love if she had never dressed up as a man
    • Despite this sexism, Viola still persists in her emotions
  • Viola tries to defend her point by giving the story of the sensitive love of her “sister”
    • She says that she kept her love inside till its truth caused her to turn green, unlike the love of men (Orsino), which wasn’t sincere: “Our shows are more than will, for still we prove/Much in our vows, but little in our love.”
    • This is a criticism of the over-the-top, courtly love seen in Shakespeare’s day – he questions it genuineness, and rejects the sexist notions that lead to such a conclusion
  • After clumsily diverting the conversation so that Orsino wouldn’t find out the ‘sister’ was her, she agrees to give Olivia a jewel
  • The rhyming couplet at the end of this scene summarizes Orsino’s stubbornness:
    • “To her in haste. Give her this jewel. Say/My love can give no place, bide no denay.”

Literary Devices:


  • Orsino compares female beauty to a rose
    • It was also a metaphor for Viola’s emotions
  • Viola’s description of her situation was full of imagery


  • Feste alludes to Saturn, the god of melancholy

Dramatic Irony:

  • While the audience knows Viola loves Orsino, Orsino doesn’t


  • The homoeroticism between Orsino and Viola suggests their future relationship



  • In this scene, it is seen as to how many parallels there are between Olivia and Orsino’s emotions:
    • They both are learning to emotionally rely on Cesario
    • They have both fallen in love with an image – Olivia doesn’t know Cesario is female and Olivia has set such a high standard for Olivia that she can’t possibly compete with it. He also knows nothing about her true self, only having seen her outside and wealth
    • They both overdo their love with melancholy and are obsessed – they seem to enjoy the courtship more than the love itself
  • Viola, however, knows what actually is, doing anything for her lover even if it takes him away from her
    • “A blank, my lord. She never told her love,

But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,

Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,

(Video) Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare | Act 2, Scene 4

And with a green and yellow melancholy

She sat like patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

We men may say more, swear more, but indeed

Our shows are more than will, for still we prove

(Video) Act 2 Scene 4 | Twelfth Night | 2017 | Royal Shakespeare Company

Much in our vows, but little in our love.”

Is a good summary of her situation

Gender and Sexual Identity:

  • It is suggested that Orsino has some sort of homosexual attraction for Cesario
    • Like Olivia, he takes an interest in his identity
    • He seems very insecure about his love for Olivia, being so adamant in it perhaps because he wanted to ignore the feelings he had for Cesario



  • Stubborn:
    • “My love can give no place, bide no denay”
  • Sexist, superficial:
    • “Then let thy love be younger than thyself,/Or thy affection cannot hold the bent./For women are as roses, whose fair flower/Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.”
    • He seems to think looks have a very large part in relationships and that women should bear the brunt of the responsibility of them
  • Arrogant:
    • “Make no compare/Between that love a woman can bear me/And that I owe Olivia.”


  • He is quite intelligent, able to pick up on the mood and adapt to it
  • It is also seen as to how much passion he has for his job


  • Viola is extremely mature, as shown by how she handles her emotions for Orsino, even courting another woman for him
  • She is also witty, as seen by the beauty and imagery used in her speech about her love

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(Video) Twelfth Night Act 2 Scene 4 | When you're in love with your best friend | National Theatre at Home

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