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After this short opening scene, in which the poet has shown us the characters of the romantic sentimental Duke and the seemingly cold Olivia, he brings before us the womanly being who shall make both change their rôles. Viola and her twin brother have suffered shipwreck on the coast of Illyria. She has but slight hopes that her brother has escaped a watery death, although she has been assured by the captain, who was saved together with her and a small number of the seamen, that he was last seen bound to a mast and floating on the waves. Information given to her by the captain causes her to conceive the idea of entering the service of Duke Orsino as a page, and when the sailor has procured her the necessary disguise, she carries out her design. Her charming appearance, even in male clothes, her amiable, prudent, and yet attractive demeanour, work with magic power upon the Duke. She rapidly wins his affectionate favour and full confidence, and is loaded by him with gifts and favours. The commission intrusted to her, to make yet another trial to win over Olivia to his suit, is a painful one. " Yet a barful strise, whoc'er I woo, myself would be his wife." She has been seized with a passion for him, mingled with pity, gratitude, and tenderness. Nevertheless, she pleads his cause with glowing eloquence and skill. The rich fancy, the rare poetic gifts of this charming girl, which are but increased by her hidden romantic love for Orsino, are revealed in her description of how she would win Olivia's lieart, were she inflamed by love for her:
Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
The result is not what she anticipated. With a certain irony, fate punishes Olivia for dismissing all her suitors with a coldness unnatural in her sex, by inspiring her with love for a being who can never respond to her passion, and who makes her suffer all the unsatisfied longings she has caused to others. At their first meeting she feels that this youth is destined to disturb the cold peace of her heart:
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
She sends her steward to Viola with a ring, under pretext that it had been left as a gift from Viola's master, and that she would not keep it, as she was determined not to listen to his proposals. Viola, who had left no ring, understands the important and delicate nature of the situation, but her character helps her to overcome its doubtful side without causing her womanly modesty to suffer. I give her monologue, as it clearly paints her character, and especially as it shows us how differently she conducts herself from Rosalind when placed in a similar position in As You Like It. Viola does not feel saucily at ease in her man's clothes, like Rosalind. Her mind is not quite comfortable in this disguise. Though playing her part well, she never forgets, and never lets the spectator forget, that she is playing a part. After the steward has forced the ring upon her, and has left her alone, she says:
I left mo ring with her: what means this lady?
Disguise, I sce, thou art a wickedness,
Twelfth Night, act ii. scene 2.
The feminine cowardice, which does not allow her even to feign a boldness appropriate to her dress, her shudder at the thought of drawing a sword, makes an uncommonly droll effect. Shakespeare plainly gives her the first place among the serious figures of this comedy, which is a masterpiece even in its most grotesque scenes. All the others must change their parts. The Duke is obliged to turn to Viola, the unmasked Cesario; Olivia, who through love's might is compelled to quit her assumed rôle of unnatural coldness, mistakes Sebastian for Cesario. Viola alone remains true to herself. She resembles a flower that has drawn the sunshine so deeply into its heart, that its beauty and perfume are everlasting.
“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING”
Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing is the most perfect of those Shakespearian characters in which a spirit of fun that borders on rashness is delightfully united with a heart of golden purity.
Beatrice and her masculine counterpart, Benedick, are two healthy natures, who quarrel perpetually only because they