Emotions are among the most potent forces humanity has ever faced, and, as William Shakespeare emphasizes, love is one of the most influential emotions an individual can experience. Throughout Twelfth Night, Shakespeare focuses on one main characteristic about love that helps to solidify the strength of this emotion on the characters. He wants to reader to understand that love is one of the few forces that can instantaneously incapacitate and cripple human beings, yet it simultaneously wields the capacity to bestow the highest level of satisfaction within an individual.
This duality of love is established early within the play with Orsino’s commentary on love. In Orsino’s lines, he ...view middle of the document...
Shakespeare also uses jewelry and letters as symbols that insinuate deception to depict deception as another fueling force of the insurmountable love displayed throughout Twelfth Night, and, as a certain critic states, it is “the strength and weakness of honesty and dishonesty, and the action of self-knowledge on self-deception that make the basic movement of the play” (Forbes).
Of the many symbols within Twelfth Night, there are three main items that symbolize the strength of love and the deception seen within it. Olivia is prompt to gift a ring to Viola, disguised as Cesario, quickly after she has only just met Cesario, and through this ring, Shakespeare symbolizes the deception that has been played on Olivia and the force of love acting on her. It is the female qualities of Cesario’s deceptive disguise that prompts Olivia into breaking her vow to seven years of celibacy, and ultimately leads to Olivia sending a “left behind” ring to Cesario. These actions are only taken for the sake of Olivia’s love and shows how impactful love truly is. Following along this, Olivia delivers yet another gift to the individual she is madly in love with, but in this case she has given Sebastian a pearl to symbolize her love, and therefore mistakes Sebastian for Cesario. Through the parallelism of deception in these two symbols, Shakespeare directs the reader’s attention towards the deceit that fuels Olivia’s love for Cesario.
In a more comedic setting, Shakespeare, in essence, conveys the same message through the symbolism of “Olivia’s” love letter to Malvolio. Seeing that Maria forged this love letter in Olivia’s handwriting, “Malvolio is driven to false and illusory action which he believes real by a language-created illusion, which has all the force of reality” (Eagleton). With the comedic nature of this scene, where Malvolio’s love for Olivia is “limited or rather vitiated by his extreme and humorless self-love” (Phialas), Shakespeare uses Malvolio’s ridiculous actions of love to indicate mockery towards the puritans, and he therefore hammers home the impact that deception has on an individual’s sense of love.
Chamberlain, Stephanie. "‘Rings and Things’ in Twelfth Night: Gift Exchange, Debt and the Early Modern Matrimonial Economy." Journal of the Wooden O Symposium 7 (2007): 1-12. Rpt. in Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 154. Detroit: Gale,...