William Shakespeare’s comedy "Twelfth Night" explores the themes of identity and belonging. Viola, the main character, literalizes these themes through her transformation from an upper-class female into a male servant name Cesario. Afte r losing her brother and father, Viola seeks to hide herself away under the guise of Cesario until she is able to come to terms with her circumstances. In the following passage Viola she states her objective in her own words, "O that I served that la dy,/ And might not be delivered to the world/ Till I had made mine own occasion mellow" (1.2.38-40). Unfortunately, by taking on another identity, she loses any concept of her self, complicating her chance at happiness and the quest for love.
Voila’s self-determined identity leads her into an impossible situation – she falls in love with her master and his desired love object falls in love with her assumed identity. At the end of Act 2, Scene 2, the audience finds Viola discovering the impossibility of her situation when she is wrongfully accused of leaving a ring with Olivia. In her speech from lines 17-41, Viola desperately tries to defend who she is in order to gain the sympathy of the audience. To achieve this objective, Viola mu st hide her obvious guilt in causing the situation by blaming everyone but herself. Through an analysis of the context and language of this speech as well as a look at its contribution to Viola’s through-line, the above objective, obstacle and action wil l be proven true.
First of all, Act 2, Scene 2 occurs outside ‘some doors’ as the stage direction indicates (Shakespeare 119). Viola is on her way out of Olivia’s house having just brought Orsino’s message of adoration to Olivia. As the Oxford editor points out, i t is odd that both Malvolio and Olivia enter through different doors considering Malvolio was told to run after Viola straightaway (120). Perhaps, this is to catch Viola off guard. This speech occurring at the end of the short scene 2.2, directly follow s a conversation between Malvolio and Viola. Malvolio has been sent to return a ring to Viola that she supposedly left with Olivia. When accused of leaving the ring by Malvolio, Viola has denied it: "She took no ring of me, I’ll none of it" (2 .2.12). Malvolio responds by throwing the ring onto the ground stating, "If it be worth stooping for, there it lies, in your eye; if not, be it his that finds it" (2.2.15-16). Malvolio exits the stage, Viola is left alone, and this speech begi ns. The heated encounter with Malvolio directly before this speech contributes to Viola’s anger and her action of blaming others. The ring left lying on the stage, explains why Olivia arises as the first topic of Viola’s speech.
The fact that Viola is alone on stage is extremely significant. It is easier for Viola to cast blame and also to ponder the emotions of others while they are not present. Considering Viola is under the guise of Cesario, it would be impossible otherwi se for Viola to express the emotions she does. For example, she would not be able to state, "As I am man,/ My state is desperate for my master’s love./ As I am woman, now alas the day,. What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!" (2.2.36 -39). This comment would clearly reveal her assumed identity to any onlooker. It would also reveal Viola’s knowledge of Olivia’s love and Viola’s own love for Orsino. Having the play’s audience Viola’s only listeners not only allows her the freedom to talk about any character without argument, but also to lie about her part in her own situation. For example, she blames the disguise she is wearing – "Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness/ Wherein the pregnant enemy does much" (2.2.27-28) – wi thout mentioning that she was the one who decided to take on the false identity. It is easy for Viola to overcome her obstacle with no one questioning her claims.
In general, having characters talk only to the audience is a useful device in Shakespearean plays to ensure the audience has not missed an important part of the play. Viola’s mind works along with the audiences’ minds to put together what exactly did happen at Olivia’s house in this scene. Viola draws the conclusion for the audience: "She loves me sure, the cunning of her passion/ Invites me in this churlish messenger" (2.2.22-23). Together, Viola and the audience discover what has happene d.
The language of Viola’s speech at the end of Act 2, Scene 2 also hints at the objective, obstacle and action of her character. In order to blame others, Viola must make herself look as innocent as possible. By following the main topics of the speech, Viola’s main action becomes evident. The speech begins with Viola questioning Olivia’s actions: "What means this lady?" (2.2.17). As she reflects upon her conversation with Olivia, Viola reasons that Olivia must have given her this ring becau se she has been ‘charmed’ by Viola’s looks. Viola’s use of the word ‘forbid’ and her claim that her ‘outsides’ have attracted Olivia take the blame off Viola. ‘Forbid’ implies a force larger than Viola has determined the attraction. By blaming her ‘out sides’ Viola lies, claiming her personality, and her speeches that clearly did gain Olivia’s attention, did not promote Olivia’s desire. Viola’s use of the word ‘cunning’, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "skill employed in a shrewd or sl y manner, as in deceiving, craftiness, guile", in line 22 also takes the blame off Viola (OED 198). Here, she calls the passion of Olivia deceitful.
In line 27, when Viola starts blaming her disguise for her impossible situation, the topic changes. In order to avoid admitting her choice to take on this disguise, Viola calls it "a wickedness/ Wherein the pregnant enemy does much" (2.2.17- 18). In these lines, Viola directs her blame toward an arch-enemy once again averting the attention from her own guilt.
With lines 29-32, the topic changes again. Now, Viola talks in general about the vulnerability of women. These lines are key in determining her main obstacle and main action in the speech as a reversal of intent in shown. For example, in lines 29-30 Viola states, "How easy is it for the proper false/ In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!" (2.2.29-30). Realizing that she is a woman, and therefore fits into this category of weakness, she quickly states "our frailty as the cause&q uot; (2.2.31). These two lines show Viola’s original intent to blame the mutability of women for her situation sacrificed to the realization that by blaming women Viola is blaming herself. Acting quickly, she immediately points out that it is, in fact, the frailty of women and not women who are to blame. Therefore, in a quick turn of phrase, Viola again turns the blame away from herself.
Lines 33-38 show yet another change in topic. Viola now summarizes her situation injecting only one word to invoke pity from the audience. She describes herself as a "poor monster" thus promoting the desired response. She concludes with a rhyming couplet calling upon time to solve the mystery of her situation: "O time, thou must untangle this, not I./ It is too hard a knot for me t’untie" (2.2.40-41). In Shakespeare, characters often conclude with a rhyming couplet to distance t hemselves from their situation. In this instance, Viola removes herself from her own situation in an attempt to alleviate blame and put the pressure on a force greater than herself to solve her problems. This is an escape mechanism providing a distresse d character with hope and also stressing their innocence.
This speech contributes to Viola’s through-line as it represents the first moment when she realizes that perhaps taking on a disguise was not the best solution to her problems. Up into this point in the play, Viola has been confident that her main act ion of becoming Cesario would allow the successful achievement of her super-objective of hiding herself away in order to come to terms with her situation. In this speech she realizes that her main obstacle - losing herself – is becoming a reality. This is clear in lines 36-38: "As I am a man,/ My state is desperate for my master’s love./ As I am woman, now alas the day,/ What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!" (2.2.36-38). Ultimately in the role of Cesario she finds she has just a s many unbearable problems as she had in the beginning. However, now her situation is worse, because she cannot solve any of them unless she returns to her former identity and accepts the loss of her brother and station. Since the beginning of the play her troubles have increased despite her actions. She must leave her troubles for fate to decide: "O time, thou must untangle this, not I./ It is too hard a knot for me t’untie" (2.2.40-41).
Overall, Viola’s speech is crucial to the line of action of Twelfth Night. This speech occurs six scenes before the climax of the play. It contributes to the rising action by foreshadowing the climax when no one is aware of the identity of any one else and confusion breaks loose in Illyria. Viola’s confused state in Act 2, Scene 2, as well as her implied realization that taking on a disguise was not the best solution, presents a turning point in the play. During this speech Viola is the only person on stage. This easily allows for Viola to overcome her obstacle and achieve her objective. The language she uses reflects her main action of blaming others for her own mistakes. And finally, this speech represents a revelation in Viola’s through -line when she realizes her main action for the play is problematic. In conclusion, Viola’s speech in Act 2, Scene 2, lines 17-41 shows Viola’s attempt to prove the truth about herself while overcoming her part in this impossible situation by blaming oth ers.