The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1484 Wednesday 25 August 1999.
Date: Tuesday, 24 Aug 1999 11:06:30 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Twelfth Night
Abigail Quart asks if unrequited love is a "flaw," referring to Orsino,
I think. No, it's not, but at the start of the play Orsino suffers from
more than just unrequited love: he basks in it, he wallows in it, and he
wants MORE of it-surely not the way most of us would react. As I see
it, Orsino wants the feelings but not the reality of love, and his wish
to heighten these feelings does suggest a problem, if not a flaw.
Orsino's "feelings" depend on NOT knowing Olivia and on the barriers and
obstructions that he himself sets up-e.g., using a go-between so that he
doesn't have to talk to Olivia herself. His condition is well analyzed
by Denis deRougemont in Love in the Western World, who sees extreme
romantic love as a kind of sickness that can be controlled but perhaps
What is needed by Orsino is to value friendship in a potential love
object. He gets this unawares in the disguised Viola, and when he
overcomes his temptation to kill her in Act 5, he's ready to see her "in
woman's weeds" and have a try at REAL love, which involves not only
longing but friendship as well. It's important to note that in Act 5
Orsino is finally in the open air, out of his cloistered palace, and his
feelings for Olivia evaporate upon actually meeting her. They were
nothing but self-generated longings anyway!
So, it seems to me that Orsino, the hibernating bear, comes out of a
deep sleep and its attendant dreams and into the real world, as it were,
and is much the better for it. During the first 4 acts, the disguised
Viola acts like a classical Freudian psychiatrist: she listens and says
little, but lets Orsino know that she values him, and she is there to
listen to him.
Or so it seems to me.
PS It could even be argued, I think, that his change in affections from
Olivia to Viola is a kind of "transference."