I happen to love “Twelfth Night” very much. Its wit and sweetness combine to make for a tour de force of magnificence.
Most likely my favorite scene is when Viola/Cesario tells Orsino exactly why women can love as deeply as men, and that it is not only Orsino’s passions that count.
After he rails at her about how fickle women are, Viola ventures to tell him where he gets off… only it doesn’t go as she plans.
Viola: “Ay, but I know —“
Orsino: “What dost thou know?” (can you not sense the torn thought processes of Viola and Orsino’s impatience?)
Viola: “Too well what love women to men may owe
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
Orsino is interested. He never gets to hear much background on his young servant, and perhaps he’s ready for a distraction of sorts after his tormented outburst. “And what’s her history,” he enquires, one imagines, in a desultory sort of way.
And this is where it gets really good. Viola begins to tell him “her sister’s” history:
“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,
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
Much in our vows, but little in our love.”
It is here that the listener/reader/viewer can sense Viola’s growing knowledge of the hard and cold fact that she is talking about herself. Yes, she was doing that earlier, but these lines have more potency than before. “…concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought.” Viola is living in a concealment, a devouring concealment. Is this what she imagined when she set out to conceal her nature and act like a man? Surely not, but she can now see all the ramifications of this behavior… and they’re not pretty.
Orsino is interested in her story, however:
“But died they sister of her love, my boy?”
Viola reveals the crux of the story:
“I am all the daughters of my father’s house,
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.”
Here in the tale things could change to tragedy very quickly. Viola’s fate is no longer in her hands. She has chosen concealment, it is feeding upon her, and all she can do is sit smiling at grief (what else is left to her?), “like patience on a monument.” Patience for time to unravel the mess that has been made, and patience for time to tell whether any part of her will die in the process.
Well, now that I’ve thoroughly depressed myself I must be reminded that time mends all in this story. Viola and her brother are reunited (this excites me more than Orsino discovering Viola’s love :-), Viola’s concealment is no more. She does not die of her love… <- That is a much, much better ending than the one found in, say, "Romeo & Juliet."