Good Example Of Doubles AND Reflections In Twelfth Night Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Love, Twins, Appearance, Disguise, Shakespeare, Night, Women, Character

Pages: 10

Words: 2750

Published: 2023/05/15

This paper looks at Shakespeare's use of reflections, doubles and (in particular) twins in his play Twelfth Night, or What You Will (referred to as Twelfth Night hereafter), and the way the use of this concept affects the characters and plot. In this play, Shakespeare's use of the term "glass" refers to mirrors both literally and metaphorically. Historically and in Twelfth Night, mirrors have literally reflected the outside of an object and metaphorically reflected an individual's inner mind. The idea of mirroring and twins is particularly relevant to the primary events of the play, since they involve the identity confusion between Viola (the play's heroine) and her twin brother Sebastian. Viola, who has been shipwrecked on the shores of Iberia has chosen to disguise herself as Cesario (Orsino's male page) in order to protect herself in an unknown land. In doing this, she closely resembles her twin brother Sebastian. As a result of this disguise, Sebastian and Viola sometimes seemed overlap in a way that makes them almost seem like the same person who is being reflected in a mirror. This causes Viola considerable discomfort, as a result of the social gap between her real identity as a woman and her assumed identity as Cesario (inner and outer reflections). This paper will also look at Viola's disguise in comparison to Olivia's (the Countess of Illyria).

Outer Reflection

In literary works and mythology, twins, and especially opposite sex twins, have appeared many times. There has been a suggestion in the stories of sexual, incestuous relationship in many of them, as has been pointed out by a number of scholars. Again, the concept of reflections in this play also reminds us of the Narcissus myth. Narcissus was famous for being enraptured by his own reflection in a pond. However, in a variant of this Narcissus story provided by Pausanias, he had a twin sister. As noted by Gay, Pausanias recorded the following:
“Narkissos had a twin sister, they were exactly the same to look at with just the same hair-style and the same clothes, and they even used to go hunting together. Narkissos was in love with his sister, and when she died he used to visit the spring; he knew what he saw was his own reflection, but even so he found some relief in telling himself it was his sister’s image.”
Thus, Narcissus'is caught between self-love and incestous love, since he loves both his own appearance and the reflection of that appearance in his sister's face. In the same way, Viola feels connected with her twin brother because her changed appearance resembles his.
Looking beyond the specific play, it should be pointed out that Shakespeare seemed to have a fascination with the concept of twins and the confusions that could result. In addition to Twelfth Night itself, Shakespeare also had twins in The Comedy of Errors. Both plays revolve around events resulting from character's confusion about their respective twins. The humor is derived from the similarity of the characters appearance, and how that is juxtaposed to the differences within their minds. The twins are seen as being the same persons, but are clearly two different people internally. Of course, in Viola's case, the character deliberately changes her outside appearance, which makes it understandable that the Illyrians would be confused.
At the root of this confusion in twelfth night is the fact that Sebastian and Viola first meet the Illyrian people separately, thus preventing them from understanding that these are two separate individuals. In Act IV, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew encounter Sebastian, and a fight nearly ensues, with the ever ready to fight Sebastian saying “draw thy sword”. This is in stark contrast to Viola (who appears to be Sebastian) when she makes clear that she is a pacifist by saying “I am no fighter.” The confusion between the two continues when Olivia, who has been rejected by Cesario, meets with Sebastian. Olivia believes him to be Cesario, and in Act IV, scene three they commit to an engagement. Yet despite this complete change in Cesario's attitude, Olivia fails to notice the difference between the two, as well as the difference between Sebastian and Viola. These scenes make clear that Illyrians are a very superficial people who only give weight to appearance.
It is clear at several points in the play that Viola has never adapted her inner self to conform to that of her brother, even though she has disguised herself to physically appear like him. This is why she expresses her thoughts to Orsino as a girl when she says, "Too well what love women to men may owe.” During an aside in the dueling scene with Sir Andrew she says, “A little thing would make me tell / Them how much I lack of a man.” Thus, Viola is always female even when she has disguised herself as male.
Her imitation of Sebastian is entirely external and intended to provide her with protection. No one else seems to penetrate the illusion, and she is seen as male by the other characters and confused with Sebastian by the character of Antonio during Act III. This creates many problems for Viola. For instance, she cannot fully reveal her mind to Orsino in Act II, even though she loves him.
Because of the resemblance between Sebastian and Viola, Cesario and the Illyrian people see them as one person. However, Cesario is recognizable because she/he exists as the boy page of Olivia's husband. This is also the character who sometimes states alternately "draw by sword" and "I am no fighter."
Thus, the nature of Cesario is the result of a series of misunderstandings. For instance, for Orsino Cesario was a loyal page who betrays Orsino in order to become engaged to Olivia. However, for the character of Olivia, Cesario is the page who has rejected her romantic interest, but who in Act IV accepts her love. In the case of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew she/he was cowardly, but later became what they referred to as "the very devil incarnate." For Malvolio and Maria, who had only encountered. The king speaks of Cesario as being, "both Viola and Sebastian."
This focus on surface appearance is an important feature of the people in this land, as can be seen in the case of the love between Olivia and Orsino in which they focus only on things that they can see. Orsino discusses when he first became aware of his feelings for Olivia in the following:

"O when mine eyes did see Olivia first,

Methought she purged the air of pestilence;
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds
E’er since pursue me."
Thus, Orsino came to love her when his “eyes did see Olivia,” again stressing the largely visual aspect of the love. He goes on to say: "I hold as giddily as fortune; But ‘tis that miracle and queen of gems, That nature pranks her in attracts my soul." He loves her primarily because he sees this unreal image. From Olivia's perspective, it is quite clear that she only decides to meet Cesario because of the description she has of him from Malvolio, which ran “Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy.” And she clearly falls in love with him/her merely because of appearance:

"Methink I feel this youth’s perfections

With an invisible and subtle stealth
Essentially, it is her eyes falling in love, rather than her mind, or as Leggatt puts it "Love at first sight, love coming through the eye.” This is particularly significant for the rest of the play.

Inner Reflection

An interesting aspect of this play is how it compares Olivia's disguise with Viola's and the contending desires of Olivia and Orsino. In the end, both of these latter characters get Cesario, despite the fact that everyone on stage knows that Sebastian and Viola are twins and that they are not Cesario in fact. As previously discussed, the twins Sebastian and Viola have a mirrored relationship in the play, but Olivia and Viola also have a mirrored relationship, as is described in Douglas H. Parker’s “Shakespeare’s Female Twin in Twelfth Night: In Defence of Olivia.” As this author points out, “both have experienced the death of fathers; both think they have experienced the recent death of brothers”. He further points out that both Viola and Olivia are similar in that they are disguised. While Viola's is an obvious disguise, Olivia's disguise is a veil that can be viewed as “an obvious sign of her mourning,” but also (as Parker points out) "a type of disguise." Beyond this, Parker refers to a parallel between their romantic situations, with “apparently hopeless love relationships work themselves out satisfactorily for Viola and Olivia.” Their names are also nearly mirrors of one another, or anagrammatic.
It should be pointed out Olivia's disguise is not merely intended to be a sign of mourning, but also represents hiding something as well. While as an outward symbol, her veil represents mourning over her brother's recent death, it has an inner meaning as well. While she keeps close to her house and continues wearing the veil for time, she removes that veil when she encounters Cesario and reveals to him/her her love.
Revealing her true self and her "bear" beauty is a sign of love for Olivia, and demonstrates once again the importance she places on appearance. The disguise itself makes her into an almost fictitious figure for the character of Orsino, and is one of the reasons he falls in love with her. When wearing the veil, she serves as a character who has mournful feelings for the loss of her brother and at the same time one who closes her mind to any men around her. There is a divide in her mind and outer appearance, just as with Viola. But Olivia's disguise is a temporary one, and she can take it on or off at will. Thus, this contradiction between her inner mind in her outer appearance does not disturb her as it does Viola.
In the case of Viola's disguise, the result is confusion caused by the difference between her internal mindset and her outward appearance. Even if she disguises herself as a male, she is still female. For instance, in act three of the play, she says to Olivia:
I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,

And that no woman has; nor never none

Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.
Viola's mind is that of a woman, which in Shakespeare's Elizabethan world meant that she could not be satisfied with Olivia's love. Unfortunately, the suffering she experiences because of her disguise is unavoidable, since she wears it in order to protect herself from the dangers she perceives around her. “ might not be delivered to the world / Till I had made mine own occasion mellow / What my estate is!.” She is unable to suppress the feelings of love she has for Orsino, even though she is disguised as a pageboy. Orsino himself loves Olivia, and against Viola's will she is sent to reveal his love. The result is the aside “Yet a barful strife, / Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” But although Olivia is loved by Orsino, she loves Cesario (who is secretly Viola). Olivia has Malvolio pursue "Cesario" to give him her Olivia's ring. It is at this moment that Viola understands that Olivia is in love with her (in the shape of Cesario).
Viola realizes that the love she has for Orsino is no more possible than Olivia's love for Cesario. While poor Olivia has fallen in love with the “poor monster.” Viola, in her desire for her master's love, finds her own “state is desperate.” Again, mirroring is taking place, with both women finding themselves in the same position of impossible and unrequited love. The resolution of this problem requires Viola meeting Sebastian.
This is a nearly miraculous encounter for all involved, since it had been assumed by each of the two twins that the other was dead. Moreover, the Illyrian had no idea they were twins. Once we get to act five, scene one where everyone realizes that Sebastian and Viola are twins, Orsino says, "One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons— A natural perspective, that is and is not. For others, they are strange creatures who have different characters but the same appearance. They seem to believe that Sebastian Viola are the same person who is somehow be divided into two.
Thanks to Sebastian and Viola encountering one another the tangled relationships are finally resolved. However, while the truth was revealed in the end, the character of Cesario stayed on the stage to the end. For instance, Orsino continues to call Viola Cesario until the end of the play. Also, Viola does not change back into feminine dress, suggesting to one scholar that, “Orsino is betrothed to Viola because he likes her when she was a boy.” Sebastian himself keeps wearing the mask of Cesario to the end of the play, and is not called Sebastian even by Olivia his fiancée. The true situation is adapted to fit the needs of Olivia and Orsino, with each choosing their own "Cesario" who in reality is not the individual they had first loved.
In conclusion, this analysis has demonstrated that Shakespeare used the concept of twins and mirroring to illustrate how the Illyrian people were influenced by an individual's appearance, rather than their inner mind and being. By extension, he might have been saying that the English themselves were shallow in the same way. They see the outer appearance of someone and create their own idea of who that person is based on that. This also meant in the play that the identities of each character and personality would differ based on the viewpoint of who was looking at them. This allows the play to end with both Olivia and Orsino getting the love that they desired.


Barton, A. 1990. The Names of Comedy. Toronto: Toronto UP.
Gay, P. 2004. “Introduction.” William Shakespeare. Twelfth Night. Ed. Elizabeth Story Donno. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2-25.
Heilbrun, G. 1973. Toward a Recognition of Androgyny. New York: Knopf.
Huston, D. 1972.“‘When I came to man’s estate’: Twelfth Night and problems of Identity.” Modern Language Quarterly 33. 274-288.
Leggatt, A. 1947. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen.
Parker, D. 1987. “Shakespeare’s Female Twins in Twelfth Night: In Defence of Olivia.”
English Studies in Canada. XIII. I. 23-34.
Pausanias. 1971. Description of Greece, vol. I: Central Greece, tr. Peter Levi. Harmondsworth:
Shakespeare, W. 2004. Twelfth Night. Ed. Elizabeth Story Donno. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

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