Twelfth Night Act 2 Scene 4: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson provides a summary of Twelfth Night II,iv, in which Viola and Orsino each cope more or less badly with unrequited feelings, Feste sings a sad song, and sexual tension runs high.

Twelfth Night II,iv: Summary

Orsino

In this scene, Duke Orsino is moping around his court as usual, brooding about his unrequited love for Olivia. As in the first scene of the play, he plans to relieve his feelings by listening to sad songs. Notably, he calls for Feste, who is a member of Olivia's household, to sing it.

While everyone is waiting for Feste to arrive, Orsino tells Viola/Cesario, 'If ever thou shalt love, / In the sweet pangs of it remember me' (lines 17-18). There's great irony in this statement, since she/he is secretly in love with Orsino. This gives their ensuing conversation considerable poignancy.

Viola tells Orsino that the person whom she loves is like Orsino in age and appearance; Orsino responds that Viola/Cesario has terrible taste (lines 30-40). This increasingly fraught conversation is interrupted when Feste arrives to sing his song. We're told that it's an old folksong and its theme is, significantly, unrequited love. It has a lot of death and crying.

Orsino loves it. Feste leaves, making a joke about Orsino's own moodiness, which the duke totally misses (lines 80-85). When Orsino and Viola are left alone again, Orsino - thoroughly aroused by the song - commands him/her to return to Olivia and tell the countess of his undying love. Viola, albeit reluctantly, departs.

Analysis

Viola

This extremely angsty scene picks up on several of Twelfth Night's key themes, including unrequited love and the relationship between gender and attraction.

There's considerable irony in the fact that Orsino, who, as not only a man but a nobleman, is not supposed to be controlled by his emotions, spends almost the entire scene talking about how sad he is and how hard his life is because Olivia doesn't return his feelings. He briefly (briefly!) shows a hint of self-awareness when he tells Viola/Cesario that women are probably better lovers than men, despite talking about their feelings less: 'For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, / More longing, wavering, sooner lost and won, / Than women's are' (lines 37-40).

Feste's song continues to explore the theme of unrequited love (lines 58-73). Although Orsino identifies with the constant lover in the song, Feste mocks him by comparing his mind to opal, and saying he should wear taffeta, both things that change color in the sun (lines 80-85).

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