Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night

Avery Gordon, Patricia Vineski
  • Author
    Avery Gordon

    Avery Gordon has experience working in the education space both in and outside of the classroom. He has served as a social studies teacher and has created content for Ohio's Historical Society. He has a bachelor's degree in history from The Ohio State University.

  • Instructor
    Patricia Vineski

    Patricia has an MFA in Writing, an MS in Teaching and English Language Arts, and a BA in English.

Review Duke Orsino. Study the character analysis of Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night, discover the traits of Cesario's lover, and learn about Viola and Orsino. Updated: 06/10/2022

Table of Contents


Who is Duke Orsino?

Duke Orsino is one of the main characters from Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy that explores the power and allure of love, while using the trope of a love-triangle for comedic effect. The play is set in Illyria, where Duke Orsino is the ruler. Orsino is helplessly in love with a noblewoman by the name of Olivia. Olivia is in mourning due to the death of her brother, and therefore feels she cannot open herself up to love. Orsino, however, is undeterred. Orsino hires a page, who goes by the name of Cesario, to deliver his messages of love to Olivia. Unbeknownst to the duke, Cesario's real name is Viola, and she is only posing as a man. Viola is the main protagonist in Twelfth Night and much of the story is told through her perspective. Shortly after being hired by Orsino, Viola falls in love with the duke. She is unsure how to pursue her feelings, however, because Orsino believes her to be a man.

Throughout the play Orsino complains of his unrequited love, causing him to fall into a state of melancholy. All the while, he has no idea that he himself has an admirer of his own. To complicate matters further, while Viola, under the guise of Cesario, is delivering Orsino's messages, she catches the eye of Olivia. Olivia falls in love with whom she believes to be the young and dashing Cesario, thus completing the love triangle. Orsino loves Olivia, Viola loves Orsino, and Olivia loves Viola.

Despite his often-professed love for Olivia, Orsino becomes quite fond of his newly hired page. The romantic entanglement comes to a head when Orsino travels with Cesario (Viola) to visit Olivia himself. Upon arrival Olivia greets Cesario as her husband. Orsino is outraged, but all is resolved when Viola's twin brother, Sebastian, enters the scene. Olivia had in fact married Sebastian, thinking he was Cesario. Viola then reveals her true identity, and Orsino realizes that he has been in love with Viola the whole time. The play ends happily with Orsino and Viola becoming a couple.

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Character Analysis of Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night

Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night is an interesting character because of the disparity in how his character is described by others versus how he acts and presents himself to the audience. The first introduction to the character comes from his speech at the beginning of the play.

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

With this speech the audience is given a first impression that this man is melodramatic and self-indulgent. He appears to be more fascinated by the idea of being in love than in actually loving Olivia. Yet in the very next scene a captain describes Orsino to Viola as "A noble duke, in nature as in name." This trend continues throughout the play. Orsino acts one way in front of the audience, but is described by other characters in a very different light. At the climax of the play, Orsino tries to make what he believes to be the ultimate romantic gesture. He threatens to kill Cesario in the name of love.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who does Duke Orsino marry?

Orsino marries Viola after she reveals her true identity to him. Orsino comes to the realization that it is Viola, not Olivia, he truly loves.

Who is Duke Orsino in love with?

Throughout the play Duke Orsino constantly professes his love for Olivia. In doing so, however, he sounds more in love with the idea of love than he is with Olivia. In the end, he realizes that he truly loves Viola, not Olivia.

What type of character is Orsino?

Orsino is presented as a character with two very different aspects. In one aspect he is a fickle, self-indulgent, and erratic duke. In the other he is a kind, generous, and well-loved leader.

How does Orsino feel about love?

Orsino is infatuated with the grand philosophical ideals of what he believes love to be. He seems more interested in being in love than actually loving Olivia.

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