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Character of Viola in Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night: Character of Viola

Alternate question: Character of Viola in Twelfth Night

John Ruskin says,”Shakespeare has no heroes but heroines.” He perhaps means that heroines of Shakespeare surpass the heroes in romantic comedies. Whether As You Like It or Twelfth Night or The Merchant of Venice the heroines are the queens of beauty, wit intellect,wisdom and faithfulness. They are more sensitive to intuition and responsive to emotion. Such a heroine is Viola in Twelfth Night.

As F.S.Boas says-

Equally removed from the Duke….and from Olivia….stands the figure of Viola,perfect in its balance of sensibility, gaiety and strength. In her,Shakespeare has united qualities,which he usually tends to divide between two different types of women. She has the softness of hero Priavea combined with the resolute will and ready tongue of Portia and Rosalin.

When Viola’s ship is wrecked and she is helpless and shelterless,she decides to shelter in the court of Duke Orsino. But she is a young girl and cannot protect her modesty herself.So,she decides to disguise herself as a boy and assumes the name of Cesario. Clearly, her disguise, iintelligent and clever device to meet her differently.This also points out of her presence of mind,boldness and sharp intellect.

Disguise may be a common devise for most of the heroines of Shakespeare as Portia and Rosalind do,Viola does not use for roguish pleasures. Again though she disguises herself as a boy,she is unable to change her nature and heart.When she listens to Orsino’s story of love and sorrow,she moves to pity. Her tender, loving heart goes out for him. She begins to love him without telling him know that she is a woman.Though he finds that she has all the resemblance to a woman, that she has “Diana’s lips and a maiden’s shrill small voice,”he does not doubt her sex identity.This points out her intelligent handling her situation.

Viola’s love is pure noble and sacrificing.Her love is not the sentimental love of Duke, Orsino for Olivia not the impulsive love of Olivia for Sebastian, nor the sensual love of Sir Toby Belch for Maria, nor the shallow love of Sir Andrew for Olivia, nor the self love of Malvolio. Viola’s love is sincere and noble love of the heart. She loves Orsino and never speak of .She suffers in her love when she,goes to woo,Olivia for Orsino. She is not zealous in her love.Her love is a monument of patience smiling at grief. Clearly her love is noble, ideal, and self-sacrifice.

Viola is sincere, honest and truthful.She performance her duty  to win Olivia for Orsino, does it honestly and faithfully when she meets Olivia,and Olivia falls in love with her,she tells Olivia truthfully that she will never marry any woman. She tells Olivia-

I have one heart,one bosom,one truth and that no woman has;nor never more shall mistress him of it,save I alone

Viola is not ungrateful to anyone.She hates ingratitude.When Antonio charges her with ingratitude she repudiates it saying

I know of none nor know  you by voice or any feature.I hate ingratitude more in a man than lying vainness…

Viola is essentially a woman.She may disguise herself as a man,but she has woman’s tenderness, pity lack of physical boldness and courage.She is afraid of blood shed and violence. She nearly faint at the sight of bright swords in the brief comic scene of her fight with Sir Andrew.

Above all, Viola is witty. She is as strong a wit as any other heroines of Shakespearean comedy. When she meet Olivia for the first time, Olivia asks her if she is a comedian. Viola replies,”I am not that I play.” Again when Olivia wants to know about her beauty from Viola, she tells Olivia-

Lady you are the cruelest
If you will lead those graces to grave
And leave the world no copy.

Once again,when Olivia wants to know how much Orsino loves her,Viola says-

With adorations,fertile tears,
With groans that thunder love,with sighs of fire.

Thus,Viola is typical Shakespearean heroine.She has beauty,wit and honesty,truthfulness,wisdom ,delicacy and tenderness.She has compound of beauty,Portia’s wit and Rosalind’s loveliness.She is an example of one who is born great and achieved greatness.She is a heroine.Drama is completely in live with other great heroines of Shakespearean comedy.