Twelfth Night

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Desire and Love Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Twelfth Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Desire and Love Theme Icon

Every major character in Twelfth Night experiences some form of desire or love. Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia. Viola falls in love with Orsino, while disguised as his pageboy, Cesario. Olivia falls in love with Cesario. This love triangle is only resolved when Olivia falls in love with Viola's twin brother, Sebastian, and, at the last minute, Orsino decides that he actually loves Viola. Twelfth Night derives much of its comic force by satirizing these lovers. For instance, Shakespeare pokes fun at Orsino's flowery love poetry, making it clear that Orsino is more in love with being in love than with his supposed beloveds. At the same time, by showing the details of the intricate rules that govern how nobles engage in courtship, Shakespeare examines how characters play the "game" of love.

Twelfth Night further mocks the main characters' romantic ideas about love through the escapades of the servants. Malvolio's idiotic behavior, which he believes will win Olivia's heart, serves to underline Orsino's own only-slightly-less silly romantic ideas. Meanwhile, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch, and Maria, are always cracking crass double entendres that make it clear that while the nobles may spout flowery poetry about romantic love, that love is at least partly motivated by desire and sex. Shakespeare further makes fun of romantic love by showing how the devotion that connects siblings (Viola and Sebastian) and servants to masters (Antonio to Sebastian and Maria to Olivia) actually prove more constant than any of the romantic bonds in the play.

Desire and Love ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Desire and Love appears in each scene of Twelfth Night. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Desire and Love Quotes in Twelfth Night

Below you will find the important quotes in Twelfth Night related to the theme of Desire and Love.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die. (1-3)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker)
So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical. (14-15)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker)
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
I am a great eater of beef , and I believe that does harm to my wit. (79-80)
Related Characters: Sir Andrew Aguecheek (speaker)
I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues, that I have in fencing, dancing and bear-baiting: O, had I but followed the arts! (85-87)
Related Characters: Sir Andrew Aguecheek (speaker)
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage. (17)
Related Characters: Feste (speaker)
Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy. (224-226)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Olivia
Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia!' O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me. (251-259)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino, Olivia
Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming. (39)
Related Characters: Feste (speaker)
What is love? Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter:
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty:
Youth's a stuff will not endure. (43-48)
Related Characters: Feste (speaker)
I was adored once too. (171)
Related Characters: Sir Andrew Aguecheek (speaker)
Act 2, scene 4 Quotes
Let still the woman take
An elder than herself: so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart:
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are. (28-34)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent. (35-36)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker)
Now the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal. (72-73)
Related Characters: Feste (speaker), Orsino
Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
Orsino: And what's her history?
Viola: 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? (105-114)
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino (speaker)
Act 2, scene 5 Quotes
I may command where I adore. (98)
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker)
Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (130)
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio (speaker)
Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Love sought is good, but given unsought is better. (153)
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker)
Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
Why, this is very midsummer madness. (53)
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio
Go hang yourselves all! You are idle shallow things; I am not of your element. (113)
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Feste, Fabian
Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Give me thy hand
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds. (264-5)
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Why have you suffered me to be imprisoned,
Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geck and gull
That e'er invention played on? Tell me why. (331-334)
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Olivia