Twelfth Night

by

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night: Metaphors 7 key examples

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Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Act 1, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Heart/Hart:

When Orsino speaks about his love for Olivia, his speeches are grandiose and filled with hyperbole and figurative language. This language, which is often clichéd and insincere, emphasizes that Orsino does not actually love Olivia and is in fact more obsessed with the concept of being in love than he is with any individual woman.

During an exchange with Curio in Act 1, Scene 1, Orsino uses a particularly flamboyant combination of metaphor and hyperbole:

Orsino: 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.

Olivia is obviously not actually a human air purifier, but this hyperbolic statement emphasizes Orsino's unrealistic view of her. Orsino considers Olivia so pure and chaste that he views her as incapable of producing body odor and regards her very presence as purging the air of unpleasant scents. In other words, he does not view her as a human being.

Orsino's use of hunting as a metaphor for love—comparing himself to a deer and his desires to hounds in pursuit—also illustrates that he is more interested in the pursuit of love than he is in Olivia herself.

Explanation and Analysis—The Sea:

The ocean is a constant presence for the coastal nation of Illyria in Twelfth Night, and while it is often characterized as a cruel and insatiable force, it also represents the inconstancy of human emotion.

At multiple points throughout the play, Orsino compares his love to the sea. In Act 1, Scene 1, he characterizes the spirit of love as an all-consuming entity with endless capacity:

Orsino: O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,

That, notwithstanding thy capacity

Receiveth as the sea

And in Act 2, Scene 4, he describes his love as a ravenous creature that, like the ocean, destroys everything that it consumes:

Orsino: But mine is all as hungry as the sea,

And can digest as much.

But Orsino's perception of the sea is quite at odds with how it is actually presented throughout Twelfth Night. Viola and Sebastian both survive the shipwreck that occurs at the beginning of the play and eventually reunite, showing that things lost to the sea do not necessarily remain lost forever. The sea, instead of being insatiable and destructive, is quite fickle—it swallows things and people up only to spit them out again, causing only temporary confusion.

Orsino's love, likewise, is not as all-consuming as he makes it out to be, since he is easily able to transfer it from Olivia to Viola when he discovers that the latter is a woman, and a high-born one at that. His desires, like the constantly moving ocean, are in a state of flux. In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste even references the sea when he pokes fun at Orsino's inconstant nature: 

Fool: I would have men of such

constancy put to sea, that their business might be

everything and their intent everywhere, for that’s it

that always makes a good voyage of nothing.

Although Viola, having narrowly escaped a watery death earlier in the play, has every reason to regard the ocean as a terrifying force, her descriptions of it in Act 3, Scene 4 are quite positive, reflective of the fact that she has just learned that her brother may be alive:

Viola: O, if it prove,

Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!

Just as waves creep up the shore at high tide and pull away at low tide, and just as an individual's emotions can oscillate wildly between joy and sorrow, love and hate, the identity of the ocean itself can also shift between different extremes. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Lovesickness:

Most physicians of Shakespeare's time were strong believers in humoral theory, which posited that the human body contained four vital fluids or "humors," and that an imbalance of these humors was the cause of all physical and mental ailments.

In Twelfth Night, both love and grief are compared to illness and associated with an imbalance of the humors. In Act 1, Scene 1, Orsino locates love in the stomach and associates an excess of it with feelings of nausea:

Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on.

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die.

According to humoral theory, all the humors of the body originated from food digestion. As a result, abnormalities of the stomach had the potential to throw the entire body out of balance. If this imbalance resulted in an excess of black bile, the result was a melancholy temperament. Orsino describes himself as suffering from this very sickness, which he attributes to an excess of love.

In Act 1, Scene 3, Sir Toby Belch describes the grief that Olivia feels over her brother's death as a type of disease:

Toby: What a plague means my niece to take the death

of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to

life.

Just as Orsino indulges in an excess of love, Olivia seems to indulge in an excess of grief. Her mourning for her brother proves to be rather insincere, and Feste even comments that she is selfishly choosing to wallow in misery. Although Toby's statement that "care's an enemy to life" seems rather callous, it is also largely correct—by reveling in melancholy, Olivia is unfairly depriving herself of the joys of living.

In Act 1, Scene 5, Olivia criticizes Malvolio for his narcissism, which she believes is making him unwell:

Olivia: O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste

with a distempered appetite.

During the Renaissance, the disease of melancholy was specifically associated with narcissistic self-love. Malvolio's specific brand of melancholy has made him irritable and humorless. Even Olivia, who is herself suffering from melancholy, is still able to appreciate Feste's jokes at her expense.

Later in the same scene, Olivia describes her sudden desire for Cesario as a type of illness:

Olivia: Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Although illness, according to humoral theory, is generally regarded as something that originates from within the body, this metaphor characterizes it as an external force that can come upon an individual suddenly and without warning. Olivia eagerly welcomes this so-called plague, and in casting off her grief for her brother in favor of desire, she trades one form of melancholy for another.

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Explanation and Analysis—Taste and Smell:

When Orsino talks about his love for Olivia, he frequently uses olfactory and gustatory imagery—that is, imagery that involves the senses of smell and taste.

The opening monologue of Act 1, Scene 1, for example, contains extensive metaphor and imagery that engage these senses:

Orsino: 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 odor.

While your average person would describe music in terms of auditory imagery, Orsino declares it "the food of love" and compares the sound of it to the perfumed breeze that blows over a bank of violets. He hopes that, by indulging in an excess of love, he will lose his "appetite" for it, just as he would lose his appetite for a certain food if he ate too much of it.

Later in the same scene, Orsino uses olfactory imagery to describe the moment he fell in love with Olivia:

Orsino: O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,

Methought she purged the air of pestilence.

Rather than commenting on the visual aspects of Olivia's beauty, Orsino instead focuses on the way she appeared to purify the air around her, granting it a sweetened scent.

The fact that Orsino focuses so heavily on taste and smell indicates that his feelings for Olivia are more about lust than love. These senses are very grounded in the physical body, and taste in particular is associated with the act of eating, i.e. consuming, so Orsino's use of this type of imagery implies that he is more interested in indulging in Olivia's physical body than he is in pursuing a real romantic relationship with her.

The term aphrodisiac is used to describe a food or drink that either increases sexual desire or improves sexual performance. The scent of flowers, according to Orsino, is a type of aphrodisiac as well:

Orsino: Away before me to sweet beds of flowers!

Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers

In other words, the smell of flowers will intensify his feelings of love (or, more likely, his feelings of lust).

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Act 1, scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Lovesickness:

Most physicians of Shakespeare's time were strong believers in humoral theory, which posited that the human body contained four vital fluids or "humors," and that an imbalance of these humors was the cause of all physical and mental ailments.

In Twelfth Night, both love and grief are compared to illness and associated with an imbalance of the humors. In Act 1, Scene 1, Orsino locates love in the stomach and associates an excess of it with feelings of nausea:

Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on.

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die.

According to humoral theory, all the humors of the body originated from food digestion. As a result, abnormalities of the stomach had the potential to throw the entire body out of balance. If this imbalance resulted in an excess of black bile, the result was a melancholy temperament. Orsino describes himself as suffering from this very sickness, which he attributes to an excess of love.

In Act 1, Scene 3, Sir Toby Belch describes the grief that Olivia feels over her brother's death as a type of disease:

Toby: What a plague means my niece to take the death

of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to

life.

Just as Orsino indulges in an excess of love, Olivia seems to indulge in an excess of grief. Her mourning for her brother proves to be rather insincere, and Feste even comments that she is selfishly choosing to wallow in misery. Although Toby's statement that "care's an enemy to life" seems rather callous, it is also largely correct—by reveling in melancholy, Olivia is unfairly depriving herself of the joys of living.

In Act 1, Scene 5, Olivia criticizes Malvolio for his narcissism, which she believes is making him unwell:

Olivia: O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste

with a distempered appetite.

During the Renaissance, the disease of melancholy was specifically associated with narcissistic self-love. Malvolio's specific brand of melancholy has made him irritable and humorless. Even Olivia, who is herself suffering from melancholy, is still able to appreciate Feste's jokes at her expense.

Later in the same scene, Olivia describes her sudden desire for Cesario as a type of illness:

Olivia: Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Although illness, according to humoral theory, is generally regarded as something that originates from within the body, this metaphor characterizes it as an external force that can come upon an individual suddenly and without warning. Olivia eagerly welcomes this so-called plague, and in casting off her grief for her brother in favor of desire, she trades one form of melancholy for another.

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Act 1, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Chambers/Chapters:

Characters in Twelfth Night frequently use metaphorical language to talk about love and desire. One especially evocative metaphor that appears more than once throughout the play likens the human heart to a book and the act of loving to the act of reading.

In Act 1, Scene 4, Orsino compares his soul to a locked book:

Orsino: I have unclasped

To thee the book even of my secret soul.

By comparing his soul to a book, specifically a locked one, Orsino characterizes his thoughts and emotions as secret, inaccessible things. Only Cesario, Orsino claims, is both trustworthy enough to read the book of his soul and wise enough to understand it.

This literary metaphor continues in Act 1, Scene 5, when Viola and Olivia discuss Orsino's heart as if it were a book with chapters:

Olivia: Where lies your text?

Viola: In Orsino’s bosom.

Olivia: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?

Viola: To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.

When Viola asserts that the declaration of love she has come to deliver is written in the first chapter of Orsino's heart, she likens the visceral state of being in love to the intellectual act of reading and creating literature. 

By using these metaphors to speak about love and friendship, Shakespeare elevates these concepts in the minds of his audience members and links them to the act of writing. Love, according to Shakespeare, is not only a worthy subject for literature, it is the entire point.

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Act 1, scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Chambers/Chapters:

Characters in Twelfth Night frequently use metaphorical language to talk about love and desire. One especially evocative metaphor that appears more than once throughout the play likens the human heart to a book and the act of loving to the act of reading.

In Act 1, Scene 4, Orsino compares his soul to a locked book:

Orsino: I have unclasped

To thee the book even of my secret soul.

By comparing his soul to a book, specifically a locked one, Orsino characterizes his thoughts and emotions as secret, inaccessible things. Only Cesario, Orsino claims, is both trustworthy enough to read the book of his soul and wise enough to understand it.

This literary metaphor continues in Act 1, Scene 5, when Viola and Olivia discuss Orsino's heart as if it were a book with chapters:

Olivia: Where lies your text?

Viola: In Orsino’s bosom.

Olivia: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?

Viola: To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.

When Viola asserts that the declaration of love she has come to deliver is written in the first chapter of Orsino's heart, she likens the visceral state of being in love to the intellectual act of reading and creating literature. 

By using these metaphors to speak about love and friendship, Shakespeare elevates these concepts in the minds of his audience members and links them to the act of writing. Love, according to Shakespeare, is not only a worthy subject for literature, it is the entire point.

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Explanation and Analysis—Lovesickness:

Most physicians of Shakespeare's time were strong believers in humoral theory, which posited that the human body contained four vital fluids or "humors," and that an imbalance of these humors was the cause of all physical and mental ailments.

In Twelfth Night, both love and grief are compared to illness and associated with an imbalance of the humors. In Act 1, Scene 1, Orsino locates love in the stomach and associates an excess of it with feelings of nausea:

Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on.

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die.

According to humoral theory, all the humors of the body originated from food digestion. As a result, abnormalities of the stomach had the potential to throw the entire body out of balance. If this imbalance resulted in an excess of black bile, the result was a melancholy temperament. Orsino describes himself as suffering from this very sickness, which he attributes to an excess of love.

In Act 1, Scene 3, Sir Toby Belch describes the grief that Olivia feels over her brother's death as a type of disease:

Toby: What a plague means my niece to take the death

of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to

life.

Just as Orsino indulges in an excess of love, Olivia seems to indulge in an excess of grief. Her mourning for her brother proves to be rather insincere, and Feste even comments that she is selfishly choosing to wallow in misery. Although Toby's statement that "care's an enemy to life" seems rather callous, it is also largely correct—by reveling in melancholy, Olivia is unfairly depriving herself of the joys of living.

In Act 1, Scene 5, Olivia criticizes Malvolio for his narcissism, which she believes is making him unwell:

Olivia: O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste

with a distempered appetite.

During the Renaissance, the disease of melancholy was specifically associated with narcissistic self-love. Malvolio's specific brand of melancholy has made him irritable and humorless. Even Olivia, who is herself suffering from melancholy, is still able to appreciate Feste's jokes at her expense.

Later in the same scene, Olivia describes her sudden desire for Cesario as a type of illness:

Olivia: Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Although illness, according to humoral theory, is generally regarded as something that originates from within the body, this metaphor characterizes it as an external force that can come upon an individual suddenly and without warning. Olivia eagerly welcomes this so-called plague, and in casting off her grief for her brother in favor of desire, she trades one form of melancholy for another.

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Act 2, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—I Am the Man:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Viola realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with her masculine disguise and delivers a soliloquy lamenting the absurdity of her situation. This complicated soliloquy is rich with literary devices, including allusion, personification, and metaphor.

Having understood the meaning of Olivia's ring, Viola bemoans the impossibility of Olivia's love for her, which can be read as a lament about the impossibility of same-sex attraction as a whole:

Viola: Poor lady, she were better love a dream.

The relationship between Olivia and Viola can be read as an allusion to the myth of Iphis and Ianthe, which is recounted in Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Ovid, Iphis was born in Crete to parents Telethusa and Ligdus. While Telethusa was pregnant, Ligdus resolved to kill the child if it was a girl, since he would be too poor to afford her dowry. The child was indeed born a girl, but Telethusa, with the aid of the goddess Isis, successfully concealed the baby's sex from her husband and raised her as a boy. When Iphis reached adulthood, Ligdus arranged for her to be married to a young woman named Ianthe. The two women fell deeply in love with each other, but Iphis despaired that a marriage between two women was impossible. The goddess Isis, taking pity on the two lovers, transformed Iphis into a man.

Just as Ianthe falls in love with Iphis, not knowing that she is a woman in disguise, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, unaware that she is actually Viola. And Viola, like Iphis, is symbolically "transformed" into a man when her identical brother Sebastian takes her place as Olivia's beloved.

Following this classical allusion is a reference to Christianity:

Viola: Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness

Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.

By alluding to the Devil, Viola is possibly referencing the fact that Eve, the first woman, was deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Viola may view herself in the role of the deceiving serpent, a comparison that is made more fitting by the fact that serpents are viewed as phallic symbols in some cultures.

Later in the monologue, Viola also alludes to the myth of Hermaphroditus:

Viola: And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,

And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.

In Shakespeare's time, individuals of ambiguous sex and gender were viewed as monsters. This view comes in part from the myth of Hermaphroditus. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hermaphroditus was the remarkably handsome son of the love goddess Aphrodite and the trickster god Hermes. A licentious nymph named Salmacis fell in love with Hermaphroditus, and when he rebuffed her advances, she attempted to rape him. During the assault, she begged the gods to unite the two of them forever. In response, the gods merged their bodies into one, creating the first hermaphrodite.

This myth is unusual because it depicts a woman as the lover/aggressor and the man as the beloved/victim. In Twelfth Night, Olivia actively pursues Cesario, who does not return her affections, inverting the usual gender roles of courtship.

In addition to classical and biblical allusions, Viola's soliloquy contains several instances of metaphor and personification. At one point, Viola compares women's hearts to wax, which deceitful men can easily mold:

How easy is it for the proper false

In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!

Lamenting her predicament, which she compares to a complicated knot, she personifies Time and calls upon them for aid:

Viola: O Time, thou must untangle this, not I.

It is too hard a knot for me t’ untie.

This soliloquy also contains one important line that has been persistently misprinted:

Viola: Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,

For such as we are made of, such we be.

In most modern versions of Twelfth Night, Viola says "OUR frailty," but in the original version of the play published in the 1623 First Folio, the line instead reads "O frailty." In the original version, Viola seems to be making a comment on the frailty of humankind as a whole, but when the line is changed to "our," she is suddenly making a comment on the frailty of women specifically. Considering the fact that Twelfth Night is populated by a number of assertive, dynamic women, it seems especially unfair that Shakespeare's words have been twisted in this manner.

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Act 2, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Costumes:

Twelfth Night is a play filled with costumes and disguises. In addition to creating endless moments of humor and mistaken identity, clothing acts as a motif that represents the fluidity of human identity and emotion.

One important piece of clothing is Olivia's veil, which is symbolic of her grief over her brother's death. This veil, as demonstrated during Cesario's visit in Act 1, Scene 5, can easily be removed, which implies that this grief is performative. Just as Orsino is more in love with the idea of being in love, Olivia is more committed to the appearance of mourning than she is to the memory of her brother. Her grief is not deeply felt; she can take it off and put it back on whenever she chooses.

In Act 3, Scene 1, while confessing her love to Cesario, Olivia also calls attention to the material of her mourning clothes:

Olivia: A cypress, not a bosom,

Hides my heart.

Cypress is a type of lightweight, gauzy black fabric often used in mourning wear. With this metaphor, Olivia is both asserting that her heart is on her sleeve and connecting a symbol of grief to the concept of love. Ironically, since cypress fabric is semi-transparent, it doesn't actually "hide" much of anything. Olivia's heart (as well as her body) is on full display, which undermines the chaste image that her mourning clothes are meant to present. The identity of these clothes, like Olivia's emotions, are fluid—on one hand, they represent grief and concealment, while they represent desire and vulnerability on the other.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste uses a clothing metaphor to poke fun at Orsino's inconstant nature:

Fool: Now the melancholy god protect thee and the

tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy

mind is a very opal.

Since Orsino's mind is as changeable as the color of an opal, a stone that takes on different hues depending on where the light hits it, Feste quips that he ought to dress in color-changing clothes. While Orsino makes a show of being truly in love with Olivia, an opal doublet would make his appearance accurately reflect his nature.

In Act 3, Scene 1, Feste uses another clothing metaphor to point out the unreliability of language:

Fool: A sentence is

but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the

wrong side may be turned outward!

Just as turning a glove inside out renders it useless, Feste reasons, playing around with words makes them meaningless. This metaphor may be a jab at Orsino, whose flowery love poetry reflects his lack of genuine feeling.

Finally, the clothes Viola wears when she is disguised as a man help to illustrate the fluid nature of her gender and of Orsino's sexuality. In Act 5, Scene 1, Orsino continues to address Viola as Cesario while she wears men's clothing: 

Orsino: Cesario, come,

For so you shall be while you are a man.

But when in other habits you are seen,

Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen.

Orsino's language is precise: Viola is not merely dressed as a man, while she wears these clothes she is a man, and she will only become a woman when she dons her "woman's weeds." And although Orsino wishes to see her dressed as a woman, he falls in love with her while she is still Cesario, suggesting that his attraction to her is not wholly dependent on either her gender presentation or her gender identity.

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Explanation and Analysis—The Sea:

The ocean is a constant presence for the coastal nation of Illyria in Twelfth Night, and while it is often characterized as a cruel and insatiable force, it also represents the inconstancy of human emotion.

At multiple points throughout the play, Orsino compares his love to the sea. In Act 1, Scene 1, he characterizes the spirit of love as an all-consuming entity with endless capacity:

Orsino: O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,

That, notwithstanding thy capacity

Receiveth as the sea

And in Act 2, Scene 4, he describes his love as a ravenous creature that, like the ocean, destroys everything that it consumes:

Orsino: But mine is all as hungry as the sea,

And can digest as much.

But Orsino's perception of the sea is quite at odds with how it is actually presented throughout Twelfth Night. Viola and Sebastian both survive the shipwreck that occurs at the beginning of the play and eventually reunite, showing that things lost to the sea do not necessarily remain lost forever. The sea, instead of being insatiable and destructive, is quite fickle—it swallows things and people up only to spit them out again, causing only temporary confusion.

Orsino's love, likewise, is not as all-consuming as he makes it out to be, since he is easily able to transfer it from Olivia to Viola when he discovers that the latter is a woman, and a high-born one at that. His desires, like the constantly moving ocean, are in a state of flux. In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste even references the sea when he pokes fun at Orsino's inconstant nature: 

Fool: I would have men of such

constancy put to sea, that their business might be

everything and their intent everywhere, for that’s it

that always makes a good voyage of nothing.

Although Viola, having narrowly escaped a watery death earlier in the play, has every reason to regard the ocean as a terrifying force, her descriptions of it in Act 3, Scene 4 are quite positive, reflective of the fact that she has just learned that her brother may be alive:

Viola: O, if it prove,

Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!

Just as waves creep up the shore at high tide and pull away at low tide, and just as an individual's emotions can oscillate wildly between joy and sorrow, love and hate, the identity of the ocean itself can also shift between different extremes. 

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Act 3, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Costumes:

Twelfth Night is a play filled with costumes and disguises. In addition to creating endless moments of humor and mistaken identity, clothing acts as a motif that represents the fluidity of human identity and emotion.

One important piece of clothing is Olivia's veil, which is symbolic of her grief over her brother's death. This veil, as demonstrated during Cesario's visit in Act 1, Scene 5, can easily be removed, which implies that this grief is performative. Just as Orsino is more in love with the idea of being in love, Olivia is more committed to the appearance of mourning than she is to the memory of her brother. Her grief is not deeply felt; she can take it off and put it back on whenever she chooses.

In Act 3, Scene 1, while confessing her love to Cesario, Olivia also calls attention to the material of her mourning clothes:

Olivia: A cypress, not a bosom,

Hides my heart.

Cypress is a type of lightweight, gauzy black fabric often used in mourning wear. With this metaphor, Olivia is both asserting that her heart is on her sleeve and connecting a symbol of grief to the concept of love. Ironically, since cypress fabric is semi-transparent, it doesn't actually "hide" much of anything. Olivia's heart (as well as her body) is on full display, which undermines the chaste image that her mourning clothes are meant to present. The identity of these clothes, like Olivia's emotions, are fluid—on one hand, they represent grief and concealment, while they represent desire and vulnerability on the other.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste uses a clothing metaphor to poke fun at Orsino's inconstant nature:

Fool: Now the melancholy god protect thee and the

tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy

mind is a very opal.

Since Orsino's mind is as changeable as the color of an opal, a stone that takes on different hues depending on where the light hits it, Feste quips that he ought to dress in color-changing clothes. While Orsino makes a show of being truly in love with Olivia, an opal doublet would make his appearance accurately reflect his nature.

In Act 3, Scene 1, Feste uses another clothing metaphor to point out the unreliability of language:

Fool: A sentence is

but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the

wrong side may be turned outward!

Just as turning a glove inside out renders it useless, Feste reasons, playing around with words makes them meaningless. This metaphor may be a jab at Orsino, whose flowery love poetry reflects his lack of genuine feeling.

Finally, the clothes Viola wears when she is disguised as a man help to illustrate the fluid nature of her gender and of Orsino's sexuality. In Act 5, Scene 1, Orsino continues to address Viola as Cesario while she wears men's clothing: 

Orsino: Cesario, come,

For so you shall be while you are a man.

But when in other habits you are seen,

Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen.

Orsino's language is precise: Viola is not merely dressed as a man, while she wears these clothes she is a man, and she will only become a woman when she dons her "woman's weeds." And although Orsino wishes to see her dressed as a woman, he falls in love with her while she is still Cesario, suggesting that his attraction to her is not wholly dependent on either her gender presentation or her gender identity.

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Act 3, scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—The Sea:

The ocean is a constant presence for the coastal nation of Illyria in Twelfth Night, and while it is often characterized as a cruel and insatiable force, it also represents the inconstancy of human emotion.

At multiple points throughout the play, Orsino compares his love to the sea. In Act 1, Scene 1, he characterizes the spirit of love as an all-consuming entity with endless capacity:

Orsino: O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,

That, notwithstanding thy capacity

Receiveth as the sea

And in Act 2, Scene 4, he describes his love as a ravenous creature that, like the ocean, destroys everything that it consumes:

Orsino: But mine is all as hungry as the sea,

And can digest as much.

But Orsino's perception of the sea is quite at odds with how it is actually presented throughout Twelfth Night. Viola and Sebastian both survive the shipwreck that occurs at the beginning of the play and eventually reunite, showing that things lost to the sea do not necessarily remain lost forever. The sea, instead of being insatiable and destructive, is quite fickle—it swallows things and people up only to spit them out again, causing only temporary confusion.

Orsino's love, likewise, is not as all-consuming as he makes it out to be, since he is easily able to transfer it from Olivia to Viola when he discovers that the latter is a woman, and a high-born one at that. His desires, like the constantly moving ocean, are in a state of flux. In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste even references the sea when he pokes fun at Orsino's inconstant nature: 

Fool: I would have men of such

constancy put to sea, that their business might be

everything and their intent everywhere, for that’s it

that always makes a good voyage of nothing.

Although Viola, having narrowly escaped a watery death earlier in the play, has every reason to regard the ocean as a terrifying force, her descriptions of it in Act 3, Scene 4 are quite positive, reflective of the fact that she has just learned that her brother may be alive:

Viola: O, if it prove,

Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!

Just as waves creep up the shore at high tide and pull away at low tide, and just as an individual's emotions can oscillate wildly between joy and sorrow, love and hate, the identity of the ocean itself can also shift between different extremes. 

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Act 5, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Costumes:

Twelfth Night is a play filled with costumes and disguises. In addition to creating endless moments of humor and mistaken identity, clothing acts as a motif that represents the fluidity of human identity and emotion.

One important piece of clothing is Olivia's veil, which is symbolic of her grief over her brother's death. This veil, as demonstrated during Cesario's visit in Act 1, Scene 5, can easily be removed, which implies that this grief is performative. Just as Orsino is more in love with the idea of being in love, Olivia is more committed to the appearance of mourning than she is to the memory of her brother. Her grief is not deeply felt; she can take it off and put it back on whenever she chooses.

In Act 3, Scene 1, while confessing her love to Cesario, Olivia also calls attention to the material of her mourning clothes:

Olivia: A cypress, not a bosom,

Hides my heart.

Cypress is a type of lightweight, gauzy black fabric often used in mourning wear. With this metaphor, Olivia is both asserting that her heart is on her sleeve and connecting a symbol of grief to the concept of love. Ironically, since cypress fabric is semi-transparent, it doesn't actually "hide" much of anything. Olivia's heart (as well as her body) is on full display, which undermines the chaste image that her mourning clothes are meant to present. The identity of these clothes, like Olivia's emotions, are fluid—on one hand, they represent grief and concealment, while they represent desire and vulnerability on the other.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Feste uses a clothing metaphor to poke fun at Orsino's inconstant nature:

Fool: Now the melancholy god protect thee and the

tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy

mind is a very opal.

Since Orsino's mind is as changeable as the color of an opal, a stone that takes on different hues depending on where the light hits it, Feste quips that he ought to dress in color-changing clothes. While Orsino makes a show of being truly in love with Olivia, an opal doublet would make his appearance accurately reflect his nature.

In Act 3, Scene 1, Feste uses another clothing metaphor to point out the unreliability of language:

Fool: A sentence is

but a chev’ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the

wrong side may be turned outward!

Just as turning a glove inside out renders it useless, Feste reasons, playing around with words makes them meaningless. This metaphor may be a jab at Orsino, whose flowery love poetry reflects his lack of genuine feeling.

Finally, the clothes Viola wears when she is disguised as a man help to illustrate the fluid nature of her gender and of Orsino's sexuality. In Act 5, Scene 1, Orsino continues to address Viola as Cesario while she wears men's clothing: 

Orsino: Cesario, come,

For so you shall be while you are a man.

But when in other habits you are seen,

Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen.

Orsino's language is precise: Viola is not merely dressed as a man, while she wears these clothes she is a man, and she will only become a woman when she dons her "woman's weeds." And although Orsino wishes to see her dressed as a woman, he falls in love with her while she is still Cesario, suggesting that his attraction to her is not wholly dependent on either her gender presentation or her gender identity.

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