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Motif in Twelfth Night

Motif Examples in Twelfth Night:

Act I - Scene IV

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"Yet, a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife...."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Viola’s instant love could come from Orsino’s poetic allusions in his previous speech. His use of the poetic blazon to describe Cesario invokes the motif of poetry and shows that there is no stronger power over human emotions than poetry and writing.

"I have unclasp'd To thee the book even of my secret soul:..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Throughout the play, letters, handwriting, and poetry are motifs that show the power of writing over human emotions. Here, Orsino refers to his feelings as part of a “book” that he has entrusted to Cesario. The word “book” is significant because it frames his feelings as a story: the power of Orsino’s love comes from its narrative structure.

"Where lies your text? VIOLA: In Orsino's bosom. OLIVIA: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Notice that Viola and Olivia talk about love using metaphors that compare it to written words: “text” and “chapter.” This motif of writing suggest that words and poetry have power over one’s thoughts, so much so that Viola is able to break Olivia of her melancholy in this scene.

"I can write very like my lady, your niece;..."   (Act II - Scene III)

In asserting that she can imitate Olivia’s handwriting, Maria invokes the motif of writing as important in this play. She creates a direct relationship between handwriting and expressing one’s heart.

"M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.’..."   (Act II - Scene V)

All of the letters in Olivia’s fake letter are in Malvolio’s name. However, because they are out of order, it takes a leap of imagination on Malvolio’s part to make the letter explicitly about him. This reveals Malvolio’s ambition and the blindness it induces within him. Some scholars have looked at the random letters as an anagram for “I am Olivia.”

"write it in a martial hand..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Fabian and Toby tell Sir Andrew to “write” his challenge in a “martial hand” because writing is the best way that he can express his anger. Just as other characters in the play have used writing as a way to express love, Andrew will use writing to declare war against Cesario. Writing is shown again as the means by which characters express their strongest emotions.

"Heaven restore thee!..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Notice that Malvolio trusts the writing more than he does Olivia’s spoken words. In this scene, she is very obviously surprised and disgusted by Malvolio’s actions. However, because Malvolio read “her words,” he ignores the social cues that contradict the letter. Once again, writing is shown to be the most influential ruler of human action and emotion.

"help me to a candle, and pen, ink, and paper; as I am a gentleman,..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Once he realizes that he’s been tricked, Malvolio plans to write his way out of his troubles. He asks the fool for light and paper so that he might tell his story. Once again, writing is the means by which the characters express themselves and manipulate circumstances.

"—a savage jealousy..."   (Act V - Scene I)

The word “jealousy” takes on multiple meanings throughout this play. Here, Orsino uses it to signify anger, or wrath against someone. While this could be seen as a moment of tragedy in which Orsino’s love turns into vengeance, the motif of “jealousy” as a form of devotion turns this into a comic moment.

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