The In her home, she speaks and acts,

            The Twelfth Night or What You Will, is a play full of whimsical situations
and heavy commentary. These elements intertwine in the to form rich character
arcs for many of the colorful characters in the play. Much has been said about
Viola, the main protagonist of the play, as is appropriate, since there is
plenty to say about her. However, there are characters that also go through inner
journeys that are worth discussing. For instance Olivia, the beautiful
countess. Throughout William Shakespeare’s play The Twelfth Night or What You Will, Olivia undergoes a voyage of
self-discovery with the aid of Viola’s disguise persona, Cesario, to go from a
mourning, self-involved countess to a proactive, strident woman in love, to a balanced,
content character.

            In
the beginning of the play, Countess Olivia is portrayed as a mourning, loving
sister who has secluded herself like a nun from society and all worldly
pleasures. This is similar to Malvolio’s puritanical behavior, however, as the
play goes on, it becomes clear that Olivia is not really like that at all. In
her home, she speaks and acts, and even low-key jokes with Feste the fool, with
no trace of the unspeakable sorrow that she has been displaying to the world.

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Through this, we find out that Olivia’s mourning is a hollow act that merely
follow the accepted conventions of that time. This also paints Olivia as a
self-involved, almost unfeeling, and even an unbalanced character in the play.

Unbalanced because, as she’s teetering on the edge of one extreme, in comes Cesario,
or the disguised Viola, and Olivia, in a heartbeat, changes her behavior.

            When
Olivia meets Cesario, and they exchange the first of their witty conversations,
Olivia quickly tips over into the other extreme. Like Orsino, she sighs in vain
and wallows in self-woe over her undying love for Cesario, but unlike Orsino,
she also takes action when the opportunity arises. This is more in line with
the topsy-turvy mood of the play, since women in Elizabethan England were
supposed to be quiet and obedient, both stereotypes that Olivia quickly breaks
by not only being the first one to propose, but also wishing to marry someone
of lower status and younger age than her (and someone who is technically also a
girl). However, Olivia still remains an unbalanced character because she, quite
literally, is blindly and relentlessly pursuing the first person who managed to
stir some emotion in her.

            Towards
the end of the play, Cesario’s true “identities” are revealed and it becomes
clear that Olivia has actually married Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian. At this
moment, it’s unclear what Olivia thinks or feels of all of this, since all she manages
to utter is the simple phrase: “Most wonderful.” It may be said that this
ordeal has turned out slightly tragic for Olivia, after all she has married
someone whom she just met and the person she truly love is someone who’s simply
fictional, Cesario, or someone who’s inaccessible to her, Viola, because of the
conventions of the time and the fact that she doesn’t reciprocate Olivia’s
feelings and loves Duke Orsino instead. Or it may be said that, keeping in mind
that Viola and Sebastian are supposed to be very much alike, Olivia ends up
with the person whom she’ll actually be happy with because Sebastian is able to
reciprocate her feelings, unlike Viola, and who Olivia truly loves is the
androgynous Sebastian-type, who has been foreshadowed by Viola’s Cesario. The
pairing-off of the heterosexual couples helps the play to restore order in the
chaotic and topsy-turvy world of Twelfth Night (which is the essence of the
actual holiday). To the characters in the comedy, including Olivia, this means
balance and a state of contentment. To the characters who dared to defy the
norms and were unwilling to abandon their extreme ways, such as Malvolio, this
means getting left behind in the tragedy of the play.

            Olivia,
though not the central heroine of the play, undergoes a definite inner journey
in her identity. In the beginning, she’s a self-involved countess who’s merely
playing the part of the mourning sister. As she meets Cesario, she quickly
changes and becomes the woman in love who’ll stop at nothing to attain the love
of her beloved. At the end, as identities are revealed and misunderstandings
are cleared up, Olivia finds a certain balance in having felt passion and is
content at the fact that she has found, at least a friend in Viola, if not also
a happy marriage in Sebastian.

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