Twelfth Night Act One: Night language?
Twelfth Night reminds us how we can fall in love! One moment we are going about our daily lives rearranging details, assuming contentment; the next out of our ‘peripheral’ vision there appears the someone who becomes quite simply and arrestingly the ‘face’. In this scene Olivia meet Cesario/Viola for the first time and wakes up into a vital, fascinated desirous state! The fascination emanates from the revitalisation of Olivia’s exhausted state of mourning through the provocative ‘freshness’ of Cesario’s conversation. Language is for life or for death in the play.
Cesario has been sent on a mission for her ‘master’ and secret love in this scene and this places her in a very odd situation. Should she ‘fail’ to seduce Olivia for the Duke then the Duke will regard ‘her’ as perhaps disloyal. If she succeeds in attracting Olivia for the Duke then she loses any possibility of loving the Duke openly for herself. The pleasure of this scene is of course the liberating surprise of a strangely ‘unbounded ‘ flirtation. For WHY does Cesario ask Olivia to unveil herself? Is this necessary to her assignment? Or is it just a rival’s curiosity? I would suggest neither.
Significantly Olivia allows this spirited interloper into her monotonous world to see her metaphorically ‘undressed’. The frisson is palpable: the powerful woman allows herself to be dominated and enjoys it!
Verbal strip tease yields to a literal risk of emotional and romantic ‘exposure’. The self-irony of Olivia, too accustomed to empty flattery is met by a new response. A response which makes Olivia notice her ‘antagonist’ still more facinated, still more ‘aroused’ by this new ‘note’ in her previously stale existence.
‘Why, what would you?’
How breathessly suggestive is this? The use of the conditional ‘would’ invites Cesario to seduce her. And with her own script. NOTHING that the Duke with his egocentric self-love speaks of rivals this: Ceasario reaches into her heart and pulls out a passionate ‘night text’ which leaves Olivia out of her text too:
‘ You might do much’
Olivia I am sure, feels in need of the proverbial cold shower !
One of sexiest scenes in literature and highlights how much freshness and openness can enchant !
The Woman in Black
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