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Discuss the similarities and differences between Olivia and Viola in "Twelfth Night".

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Lisa Bishop Discuss the similarities and differences between Olivia and Viola in "Twelfth Night". Although Olivia and Viola possess a number of qualities which are not just different, but in complete opposition with one another other, they do in fact have a great deal in common. The names Shakespeare has given the two characters is perhaps a reflection of this; the words "Olivia" and "Viola" consist of almost exactly the same letters, yet are clearly arranged to form two different names. Firstly, and most obviously, their statuses in the play are very similar: they are both women, of approximately the same age, and have recently lost their brother. They are also, despite their individual flaws, both "good" people and possess many positive personality traits. However, although some of these positive traits are present in both Olivia and Viola, there are many that are unique to each and in order for these to be identified, careful attention needs to be paid to their thoughts and actions throughout the play. ...read more.


It is these qualities that enable Viola to gain Orsino's special confidence and that cause Olivia to all in love with her. Her conversations with Orsino and Olivia show that she is a straightforward and honest character in spite of the deception she is forced to enact for her own survival; she loyally continues to thy to win Olivia's love for Orsino, even though she loves him herself and she treats Olivia with dignity when she confesses her love for her (as Cesario). Such capacity for deep feeling is something which is most prominent throughout the play, in particular in Act 2, Scene 4, in which she tells Orsino a story, which begins, "My father had a daughter lov'd a man..." Olivia, however, possesses a number of altogether characteristics. Our first encounter with her is certainly less favourable than that of Viola. Having made an extravagant vow to mourn her brother for seven years, we soon witness her breaking her promise, and thus her capability of self-deception. ...read more.


sympathise, and when Malvolio claims, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you", her compassionate nature causes her to respond, "He hath been most notoriously abused." So then, to conclude, Shakespeare undoubtedly intended the audience to draw some parallels and recognise a number of similarities between the characters Viola and Olivia, which is suggested by the similarity of their names, their situation and their link with Orsino. However, this does not mean to say they are necessarily similar in character - as illustrated above they are clearly not. Viola is, amongst many things, practical, sensible, sympathetic and very much in control. In complete contrast, Olivia is emotional, sentimental and changeable. However, this does not mean to say that one character is better or worse than the other - though throughout the play Shakespeare makes it very clear that they posses different traits, ultimately they are "good" people, and this "finished product" is a great deal more important than the route taken by each in order to achieve this. ...read more.

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