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Madness in Love in William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”

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There are many definitions for love, but there are also many definitions for madness. Both words, when joined together, create an endless possibility of emotions and actions one can bare to hold for the sake of another. Madness can be described as “senseless folly”. When a person is in love with another, they tend to define their feelings of passionate affection for this other person. Shakespeare’s concept was to involve some of his characters with this feeling. In Twelfth Night, madness is created by the misconception and misunderstanding due to love. Mainly, it is said that Love is one of the most significant types of madness. It leads to causes like confusion and chaos in mind, mentality, and behavior. In the Twelfth Night, the Duke Orsino falls madly in love with Olivia. Orsino describes his love towards Olivia deeper than he could imagine, “So full of shapes is fancy, that it alone is high fantastical”.

Orsino loses his focus on reality as he says “For such as I am all true lovers are. Unstaid and skittish in all motions else, save in the constant image of the creature, that is beloved.”(P.34) The only thing that is real for him at the moment is anything that has to do with his “beloved creature”, the beautiful Olivia. We also see Olivia’s senseless acts come to play as she finds herself smitten after her first encounter with Cesario: ”I do I know not what, and fear to find. Mine eye too great a flatterer of my mind. […]What is decreed must be – and be this so!”(P. 24) Olivia finds herself unable to think properly because she is so distracted and flustered by the attractive looks of Cesario. Another interpretation could be that Olivia’s affection has been taken and used up by Cesario due to the loss of her brother and she refuses to share her love with anyone else. Later on in the play Malvolio’s madness changes from the state of being madly in love and committing crazy acts of devotion to the state of being in madness or chaos because of the misunderstanding of the situation. He thinks it was Olivia who wrote the trick note when it was really Maria, Toby, and Andrew who tried to trick him.

They created a letter, pretending to be Olivia, telling Malvolio what will make her happy. The letter did not even state that it was Olivia, but because Malvolio was excited to gain her favor he jumped to the conclusion that it was her. Malvolio’s infatuation for Olivia was so great it clouded his ability to think properly. “Daylight and champion discovers not more!”, is Malvolio’s first comment as he finished reading. He was so desperate to please Olivia and gain her love, he jumps straight to the conclusion that she wrote the letter for him. The little acts of devotion Maria mentioned in the letter were so absurd Malvolio was willingly ready to fulfill all of them: “I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me, for every reason excites to this, that my lady love me.

I will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on.”(P.44) Malvolio enters into a state of madness and confusion because he feels no one else knows what he is talking about. Whether madness was created due to acting foolishly because of an infatuated feeling or acting with intense emotion over someone you really care about, all these situations were because of love. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “there is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness”. Shakespeare’s characters Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio, all had a cause for their madness, and it was because of their love for somebody else. Sometimes it is a feeling that comes over you that you think is love but it doesn’t have to mean that it is simultaneously true.

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