Cesario intrigues Orsino

Act 2 Scene 4 – Key Scene

After listening to Feste sing a sad song about unrequited love, Orsino tells Cesario to visit Olivia again and persuade her to listen. Viola/Cesario argues that Orsino should accept that Olivia does not return his love, just as a woman who loved Orsino would have to accept that he did not love her. Orsino insists that women cannot love as strongly as men. Viola/Cesario again argues, telling him the story of her ‘father’s daughter’ who loved a man with a great passion but ‘never told her love’.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in rehearsal here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? What hints are there that Viola is trying to tell Orsino the truth about who she is?

    Actors at the RSC often paraphrase or put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    There is no woman’s sides
    Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
    As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart
    So big to hold so much, they lack retention.
    Alas, their love may be called appetite,
    No motion of the liver, but the palate,
    That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt.
    But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
    And can digest as much. Make no compare
    Between that love a woman can bear me
    And that I owe Olivia.

    Have for

    Ay, but I know –
    What dost thou know?
    Too well what love women to men may owe..
    In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
    My father had a daughter loved a man –
    As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,
    I should your lordship.

    Why do you think Viola feels the need to argue with Orsino at this moment?

    And what’s her history?
    A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
    But let concealment, like a worm i’the bud,
    Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,

    And with a green and yellow melancholy,
    She sat like Patience on a monument,
    Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
    We men may say more, swear more, but indeed
    Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
    Much in our vows, but little in our love.

    She let her secret eat away at her, taking the colour from her cheeks, like a worm feeds on pink damask roses.

    Pale and sickly sadness

    The figure of ‘Patience’ was often shown on Renaissance tombstones. Why do you think Viola might refer to a gravestone and to death here?

    We outwardly show more than we feel, and say much in our promises of love but don’t always do what we promise.

    But died thy sister of her love, my boy?
    I am all the daughters of my father’s house,
    And all the brothers too; and yet, I know not
    Sir, shall I to this lady?

    Why do you think Viola says this?

    Ay, that’s the theme.
    To her in haste; give her this jewel; say
    My love can give no place, bide no denay.

    Accept no denial or refusal

  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors trying it in different ways. Which way feels right? What, in the language makes you think that? Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Twelfth Night at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you?