Viola rejects Olivia

Act 3 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In 'Cesario’s' second visit, Olivia is open about her love and tries to persuade 'Cesario' to admit that 'he' loves her too. Olivia thinks it is the messenger's pride that is stopping 'him' from loving a woman of higher social status. Viola tries to be truthful with Olivia without revealing her true identity, telling her ‘I am not what I am’ and that she can never love a woman.

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 controls this conversation? Are they using prose or verse and does it change?

    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.

    You’ll nothing, madam, to my lord by me?
    I prithee, tell me what thou think’st of me?
    That you do think you are not what you are.

    That you think you are in love (with a young man), but you’re not.

    If I think so, I think the same of you.
    Then think you right; I am not what I am.

    What do you think Viola means by this? What do you think Olivia thinks Cesario means by this?

    I would you were as I would have you be.
    Would it be better, madam, than I am?
    I wish it might, for now, I am your fool.
    (Aside) O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful
    In the contempt and anger of his lip!
    A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon
    Than love that would seem hid; love’s night is noon.

    (To VIOLA) Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
    By maidhood, honour, truth and everything,
    I love thee so that, maugre all thy pride,
    Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
    Do not extort thy reasons from this clause:
    For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause.
    But rather reason thus with reason fetter:
    Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.

    It is harder for someone in love to hide their feelings, than for a murderer to hide their guilt. Love shines out like the midday sun, however you try to hide it. (‘Murder will out’ was a common proverb in Shakespeare’s time)

    In spite of


    By innocence I swear, and by my youth,
    I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth.

    And that no woman has, nor never none
    Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.
    And so adieu, good madam; never more
    Will I my master’s tears to you deplore.

    Viola picks up Olivia’s style of language here, using oaths and rhyming couplets. Why do you think she does this?

    Yet come again; for thou perhaps mayst move
    That heart, which now abhors, to like his love.


  • 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?