Twelfth Night

by: William Shakespeare

Act I, scenes iii–iv

Regardless, the way Orsino talks to Cesario makes it clear that Orsino likes Cesario very much—and his language is closer to that of romantic love than that of ordinary friendship. “Cesario,” he tells him, “Thou know’st no less but all. I have unclasped / To thee the book even of my secret soul” (I.iv.11–13). Clearly, Orsino already seems to be attracted to Cesario in a way that defies our expectations of how male friends interact with one another.

This peculiar attraction is further developed when Orsino tells Cesario why he plans to send him to woo Olivia. Orsino explains that Olivia is more likely to listen to Cesario: “She will attend [Orsino’s repeated messages of love] better in thy youth / Than in a nuncio’s [i.e., messenger’s] of more grave aspect” (I.iv.26-–27). Cesario denies Orsino’s claim, but Orsino tells him that he should believe it, because, in his youthfulness, Cesario is as pretty as a young woman. “Diana’s lip / Is not more smooth and rubious [i.e., rosy]” than Cesario’s, Orsino tells him, comparing him favorably to the goddess Diana; and Cesario’s voice, Orsino claims, “[i]s as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, / And all is semblative a woman’s part” (I.iv.30–33). This series of compliments is both intriguing and complicated. In praising Cesario’s attractiveness, Orsino tells Cesario that he looks like a woman. His interest in having Cesario go to Olivia suggests his belief that Cesario’s womanly beauty will somehow entice Olivia. At the same time, it is difficult not to read in -Orsino’s words the suggestion that he too finds Cesario attractive: after all, Cesario reminds him strongly of a beautiful young woman.


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