Twelfth Night

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, scenes iii–iv

pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. . . .
         (II.iv.111–114)

“Patience on a monument” refers to statues of the allegorical figure of Patience, which often adorned Renaissance tombstones. By comparing her imaginary sister to this stone figure, Viola subtly contrasts her own passion with the self-indulgent and grandiose lovesickness from which Orsino claims to suffer. She depicts herself as bearing a love that is, unlike the duke’s, patient, silent, and eternally enduring. Of course, the image of a tombstone suggests that such a love is ultimately fatal, leading to Orsino’s question—“But died thy sister of her love, my boy?” (I.iv.118). This question is appropriately left open: we do not know yet whether Viola will die (literally or metaphorically) of her love for Orsino, and so she can only respond, ambiguously yet cleverly, “I am all the daughters of my father’s house, / And all the brothers too; and yet I know not” (I.iv.119–120). We, like Viola (and like Orsino), must wait to see how this tangle of desires and disguises will unravel.


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