Viola Monologue (Act 2, Scene 2)

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked

Twelfth Night (or What You Will) is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and performed plays. It is often referred to as a ‘musical comedy’, but is as sad as it is funny—with many dark and strange moments. Even in this very funny monologue, there is sadness and heartache.

Viola, the intelligent and resourceful heroine of the play, washes up on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck. Believing her twin brother drowned and unsure of her safety in this strange land, she decides to take on the disguise of a boy and calls herself Cesario. She then goes to work for the Duke of Illyria, Orsino until she can sure up her situation. Orsino is in love with a wealthy countess named Olivia and he sends Cesario (Viola) to woo the woman he loves. Unfortunately for Viola, this is incredibly difficult because she has fallen in love with Orsino. And of course, to make the triangle complete, Cesario is so charming and witty that Olivia falls in love with him/her.

Context

In the lead-up to this monologue, Cesario has left Olivia’s house, unable to convince her to accept Orsino’s love. Olivia, desperate to think of some excuse to get Cesario back to the house, gives her own ring to her pompous servant Malvolio, pretending it was one Cesario left on Orsino’s behalf. Olivia tells Malvolio to chase down the young male servant and give it back to the Count, and to return with a report of how Orsino reacted. Malvolio finds Cesario/Viola and delivers the message. He then throws the ring at their feet, leaving Cesario/Viola alone and very puzzled.

Original Text

NOTE: I’ve marked up this monologue with beat changes and thought changes, see below:

Space = New beat/idea
, or ; = build on a thought

CESARIO/VIOLA:

I left no ring with her: what means this lady?

Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!
She made good view of me; indeed, so much,
That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly.

She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord’s ring! why, he sent her none.

I am the man: if it be so, as ’tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.

Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper-false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we!
For such as we are made of, such we be.

How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love;
As I am woman,–now alas the day!–
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!

O time! thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!

Unfamiliar Language

Language-wise, Shakespeare throws quite a few archaic curveballs our way in this short speech. Always take the time to write yourself a glossary of any unfamiliar words or phrases, so that you are never at a loss for meaning.

Fortune: Luck or Fortune in a more spiritual sense. The play was written in a time when people believed in fate and fortune, so Viola could be addressing a higher power.

Outside: Appearance.

Methought: “I thought”.

Her eyes had lost her tongue: Olivia was so lovestruck that she could no longer speak (think) straight.

Churlish: Rude.

Art: Are.

Pregnant Enemy: The Devil. Here, pregnant means ‘ready’.

ProperFalse: Handsome on the outside, deceitful underneath.

Women’s waxen hearts: The imagery is that their hearts are soft and therefore mailable and penetrable.

Fadge: Succeed, turn out. (Fadge is actually a type of bread—suggesting that the meaning of this word in context relates to dough rising and baking.)

Monster: Unnatural creature. Viola is making a reference to being both a man and a woman – therefore ‘unnatural’.

Now alas the day: There are a few interpretations of this line. Whatever you choose, it is clearly an expression of exasperation.

Thriftless: Useless.

Time: Most editions will use a capital T for time. Viola could be talking to Time and Fortune as we might talk to God. (Time actually appears as a character in The Winter’s Tale, announcing a passage of time passing between Acts.)

Modern Translation

Here’s the monologue again, translated into modern English:

CESARIO/VIOLA:

I didn’t leave a ring with her: what does this woman (Olivia) mean?

God forbid my appearance made her attracted to me.
She did stare at me a bit; yes, in fact,
I thought she’d lost her ability to speak
For she was talking confused and disjointedly.

She loves me, yes; her feelings are evident
In the crafty message sent by this rude servant.
She doesn’t want my lord’s ring! He never gave her one.

I am the man she wants: if it’s true, and it is,
Poor lady, she would be better in-love with a dream.

Disguise, I now see, how terrible you are,
In you, the devil does his best work.
How easy is it for handsome and deceitful people
To make women’s fall in love with them!
Oh, our weakness is at fault, not us!
We are just made that way.

How will this turn out well? my master loves her;
And I, poor unnatural creature, am just as in love with him;
And she, mistaken, seems to love me.
What will happen? As I am dressed as a man,
My love for my master, is impossible;
As I am woman,–curse the day I became one!–
Olivia sighs of love are useless and wasted!

Oh time, only you can resolve this;
It is too hard for me to figure out!

Notes on Interpretation

Viola goes through so many emotions and her thoughts jump all over the place, offering a wonderful range to play. There are a lot of choices for an actor to make. Does Viola at any stage find enjoyment or amusement? When she says ‘I am the man’ does she relish it or is she horrified? Think to Viola’s relationship with and regard of Olivia. How does she feel about this person? How does she feel about the way in which she has deceived her? This should help you navigate towards an objective in this scene: Viola tries to comprehend her situation and (perhaps) convince herself that she is free of blame?

Despite the subject matter, and the character’s horror at their actions, there is still a lot of comedy to be found in the rhythm and pace of the actor’s delivery. At the top of the monologue, there are a lot of short thoughts that change quickly. Once Viola realises that Olivia is in love with, her the images get bigger and the sentences fuller and more robust. Also take notice of the wonderful images, alliteration and vowels. When Shakespeare wrote ‘O’ sounding vowels they usually indicate large emotions ‘poor monster’, ‘Oh Time’. The consonants also help with emotion too. ‘Women’s waxen hearts’ gets tangled in your mouth, sounding exasperated or frustrated. Shakespeare gave us this wonderful language to help us with our performance so don’t forget to use it!

Finally, while this speech might be performed to nobody in the play (or the audience), think about a scene partner for Viola to speak to. As an actor, you might like to think of a stand-in to deliver this to—maybe a friend or relative you’d turn to with such an option. If you want to get inventive, try performing this piece as Viola but to Cesario as you hold them to task!

Conclusion

Viola is an extremely resourceful character, whose wit and intelligence offers her a beloved place in audience’s hearts. Indeed, she made the top five in our list of Best Shakespeare Characters! In this speech, however, we see Viola begin to contend with the consequences of her actions—how all the qualities we admire her for are causing chaos and potential heartbreak for an innocent woman. Thinking about this scene as Viola’s attempt to unravel the situation elevates this speech beyond a mere delivery of exposition: it’s how she starts to own up to her manipulations and lament her questionable choices.

About the Author

Jessica Tovey

Jessica Tovey is an Australian actor and writer, who has worked across film, theatre and television for over 15 years. Her film credits include Adoration (Adore), starring Robyn Wright and Naomi Watts, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver and lead roles in the Australian features Lemon Tree Passage and Beast No More. She has over a decade of experience in television across all the major networks, with lead roles in; Home and Away, Wonderland, Bad Mothers and Underbelly. Jessica has also worked with Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre and two touring productions with Bell Shakespeare. Additionally, Jessica is a Voice Over artist, presenter and writer.

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