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Viola Draws a Blank : Viola tries to tell Orsino, Duke of Illyria, that his beloved Olivia is not the only woman deserving of his attention.
Viola Draws a Blank

From ‘Twelfth Night’ (Act II, Scene 4), by William Shakespeare.

Viola is pretending to be Cesario, a page-boy in the court of Orsino, Duke of Illyria. The Duke uses her as a go-between in his courtship of Olivia, but Viola has fallen in love with Orsino herself, and tries without success to interest him in the possibility of a rival.

“MY father had a daughter lov’d a man,
As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.”

“And what’s her history?”

“A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ th’ bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. She pin’d 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.”

“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?”

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

* Viola may be indicating that she does not yet know whether this heroine will die of her love; alternatively, she may mean that she is not sure if she really is ‘all the brothers of her father’s house’: Viola fears her identical twin brother Sebastian may have drowned in the same shipwreck that left her in Illyria, though she has heard a rumour that he survived.

From ‘Twelfth Night’ (Act II, Scene 4), by William Shakespeare.

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Picture: By Frederick Richard Pickersgill (1820-1900), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
Orsino, Duke of Illyria, and Viola (Cesario), painted by English artist, illustrator and early photographer Frederick Richard Pickersgill (1820-1900). ‘Illyrians’ was a term from classical antiquity used of various tribes of the eastern shore of the Adriatic, nowadays stretching from Croatia in the north down to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania.
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