The Vienna Shakespeare Blog
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Self-indulgence in a self-aware man
But in private, Orsino becomes much more sincere. He lets go of his romantic show and talks about his real fears and doubts regarding women, the nature of romance, and his own capacity to love.
"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."
Orsino is in love with being in love, more than he is with Olivia herself. Especially when he's in public, Orsino's romantic anguish is so over the top it's almost ridiculous.
He plays the part of the typical Elizabethan "Petrachan Lover" - like he's read about in all the poetry, but he's unable take any action. It's all pretty words, sad music and suffering.
"If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die. That strain again! It had a dying fall."
Over the course of the play, Orsino undergoes a form of awakening. From an obsessive, self-indulgent daily ritual of poetry and pouting, he begins a friendship in which he can not only to talk about his feelings openly with (what he thinks is) another man, but can have his assumptions and prejudices questioned and challenged by someone he respects. He comes to value the time spent with Cesario even more highly than his feelings for Olivia.
He learns that friendship, not worship, is the preferable foundation for a marriage.
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