At the beginning of the play, love is immediately equated with
pain when Valentine explains to Orsino that Olivia refuses any suitors because she is mourning the loss of her dead brother. Valentine says, “With eye-offending brine –all this to season / A brother’s dead love, which she [Olivia] would keep fresh / And lasting in her sad remembrance” (1.1.29-31). In other words, Olivia’s love for her dead brother has caused her so much pain that she has become nun-like, chaste, and preoccupied with her brother’s demise. Later, Olivia again equates love with anguish when she says, “O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful / In the contempt and anger of his [Cesario’s] lip!” (3.1.136-137). Olivia recognizes love’s gloom and misery in Cesario’s refusal of her advances; she struggles with this during most of the play. Similarly, Orsino’s love for Olivia causes him much sorrow.
Throughout most of the play, Duke Orsino agonizes over his love for Olivia. In Act 1, Scene 1, the joyful mood of the holiday festivities ceases as Orsino begins to lament over his love at first sight:
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first
Methought she purged the air of pestilence;
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E’er since pursue me. (1.1.18-22)
His love for Olivia haunts and torments him as a deer is pursued by dogs. Love is thus equated with pain. Later in the play, Orsino orders Viola (disguised as Cesario) to woo Olivia for him. When Olivia inquires as to the magnitude of Orsino’s love, Viola declares, “With adorations, fertile tears, / With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” (1.5.224-225). Viola seems to understand Orsino’s aching love because she experiences her own love pains for Orsino. Viola says, “As I am man, / My state is desperate for my master’s love” (2.2.34-35). Viola’s disguise as Cesario prevents her from revealing her love for Orsino, and thus, she endures the pain that her love brings.
In the love triangle between Viola, Orsino, and Olivia, the sorrows that the characters experience are somewhat resolved in that they eventually end up with a loved one, whereas the sea-captain Antonio does not. Therefore, Antonio’s love for Sebastian proves to be the most painful of all because Antonio ends up alone. Antonio says, “But come what may, I do adore thee [Sebastian] so / That danger shall seem sport, and I will go” (2.1.41-42). Because Antonio saves Sebastian’s life, gives him money, and risks his own life by entering Orsino’s territory, Antonio’s love is probably the most selfless of that of all the characters. When Antonio mistakes Cesario for Sebastian, he reveals his pure love:
His [Sebastian] life I gave him, and did thereto add
My love without retention or restraint,
All his in dedication. For his sake
Did I expose myself, pure of his love,
Into the dander of this adverse town. (5.1.74-78)
Antonio undoubtedly feels sad when he sees Viola (disguised as Cesario) and Sebastian side by side, i.e., two representations of the person he loves, but realizes that he cannot have either. Thus, Antonio’s love for Sebastian is unrequited, causing him only pain.
In summary, Olivia’s mourning, the love triangle between Viola, Orsino, and Olivia, and Antonio’s love for Sebastian all help establish the theme that love is sometimes painful. Although Twelfth Night is a comedy, the play’s characters consistently express the pangs of love, and attempt to…