Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

The Duke of Delirium: Duke Orsino Analyzed Through Structuralism

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Orsino, the Duke of Delirium: Why Our Leaders Will Never Be Self-Aware Shakespeare adorns Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, with numerous character faults: narcissism, capriciousness, impatience; even Olivia finds the Duke repulsive in his “embassy” (1. 5), and Feste dubs him “a foolish wit” (1. 5). It is not until Viola enters that Orsino is painted in a new brighter light, and even then, the Duke acts entitled, shallow, and overly masculine (2. 4). Although “Twelfth Night” is not a tragedy, Orsino’s circumstance is tragic. He is trapped in a vicious hierarchy: a noble wall that separates him from others, protecting his off-putting persona.

Because of his status, citizens cannot communicate to him his flaws. Because they cannot communicate, he is left stagnant at the end of the play. When analyzed via structuralism, Orsino’s character articulates the Ur Code that all noble men, protected by a thriving kingdom, act entitled and superior. Interestingly enough, the opposition: ‘Orsino’s perception of self’ verses ‘Other’s perception of Orsino’ (shown below) displays the only common attribute shared between the personal view and the outsider’s view of Orsino: nobility.

While this may seem obvious, it explains the lack of communication between the governed and Orsino. The title, “Duke,” ultimately determines all of the opinions, and also prevents the presentation of these faults to Orsino. When it comes to Orsino, the fact that he holds power is what makes him feel entitled to constant entertainment from Feste, undying love from Olivia, and continuous approval from those he rules. Orsino is oblivious to his changeability and narcissism, which develops the irony of this situation.

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Orsino’s Perception of Orsino| Illyria’s Perception of Orsino| Great lover/ Romantic | Impatient | Constant | Fickle | Noble | Noble | Masculine | Insincere | Entitled/ Superior | Vainglorious/ Narcissistic|

Shakespeare may have inserted this irony into “Twelfth Night” to further the theme ‘He/She is not what it appears. ’ In the same way as Viola is perceived as a man, but is really a woman, Orsino is perceived as a jerk, but considers himself brilliant. The only difference is that Viola’s perception of self is correct and Orsino’s is incorrect…that is, if we are allowed to judge! This question, perhaps, is the largest piece of Shakespeare’s message.

The constant switches between gender (Viola/ Cesario), standing (Feste/ Sir Topas), and identity (Sebastian/ Viola) turn the audience’s perceptions upside down and make us question simple things like whether Orsino is good or bad. The Duke wins the heart of Viola in the end, but remains a stagnant ruler. Though they are to be married, he still views himself as being in control of her: “And since you call’d me master for so long,/Here is my hand: you shall from this time be/Your master’s mistress” (5. ). A female ruler would never have this level of authority, for it is not considered dignified or proper, further proving the point that only males in power possess an overwhelming sense of entitlement. Male entitlement, sadly, is a pattern established in many other portrayals of leaders from Caesar to King George III. Our culture and hierarchies prevent accurate communication, leaving rulers in a state of delirium, a state which Shakespeare’s plays intended for us to be in all along.

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