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Shakespeare's Characters: The Duke (Twelfth Night)

From The Works of William Shakespeare. Vol. 16. Ed. Evangeline Maria O'Connor. J.D. Morris and Co.

The Duke is treated without any disposition to accentuate the ludicrous aspect of his character and fortunes. He is among the figures which suggest that Shakespeare was attracted by the methods of Jonson. Luxurious emotions are the elements in which he lives; they run to seed in him like a "Humour." His opening words, "If music be the food of love, play on," incisively denote him. His love is not a master who subdues all his faculties and energies to its service, but an exquisite companion whom he dotes on and dallies with. He has no doubt a choice and graceful mind, and this saves him from ridicule, though hardly from contempt; but it serves rather to extract and formulate the finest essence of each passing moment than to draw obvious practical conclusions from facts. Hence the Clown — no inapt observer — admirably prescribes for him a doublet of changeable taffeta, "for thy mind is a very opal"; his speech flushes with the warmth and brilliance of each passing mood. He is sick of self-love, and his persistent courtship of Olivia rests upon a fatuous faith in his own prevailing fascination; but his egoism is amiable and effusive, and he enters easily into tender relations with his subordinates. Apolonius, in Rich's tale, has no kindness for his serving-man; but the charm of Cesario has conquered the sensitive Duke long before the climax, and the discovery of his sex transforms it without effort into love. This change might seem to involve a modification of the climax of Rich's story, where Apolonius vows his man's death to avenge his lady's honour (Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library, i. 408). In Shakespeare's hands however, the incident adds a piquant trait to the Duke's character. His tenderness for the lad he dooms converts the act into a sacrifice, and invests it with a tragic significance full of relish to his artistic sense.
Herford: The Eversley Shakespeare.


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