Viola is one of the major characters of the play Twelfth Night and the play develops further with her actions. It is because of her role that the play ends in a celebration of marriage which makes it a romantic comedy.
A lot of other themes also emerge from her actions. She is the link between the plots involving the court and the shipwreck. All these make Viola, the possible protagonist of this play.
Shakespeare has bestowed Viola, not with any ordinary, typical qualities of a woman. She is attractive not just for her beauty, but for her supreme understanding and for the way she uses words.
Her brother describes her as “A lady… (who) was…of many accounted beautiful… she bore a mind that envy could but call, fair” It is this charm in her that could grab the attention of even Olivia and Malvolio who are too much involved in themselves.
By putting Olivia and Viola in the same situation, Shakespeare shows the two ways of dealing with it. While Olivia chooses to mourn for her brother, Viola opts for looking forward. Viola attaches hope in the good fortune of her own survival and asserts the faith that her brother may not have drowned at all.
Viola does not believe to control everything around her but maintains faith in nature and lets things go with hope. “What else may hap, to time I will commit”. She says. Viola has a strong sense of duty and loyalty.
She doesn’t let her love for Orsino come in between her duties towards him. She woos Olivia for Orsino, not letting her own emotions affect her.
Even when Olivia falls in love with her (Cesario), she neither uses the opportunity for her own good nor dos she forgets her duties. “My master loves her dearly… as I am man, my state is desperate for my master’s love.”
Her understanding of love and its madness surpasses everyone. She accepts that Olivia must have undoubtedly fallen in love with Cesario and respects it. “She loves me sure”, she says.
This understanding of love and the optimism in her approach towards life have combined together to make her desirable as a potential companion. The reason why Olivia falls in love with Cesario and not Orsino is that Cesario is, unlike Orsino, spontaneous, real, direct and assertive.
Shakespeare breaks through the conventions of a desirable man through Viola’s disguise. She neither tries to woo Olivia by putting forward her Manliness like Malvolio nor does she try to follow the path of an overly-dramatic behavior as a lover like Orsino.
There is more life and emotion in Viola’s speech than in all Orsino’s pretentious and unconvincing declarations of love to her. While she discusses love with Orsino, she merely tells him how constant and enduring a woman’s love can be.
With Viola, Shakespeare establishes a character who understands her duties in all forms. Only this makes her easily comprehend the roles and emotions she goes through.