Twelfth Night: Siblings and More

Yesterday, I talked a little about the nuclear family in Twelfth Night, and how there were none that were intact.

It got me thinking.

I’m figuring that if Olivia’s brother had been her twin, it would have merited a mention (especially at the reunion–though interestingly, Viola and Sebastian’s twinship is NOT mentioned in that scene; in fact, it’s mentioned only once in the play, by Sebastian to Antonio… as far as I can tell Viola never mentions it). I’m not sure how much older he was than she, but I am assuming he was older, given their father left her in his “protection” (I.ii.38), and not the other way around. And for this “brother’s dead love” (I.i.32), she will mourn “veilèd” (I.i.29) for the next seven years.

For a spouse, the usual mourning period is between one and two years, for a sibling four to six months.

Thus, Olivia sounds a little excessive, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Sir Toby’s first words in the play are “What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus?” (I.iii.1-2). Time for more assumptions. If Sir Toby had been Olivia’s father’s brother, he would have inherited the estate as count, and you would think she and her brother would have been left in his protection (of course, maybe not if good ol’ dad knew about Sir Toby’s love affair with drinking). Regardless, Sir Toby does not understand the long mourning for a brother. Maybe “does not” is less right than “cannot.” Perhaps he only had the sister (Olivia’s mother) and his mourning for her–by virtue of his and her genders, and the social expectation that came with them–was a shortened, more “apporpriate” length of time. I note also that he doesn’t make mention of mourning for the father, implying that he might understand that mourning, especially since it’s some “twelvemonth” (I.ii.37) from that event, and Olivia doesn’t seem to be mourning him anymore.

Assumed dead is different that actually dead. However, you’d think there would still be a mourning period. Unless, of course, you were hiding your identity (Cesario for Viola; Roderigo??? for Sebastian), or otherwise too busy trying to stay alive to pause to mourn. (Whenever I re-read those Antonio/Sebastian scenes, I keep thinking, “Rescued by pirates is good.”)

Must be nice to be rich and powerful. It gives you time to mourn.

For seven years.

Now that I think about it, maybe Olivia and her brother were twins.

Hear me out.

If a twin’s identity revolves about being a twin, what happens when you lose that? You’ve lost more than a sibling; you’ve lost half of yourself. But what can you do? Does it liberate you? Does it kill you?

If you’re in a foreign country and you’re female, you take on your male brother’s clothes and make yourself whole… and if you can find a mate, all the better. If you’re male and get picked up by pirates, you change your name… until you realize they aren’t going to kill you in the morning, then you take back your rightful name, the same as your father’s, and you set out for a new father figure, the duke of this new land where you find yourself … and if a woman seems to already know you–either the you you’re trying to find or the one you want to become–and you can marry her, (again) all the better.

But what if you’re at home? With time to kill, or “want for other idleness” (I.v.60)? Already mourning your dead father? Not yet ready to assume the role of countess? Then maybe you do say you’re going to mourn for seven years.

Or maybe I’m thinking way too hard about this…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *