Courting and marriage in Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night uses marriage to resolve a series of seemingly ‘inappropriate’ and illegal courtships in the storyline.
For example, Olivia and Sebastian are married-off in a traditional comic ending but their courtship has been far from conventional. At the start of the play Olivia’s potential suitor was the Duke (in her class) but she falls in love with and decides to marry the page Cesario.
Luckily for Olivia, Cesario is revealed to be Viola in disguise, and Viola's identical twin brother, Sebastian, without even knowing Olivia, agrees to marry Olivia – thus fulfilling the ‘happy ending’ requirement of comedies of the time. If not for all of these ‘fortunate events’, Olivia may have found herself married not only outside her class (an offence often punishable by death), but also to a woman.
Twelfth Night is also one of the very few Shakespearean plays to include openly homosexual relationships. For example, when Sebastian is shipwrecked, it is Antonio who finds and takes care of him. Antonio genuinely falls in love with Sebastian and when he decides to leave to find his twin sister, Antonio tries to change Sebastian's mind:
Will you stay no longer? nor will you not that I go with you?
By your patience, no. My stars shine darkly over
me: the malignancy of my fate might perhaps
distemper yours; therefore I shall crave of you your
leave that I may bear my evils alone: it were a bad
recompense for your love, to lay any of them on you
Let me yet know of you whither you are bound.
No, sooth, sir: my determinate voyage is mere
extravagancy. But I perceive in you so excellent a
touch of modesty, that you will not extort from me
what I am willing to keep in; therefore it charges
me in manners the rather to express myself. You
must know of me then, Antonio, my name is Sebastian,
which I called Roderigo. My father was that
Sebastian of Messaline, whom I know you have heard
of. He left behind him myself and a sister, both
born in an hour: if the heavens had been pleased,
would we had so ended! But you, sir, altered that;
for some hour before you took me from the breach of
the sea was my sister drowned.
Act 2, Scene 1
Their relationship ends when Sebastian seizes the opportunity to marry Olivia. Shakespeare is perhaps making the point that homosexuality could be ‘cured’ with hetro-marriages which was a common belief of the time.