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The Shakespeare Sisterhood: Viola

Viola, without possessing any of those brilliant qualities that compel our admiration in Portia, Rosalind, or Beatrice, endears herself to us by the ingenuousness, modesty, and tenderness of her character. Like Rosalind, Viola disguises herself as a page; but instead of assuming that "swashing and martial outside" which Rosalind affects, as part of her masculine attire, she is most discreetly disposed, permitting herself no word or gesture inconsistent with the nicest propriety; she changes nothing but her dress -- she is Viola throughout. Each is in daily [contact] with the man she loves. With Orlando, Rosalind is saucy and coquettish. Viola manifests her self-sacrificing devotion to Orsino, by becoming his love-herald to the proud Olivia -- wooing for her master from another the bliss which she longed to bestow only through herself.

Like Rosalind again, Viola is beloved by a woman; but the Countess Olivia differs as widely from the capricious shepherdess, Phebe, as the treatment which their infatuations severally receive: Rosalind mocks, and plays with, Phebe's preference, even while she repulses it; Viola's feminine reserve is shocked at the unwooed confession of Olivia's love. Yet how full of tender pity are her words, when first she suspects the hapless truth:
What means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm'd her!
She made good view of me -- indeed, so much
That sure, methought, her eyes had lost her tongue;
For she did speak in starts, distractedly.
She loves me, sure;
* * * * * * * *
If it be so, (as 'tis,)
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper-false
In women's waxen hearts to set then - forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we;
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me:
What will become of this! As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master's love;
As I am woman -- now alas the day!
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe?
O Time, thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie.

How to cite this article:
Palmer, Henrietta L. The Stratford gallery, or, The Shakespeare sisterhood. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1859. Shakespeare Online. 20 Oct. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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Viola. From A Stratford Gallery.