Sketch the character of Viola contrasting with Rosalind in As you Like it

Viola emerges as the true heroine and central character of the play, without whom the story would lack its essence and structure. While this statement may be somewhat exaggerated, Shakespeare deliberately elevated women to the position of the queen of comedy, not as a mere accident or conventional gesture of chivalry. These heroines possess qualities and traits that make them more adept than men at shaping a world filled with happiness. Women like Viola, Rosalind, and Portia embody the equilibrium and balance necessary for human nature to engage in a harmonious interplay of its major components.

Viola holds the pivotal role, around whom the entire action revolves and converges. Her appearance as a page before Maria prompts the description of her as a “fair young man.” Even the self-centered and conceited Malvolio acknowledges her as “very well favored.” Olivia is captivated by Viola’s perfections, which stealthily enter her eyes. Viola, blessed by the gods, combines fleeting beauty with inherited refinement. The Duke, while unaware of her true identity, extols her in her male disguise, comparing her smooth and rosy lips to Diana’s, and her voice to a maiden’s sweet and melodious sound. Olivia recognizes the beauty in Viola’s expressions even when they are filled with scorn and anger.

Viola’s womanliness and empathy are evident in her natural sincerity and selflessness, extending her sympathy to women in general and all the lovers in the play. With a woman’s instinct, she realizes that Olivia is in love with her and immediately feels a sisterly pity towards her rival, exclaiming, “As I am woman-now alas the day!” She comprehends the joys and tribulations that love entails for women and empathizes deeply with Olivia’s unrequited affections. Thoughtfully and regretfully, she gazes at Olivia with superior, unspoken understanding, silently expressing her pity.

Viola’s character is imbued with an enchanting sense of feminine loveliness, which constitutes her secret charm. Among all of Shakespeare’s female characters who disguise themselves as men, Viola is the least comfortable in her transformation. Her disguise brings not joy like it does for Rosalind, but rather pain, trouble, sorrow, and a myriad of complications. Behind her banter with the comic characters lies a subtle withdrawal rooted in female modesty, evoking our sympathy and prompting us to contemplate her true nature, which remains concealed from those who perceive her only at surface level.

Viola personifies Shakespeare’s ideal of patient adoration and silent, self-sacrificing love. Despite being deeply in love with Orsino, she ardently pleads on his behalf to win Olivia’s affection, even more passionately than Orsino himself. She states, “I’ll do my best to woo your lady,” while adding an inner remark, “Yet, a barful strife! Whoever I woo, myself would be his wife.” Viola’s love for the Duke is profound, genuine, silent, sincere, and self-sacrificial. She keeps her feelings hidden within her, describing her heart as a blank page, never revealing her love but allowing her concealed emotions to consume her, causing her cheeks to pale with inner turmoil. She becomes a picture of patience, melancholy yet serene, resembling a statue while smiling at her own sorrow.

Viola demonstrates resourcefulness, determination, resilience, and bravery when she finds herself helpless after the shipwreck. Saved from the brink of drowning, she immediately resolves to change her fortunes by venturing into the court of Orsino disguised as a page, offering her services to him. This decision sets in motion her romantic adventure. Viola gains the trust and confidence of Duke Orsino to such an extent that he appoints her as his trusted messenger to convey his love to Olivia within three days. She overcomes all obstacles hindering her access to Olivia, succeeding where Valentine, another messenger, had failed.

Her heart shines with openness, freedom, and generosity, evident in her gratitude and appreciation for goodness in others. Viola expresses her gratitude to the sea-captain who saved her life and implores him to keep her disguise a secret, promising generous rewards in return. She is grateful to the Duke for employing her as a page-boy. Her ability to discern character through facial expressions prevents her from being deceived.

The great allure of Viola’s character lies in her unwavering moral rectitude, which is so pure and perfect that it remains a secret even to herself. Despite being in love with Orsino, she earnestly advocates for his cause when he pursues Olivia. Even when showered with favors and kindness while disguised, she experiences a passion characterized by a mixture of pity, admiration, gratitude, and tenderness. This does not diminish the genuine sweetness and delicacy of her character; instead, it highlights her unwavering loyalty and dedication, as she never discloses her true emotions.

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Viola’s sense of duty and modesty are exemplified in her refusal to speak in her own defense when her master is present, preferring that he personally pursue his suit. Olivia twice urges her to speak, but Viola’s only response is, “My lord would speak; my duty hushes me.” This contrasting feature sets Viola apart from Rosalind in “As You Like It.” While both characters possess quick wit, warmth, resolution, and the ability to find humor in adversity, Viola’s essence is characterized by an inner and spiritual grace of modesty that permeates her every action and word.

Viola and Rosalind invite comparison and contrast, as they are both remarkable and endearing in their own right. They possess quick intellect, warmth, and the ability to face misfortune with resilience. Both are repulsed by violence and bloodshed and are capable of assuming male roles, yet their innate refinement prevents any hint of immodesty. Their tenderness, generosity, tact, loyalty, and resourcefulness make them irresistibly lovable. However, Viola faces a more arduous task than Rosalind, as she must navigate her journey alone, while Rosalind receives tangible assistance from Celia. Moreover, Rosalind has the advantage of knowing that her loyal lover is in love with her, allowing her to captivate him with unexpected charm while disguised. Viola, on the other hand, loves Orsino selflessly and must attempt to win Olivia’s heart on his behalf, despite the apparent futility of her endeavor.

Viola’s portrayal is devoid of the impudence and mischievousness that make Rosalind so captivating in “As You Like It.” Instead, Viola’s allure stems from an inward and spiritual grace that permeates her actions, guarded by the utmost delicacy. Her disguise does not sit comfortably upon her; her heart does not beat freely beneath it. In the play’s final scene, the actress can convey the entirety of Viola’s charm through silent acting alone. Filled with womanly shame, she initially struggles to confess her true identity but ultimately finds happiness when the Duke, having learned the language of modest love from her, pursues her.

Viola’s love represents the purest and most tender emotion found within the heart of the most graceful and virtuous of beings. One cannot help but associate Viola’s renowned speech, “She never told her love,” with the ethereal beauty that emanates from her. This sentiment arises spontaneously and always conjures an image of her celestial beauty. Knight describes her love as “the sweetest and tenderest emotion” ever to grace Shakespeare’s poetry.

In conclusion, Viola is the true heroine and central character of the play. Shakespeare’s placement of women as the queens of comedy is not a mere accident or conventional gallantry; it is a deliberate choice. These heroines possess personality traits that uniquely qualify them, more so than men, to shape a world imbued with happiness. Viola, along with characters like Rosalind and Portia, exemplifies the equilibrium and balance that transform personality into a harmonious interplay of human nature’s major components. The entire narrative revolves and centers around Viola, making her the focal point of the play’s interest. Her charm lies in her feminine loveliness, naturalness, sympathy, modesty, love, resourcefulness, determination, open-heartedness, and moral rectitude. Viola’s character stands in contrast to Rosalind in “As You Like It,” but both embody remarkable qualities that make them beloved figures in Shakespeare’s pantheon of heroines.



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