10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies: Olivia



Our expert panel selected some of their favourite soliloquies. Today, we reveal number four on their list of 10.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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4. Olivia (Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene 5)

In his soliloquies, Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into the hearts and minds of his characters. Sometimes this reveals torment; sometimes bastardry; sometimes despair. But occasionally, we see something sweet and beautiful unfold.

Up until Act 1 Scene 5 of Twelfth Night, Olivia has been nothing but austere and severe. Then suddenly, she meets Viola (disguised as Cesario), and this brings out a different side of Olivia.

As Bell Shakespeare Associate Director James Evans explains: “Viola exits, Olivia turns to the audience and has a new lease of life. We hear this beautiful and terrifying description of what it’s like to fall in love at first sight: ‘Even so quickly may one catch the plague.’

“In this soliloquy, we discover Olivia’s huge capacity for love, fun and joy. We see what Olivia may have been like before her brother died and she spiralled into depression. Shakespeare is a master at this – giving us a hint of what characters’ lives were like before everything went to hell.”

Here’s Olivia’s soliloquy, which kicks in immediately after Viola/Cesario has departed:

“What is your parentage?”
“Above my fortunes, yet my state is well:
I am a gentleman.” I’ll be sworn thou art!
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit,
Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!
Unless the master were the man. How now?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.

Hear James Evans discuss Twelfth Night with actor Mandy Bishop in the Speak The Speech podcast.

To be continued…

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