In Act I, Scene V
of Twelfth Night
, there are many different patterns that wind their way through the course of Viola
's "willow cabin" speech. From the most abstract, syntactic
level of the speech's construction down to its individual units of sound, a carefully constructed sense of structure is present, and Shakespeare
uses subtly altered repetition
- of syntax, of words, and of sound - to simultaneously give Viola's speech a sense both of unity
and of variety
At it's most general, syntactic level of operation, Viola's speech accomplishes two purposes. It first, between its opening in line 268 and the midway portion of line 274, offers three distinct responses to Olivia
's question in line 267, "Why, what would you?", and then, from the latter part of line 274 to the end of the speech, suggests a proper response from Olivia, given these three responses. Since Olivia's inquiry, which is designed to place Viola, as Cesaro
, in the position of Duke Orsino
- that is, in a position of declaring love for Olivia - is so subtly crafted, it demands a delicate, listed response that must be at once both unified and versatile. Shakespeare solves this problem by carefully repeating, and subtly altering, both the syntax and the sense of Viola's words within the course of these seven lines. Each of these three components of Viola's response, which begin on lines 268, 270, and 272 respectively, share not only a nearly identical syntactic structure
, but also a very similar relationship in the meaning of their words.
Each of the three items that Viola offers Olivia in response, for instance, is presented as a combination of two distinct sections that, with the notable exception of the third listed item, are usually constrained to a single line apiece, but are always divided by the single word "and." Each item begins the first of their two sections with an active verb
("make", "write", and "hallow") that is acting upon some specific noun
("me", "loyal cantons", "your name") which itself is modified by both a prepositional phrase
("at", "of", "to") and then a second, more abstract noun ("your gate", "contemned love", and "the reverberate hills"). Likewise, the second section of each item that follows the dividing word "and" is constructed in similar manner, with an active verb that links two separate objects, the first more specific, and the second both more abstract and also modified by a preposition.
What is interesting, however, is that between these two sections of each response, there are some key differences. There is, for instance, both a corresponding relationship and a contrast in meaning between those verbs in the first section of each item, which all suggest creation
in some way, and those that operate within the second sections, which all imply calling
or crying out
. Also, there is a similar relationship between the featured nouns in both sections, but whereas the first is usually interested in a specific object (again, "me", "loyal cantons", and "your name"), those nouns in second section, invariably, can only echo those in the first ("my soul", "them", and "Olivia"). Although the effect of the speech's similarities, both semantic and syntactic, is to pull the speech together, the effect of contrast in both sense and arrangement is to provide the speech with some appearance of diversity.
This is particularly the case in the final, fourth portion of Viola's speech, which concerns itself with compelling Olivia towards a proper response to Viola's offers - pity. Although this part of the speech retains something of the template of the previous three items - it too is divided (by the word "but" rather than by "and", however) into two portions, contains a noun ("you") which is reflected across this division, and has within it one prepositional phrase. It does not, however, contain the additional preposition that the other items do, nor does it contain verbs that align with either creation or vocalization. This fourth and final portion retains just enough syntactic similarity with its earlier counterparts to distinguish itself as a part of the same listed speech, but enough difference to set it apart from the earlier three movements - appropriate enough, given that its function in the speech is uniquely persuasive
; while the rest of the speech deals concretely with what Viola will create, this portion alone deals, again, with what should be Olivia's response.
If structural patterns operate across general syntax in Viola's speech, they also operate through individual units of sound that comprise it as well. Repeated consonant and vowel sounds permeate
the "willow cabin" speech, and serve to unify it on a much more basic and audible level of comprehension than the speech's syntactic repetitions.
For instance, the first two words of the speech, "make" and "me" both share opening "m" and concluding "e" sounds that combine to make this speech sound musical from its beginning. Likewise, the sound of the word "a" in this same line will match up with the initial vowel sound of "gate" in the same way that "at" and "cabin" do, that "willow" and "cabin" share similar "i" sounds, and that "at" and "gate" share a "t". "Willow", which itself contains two "w" sounds, will be echoed not only in the word "within" on line 269, but also in the "ou" sounds of "soul" and "house" on that same line.
Repeated "n" sounds work their through most of line 269, appearing in "and", "upon", and "within", stretched out over the course of the line. "L" sounds also appear in both "call" and soul" and will be echoed in line 270 in the words "loyal" and "love". That particular "love" will also share an "ov" sound with the word "of", also on line 270, and the words "cantons" and "contemned" (also from the same line) will share "c", "n", "t", and "d" sounds. "N" sounds also comprise the majority of line 271, appearing in "and", "sing", "even", "in", and "night". Likewise, "them", "even", and "the" in that line all share penultimate "e" sounds and are "loud" and "dead" both terse, monosyllabic words that end in the letter "d".
In line 272, "hallow" and "hills" share both "h" and "ll" sounds, "reverberate" has a double "er" sound that is found earlier in that line in the word "your", and the "a" sound in "name" matches up not only with the final vowel of "reverberate", but also with "make" and "air" on line 273. That line also finds a lot of work for the word "babbling" - it shares a different "a" sound with "and", a "g" sound with "gossip", and itself contains a double "b" sound. Similarly, line 274 contains "o" sounds in both "Olivia" and the word "o", as well as concluding "t" sounds in "out", "not", and "rest", as well as similar vowel sounds in "out" and "you".
In line 275, the word "between" is put to even more use than "babbling" was - it shares a "t" sound with "elements" (and, arguably, "not" and "rest" from the previous line), an "n" sound with both that word and the word "and" that appears later, an "e" sound with "the", and both "b" and "t" sounds with the word "but" that begins line 276. "Air" and "earth" begin with similar vowel and consonants in line 275, and, finally, "but" and "pity" in line 276 share a "t" sound.
Patterns both similar and contrasting of syntax and of sound are therefore carefully woven through Viola’s “willow cabin” speech in Twelfth Night. This speech, therefore, is given a sense not only of unity and of cohesion, but also of diversity within the material, both of which are in continual pull at each other, through subtly altered repetition of form throughout.