Character analysis of Viola in the Twelfth night

Viola in the Twelfth Night

Viola’s Character in Relation to the Animus Development and Its 4 Stages

The animus theory of Jung suggests that, though females’ conscious ego usually relates to their biological gender, masculine traits stifle because of cultural norms, and pressures cultivate, in their unconscious, a harmonizing male (i.e., contrasexual) personality. Intriguingly, Viola chose to conceal her femininity at the play’s beginning. Her apparently-deceased brother is probably the physical manifestation of Viola’s animus, akin to Lady Olivia’s situation (Dunning, 2015). Jung suggested four stages of animus development in a woman, which can be seen in Viola.

The animus, in Jung’s first stage, materializes in imaginations or dreams as the embodiment of physical strength, such as James Bond, Tarzan, or a sportsperson. He represents the Adam to the unconscious/true inner self as Eve. The animus, at this developmental stage, is a female’s stud-muffin, who is there to protect and satisfy her, as well as help make babies (Anne, 2007).

While Viola desires to isolate herself from everyone, she isn’t as confident as Lady Olivia, meaning that this will be a permanent state: “O that I served that lady, and might not be delivered to the world, till I had made mine own occasion mellow, what my estate is.” On one level, Viola apparently knows that she must examine and integrate her masculine “half,” strengthening herself. Viola’s choice of acting as a boy appears to be more conscious and thought-out, compared to Olivia’s decision of isolating herself (Dunning, 2015).

Upon assuming a masculine appearance, Viola almost instantaneously develops a remarkable wit — a typical masculine trait, which was most likely suppressed within her unconscious; up until now, it must have found expression via her brother. However, though perceived as a man by everyone around her, Viola is well aware of her true feminine nature, falling for Orsino (Dreher, 1986).

In the next animus development stage, he is pictured in the form of a man of deeds – a hunter, a battle hero, Ernest Hemingway, a Bob-the-Builder, or a Mr. Fix-It. He represents the generic father-husband, the man who repairs plumbing leaks and does grocery shopping for her — a simplistic, old-fashioned, and cookie-cutter male. Helen of Sparta/Troy is the female corollary (Anne, 2007).

Viola’s devotion has been praised by critics, who view her as the archetype of perfect love as well as an extraordinary mind wherein the sense of honor and duty, and love, enrich intelligence. Despite roaming around dressed as a male, Viola is utterly feminine and can, by no means, be regarded as a boy-girl. Apart from being the conventional female, Viola also displays qualities of resourcefulness, courage, and androgynous-ness (Dreher, 1986).

An orphan girl stranded on unfamiliar land, Viola decides to deal with her problem, rather than withdrawing into herself like Olivia. Viola’s life is in shambles, but she still faces hardships head-on with valor and resourcefulness. She is practical, accepts that her brother might be dead, and that she needs to work things out on her own in this unfamiliar land. She holds out hopes that her life will take on a better turn, awaiting news as she decides how she must survive in the Illyrian kingdom (Dreher, 1986).

In Jung’s third stage –corresponding to the Mary stage of the animus –is a man of his Word, who is embodied in fantasies as a priest, preacher, elder statesman like Lloyd George, or a professor. Women at this development stage hold traditional learning in high regard; they are capable of sustaining creative work, while simultaneously, seeking ways to exercise their minds. A woman at this stage will be able to relate to her male counterpart not just as a father and husband, but also as a unique individual and lover. Obviously, Orsino still projects his female archetypes onto Olivia, with Viola (as Cesario) being his mode of communication with Olivia — a fact that frustrates Viola. She is, however, patiently waiting for him to look into himself and discover the feminine traits he must cultivate (Dunning, 2015).

Whether Orsino ever understands his psyche’s state is not clear; nevertheless, he is cognizant enough to realize that his real love is Viola. He is, however, still unconscious of the healthy trail: “My thoughts are ripe in mischief. I’ll sacrifice the lamb that I do love [Viola]. To spite a raven’s heart within a dove [Olivia].” Orsino’s vision doesn’t clear until Viola reveals her true identity. Viola, confident within herself, professes: “Thou never shouldst love woman like to me,” affirming this when Orsino, as she had hoped, pronounces his love. As the situation sorts itself out, Olivia as well as Orsino, declare their onetime loves as sisters; thus, they settle their feminine/masculine sexual conflicts and retain nonsexual affection, confirming their heterosexuality (Dreher, 1986).

The fourth developmental stage propounded by Jung embodies spiritual meaning; it is epitomized by figures like Hermes, Mahatma Gandhi, the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King, Jr. One may also regard Gabriel, the Archangel and patron saint of messengers, as a figure representing the fourth animus stage. Gabriel relates to the animus’ Sophia image, intermediating between a female’s unconscious and conscious mind (Dreher, 1986).

He accords the female spiritual resolve, compensating for her soft external appearance; this resolve is capable of eventually making her more amenable to novel creative ideas than males. Viola enquires about who controls the kingdom, and plans on entering the Duke’s service, in the guise of a young boy. Upon hearing Orsino’s name, one can, once again, perceive the mystical connection between future husband and father. Though she is yet to meet Orsino, the convergence of both men in Viola’s mind isn’t pure coincidence:

Orsino! I have heard my father name him:

He was a bachelor then. 11.ii.28-291.

Viola was already androgynous in that, she displayed qualities of self-reliance and independence from the start; this nature of her becomes even more pronounced when she puts on male garb, which makes her free to reveal the witty and assertive parts of her makeup. Viola develops her masculine potential, or animus, by an imitation of her twin, Sebastian’s attitude, manner and clothing (Dreher, 1986).

In fact, in order to deal with the loss of her twin, Viola herself turns into her twin. The development of her animus appears to liberate her from the relationship difficulties plaguing other fatherless girls. Viola also displays empathy, and is receptive to Orsino’s as well as Olivia’s feelings. Viola is a combination of witty, courageous, self-sufficient, and assertive; the dynamic balance of these attributes makes Viola an appealing, healthy individual. She overlooks her own personal problems long enough, taking care of others (Dreher, 1986).

Throughout the confusion, she retains her basic wittiness, optimism, and faith. Where Olivia and Orsino are shown to be lost in states of melancholic isolation, Viola oozes energy, and is versatile. She excels in the traits they both want for, attracting them both to her spirit. She represents a catalyst, allowing both to strike a balance within themselves (Dreher, 1986).

At the end of the play, Viola becomes the queen of Orsino’s fancy, and his mistress. He desires to relate to Viola as an attractive woman. This time around, he wishes for his romantic fascination with her to be balanced by a strong tie of friendship. Viola, Orsino’s new love, is a kind, affectionate partner, and not an alien goddess that comes to cause him emotional anguish.


Anne. (2007, November 2). The Animus. Retrieved from The Third Eve:

Dreher, D. (1986). Domination And Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare. University Press of Kentucky.

Dunning, D. (2015, November 12). The Women of Twelfth Night and Jung’s Animus Theory. Retrieved from Geocities:

Shakespeare, W. (1602, Febuary 2). Twelfth Night. Candlemas.

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