There is no woman’s sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart
So big, to hold so much. They lack retention.
Alas, their love may be called appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt.
But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much. Make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.
Orsino speaks these words as he discusses his love for Olivia with Cesario. Here, he argues that there can be no comparison between the kind of love that a man has for a woman and the kind of love that women feel for men. Women, he suggests, love only superficially—in the “palate,” not the “liver,” implying that for men love is somehow deeper and less changeable. While his love is constant, he insists, a woman’s love suffers “surfeit, cloyment, and revolt.” This speech shows the extent of Orsino’s self-involvement by demonstrating that he cares only about his own emotions and assumes that whatever Olivia feels, it cannot “compare” to his own feelings for her. But there is also an irony here, since Orsino ascribes qualities to women’s love that actually apply to his own infatuations. He claims that women love superficially and can have their feelings change easily; in fact, later in the play, he happily transfers his affections from Olivia to the revealed-as-female Viola. It is the woman, Viola, whose love for Orsino remains constant throughout. Indeed, Viola answers this speech by citing herself as an example of a woman who remains constant in love (without revealing that she is talking about herself, of course). Thus, given what the audience sees onstage, Orsino’s opinions about love seem to be wrong on almost every count.