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Twelfth Night (Or What You Will). William Shakespeare. William S hakespeare. Born in 1564 (exact date unknown). Died on 23 rd of April, 1616. Entire body of work consists of 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as several poems

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william s hakespeare
William Shakespeare
  • Born in 1564 (exact date unknown). Died on 23rd of April, 1616.
  • Entire body of work consists of 38 plays and 154 sonnets, as well as several poems
  • Began his career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a play company, Lord Chamberlain’s men
  • Influential – expanded potential of characterization, plot, genre (from comedy to tragedy), and even language in drama
significance of the title
Significance Of The Title
  • The Twelfth Night after Christmas
  • The Eve of The Feast of Epiphany
  • A time of revelry, celebration
  • Servants would dress up as their masters, men would dress up as women
  • The cultural origin of the play’s confusion
twelfth night characters
Twelfth Night Characters

Orsino, Duke of Illyria: The ruler of Illyria. Powerful and a

gentleman, he is obsessed with gaining the hand in marriage of the fair Lady Olivia, unaware that he himself has a secret admirer.

Lady Olivia: A countess of high social standing and great beauty, her hand in

marriage is desired by Orsino. She has resigned herself to seven years solitude

following the loss of first her father and then her much loved brother. Spurning

love in all its forms, she shuns Orsino's romantic overtures, but at the sight of

Cesario, falls deeply in love, causing many problems for Cesario (really Viola). She

later marries Sebastian, who looking exactly like Cesario, also steals Lady Olivia's



Viola and disguised as a man, Cesario: The secret admirer of Orsino, Viola comes to work for Orsino when having been shipwrecked; she disguises herself as a man, and works for the Duke. Much favored by the Duke, Viola is entrusted to convey the Duke's love to Countess Olivia. This later causes problems for Viola, who serves her master faithfully, despite desiring Orsino for herself and being the unwitting (and unwilling!) target of Countess Olivia's affections. Viola has a brother, called Sebastian who is identical to her male appearance as Cesario; she fears that he died when their ship broke up at the beginning of the play.

Sebastian: Viola's twin brother. When the ship he and Viola were traveling on sinks, he fears his sister dead, as her sister does of him. Frequently mistaken for Cesario, Sebastian eventually is reunited with his sister, earlier taking the hand the willing Countess Olivia as his wife.

Antonio: A Sea Captain by trade, Antonio is a man with many enemies in the Duke Orsino's court. Nonetheless he accompanies Sebastian in his travels. Memorable for the expression, "That danger shall seem sport...." (Act II, Scene I).


Sir Toby Belch, Uncle to Olivia: As Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby passes away his time drinking in Olivia's house with fellow drinker Sir Andrew Aguecheek, much to the displeasure of Olivia, her servant Maria and Olivia's uptight and humorless steward Malvolio. A great schemer of practical jokes, Sir Toby enjoys playing tricks on Malvolio, his friend Sir Andrew and anyone else who captures his fleeting attention.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: The drinking partner of Sir Toby, he too pushes Lady Olivia's patience and hospitality with his continuously loud and lewd behavior. Described by Sir Toby as being "as tall a man as any's in Illyria", Sir Andrew is not overly intelligent, Sir Andrew like Sir Toby having little love for the annoying Malvolio and is party to a practical joke against him. Sir Andrew however is greatly valued by Sir Toby since he is rich, earning some "three thousand ducats a year." Unwittingly, Sir Andrew is also the pawn in Sir Toby's plot making. Naive by nature, he is manipulated by Sir Toby into pursuing Lady Olivia since this will maintain Sir Toby's drinking lifestyle. Later Sir Andrew is manipulated into challenging Cesario, who becomes a threat to Sir Toby's plans.


Malvolio: As Lady Olivia's steward, Malvolio sees himself in a somewhat grandiose light, imagining Olivia to love him and wishing to be more than his current rank. This and his continuous disapproval of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew's drinking, earn him their hatred and he quickly becomes their pawn in a complex romantic ruse.

Maria: Lady Olivia's woman, she is patient and tactful where Malvolio is brash and insulting. She too, disapproves of Sir Toby and company's drinking but tries tactfully to subdue their boisterous spirits. Her dislike of Malvolio leads her to create an elaborate romantic trick on Malvolio, which she also uses to calm down Sir Toby and company, who are now enthusiastic conspirator's in Malvolio's humiliation.

Feste: Referred to in the text as "The Clown" and a servant to Olivia, Feste like so many of Shakespeare's fools, speaks the truth from the source of recognized foolishness. He is much appreciated by Sir Toby, who spends many hours with him.


Fabian: A servant of Lady Olivia's, he too dislikes Malvolio, and also participates enthusiastically in Malvolio's downfall.

Valentine and Curio: Gentlemen attending Orsino at the start of the play.

A Sea Captain: A friend to Viola, he helps her to disguise herself as Cesario. He initially reports Sebastian dead.

  • Begins with the separation of Viola and Sebastian by shipwreck. Both fear for the other’s death, but they aren’t sure.
  • Viola enters the service of Orsino, her disguise being a male eunuch servant, Cesario.
  • Orsino tasks her with wooing the countess Olivia.
  • Love triangle sets in.
love is in the air
Love Is In The Air







  • Sebastian ends up in Orsino’s land, and is quickly mistaken for Viola/Cesario.
  • Confusion ensues, ending with the discovery of the twins, and the reuniting of Viola and Sebastian.
  • Olivia loves Sebastian, Orsino loves Viola, nobody loves Malvolio.
twelfth night
Twelfth Night

Act by Act Breakdown


The scene opens at the court of the Duke Orsino who is the leader of Illyria. Other lords surround him, and music plays in the background.

  • As his musicians play, the Duke speaks of love and says if music is the food that sustains love he wants to hear enough to make him sick of it, so he will no longer want to hear any and no longer be in love.
  • He talks to a lord named Curio about his passionate love of the countess Olivia. Olivia's brother, whom she was extremely close with, recently died and she was in mourning.
  • The duke's gentleman, Valentine, tells him that the countess is in mourning and will not accept any proposals. Orsino is saddened by this, but will not give up his chase of her.

If music be the food of love, play on,Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken and so die.That strain again, it had a dying fall.O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound That breathes upon a bank of violets,Stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more,’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

If it’s true that music makes people more in love, keep playing. Give me too much of it, so I’ll get sick of it and stop loving. Play that part again! It sounded sad. Oh, it sounded like a sweet breeze blowing gently over a bank of violets, taking their scent with it. That’s enough. Stop. It doesn’t sound as sweet as it did before.


[Music ceases]O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thouThat, notwithstanding thy capacityReceiveth as the sea, naught enters there,Of what validity and pitch so e’er,But falls into abatement and low priceEven in a minute! So full of shapes is fancyThat it alone is high fantastical. (I.i.1–15)

Oh, love is so restless! It makes you want everything, but it makes you sick of things a minute later, no matter how good they are. Love is so vivid and fantastical that nothing compares to it. (Duke Orsino)

  • The play’s opening speech includes one of its most famous lines, as the unhappy, lovesick Orsino tells his servants and musicians, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
  • Orsino asks for the musicians to give him so much musical love-food that he will overdose (“surfeit”) and cease to desire love any longer.
  • Through these words, Shakespeare introduces the image of love as something unwanted, something that comes upon people unexpectedly and that is not easily avoided.
  • This image is complicated by Orsino’s comment about the relationship between romance and imagination: “So full of shapes is fancy / That it alone is high fantastical,” he says, relating the idea of overpowering love (“fancy”) to that of imagination (that which is “fantastical”).
  • Through this connection, the play raises the question of whether romantic love has more to do with the reality of the person who is loved or with the lover’s own imagination. For Orsino and Olivia, both of whom are willing to switch lovers at a moment’s notice, imagination often seems more powerful than reality.

O, she that hath a heart of that fine ... frameTo pay this debt of love but to a brother,How will she love, when the rich golden shaftHath kill'd the flock of all affections elseThat live in her (1.1.4)


  • Orsino reveals a skewed vision of desire. The first thing to note is that Orsino has a hard time wrapping his brain around the idea that Olivia isn't interested in him. He is also completely dismissive of the notion that Olivia could love so intensely a (dead) brother. Of course, Orsino does recognize Olivia's capacity for "love," but he mistakenly believes that she will somehow channel all of her energy into a relationship with him.


  • It's also interesting to note that the Duke uses another violent metaphor to describe the act of falling in love as a kind of violent piercing of the flesh (by Cupid's arrow or, "golden shaft"). We can also compare this passage to other moments in the play where love is associated with hunting, which can also involve the use of arrows. See 1.1.2 and also where Olivia compares herself to an animal, or "prey" (3.1.8).

The woman Viola who is traveling with her brother is shipwrecked on Illyria.

  • Viola's brother is missing from the shipwreck but they think he may be in dead.
  • While talking to the captain of the ship who tells her about the country, Viola decides to become a servant in the Duke's household. The captain agrees to help her and keep her identity a secret.

Be you his eunuch, and your mute I'll be:... When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see. (1.2.10)


  • Viola's high-pitched voice could potentially expose her as a woman when she disguises herself as a boy. The solution? Pretend to be a singing eunuch (a castrated man – if the genitals are removed before puberty, the voice remains high-pitched, which was pleasing to many 16th-century music lovers). What really interests us about this passage, however, is the way the sea captain plays with the idea of bodily mutilation when he says he'll be Viola's "mute" (one who is unable to "blab" if his tongue has been removed). He also implies that his eyes should be put out as punishment if he exposes Viola's secret, which is that she never has been castrated.

In the house of Countess Olivia, her kinsmen Sir Toby talks to Olivia's handmaiden, Maria, about his living habits.

  • The Lady Olivia is not happy about the way he is living, or about his friend Sir Andrew who he brought in to court her. Sir Andrew then enters and Maria subtly makes fun of him, though he does not catch it. She leaves, and Toby talks with Andrew about courting Olivia. Andrew does not think he has much of a chance but Toby presses the suit.

There is a fair behavior in thee, captain;And ... though that nature with a beauteous wallDoth oft close in pollution, yet of theeI will believe thou hast a mind that suitsWith this thy fair and outward character. (1.2.10)


  • As Viola determines to disguise her identity by cross-dressing as a boy servant ("Cesario"), she considers the sea captain's trustworthiness. This passage is interesting for the way Viola describes the way some people can seem "fair" in their outward behaviour and demeanour while concealing, like a "beauteous wall," an inner nature that may be "pollut[ed]." Viola's speech sets the tone for a play intent on thinking about whether or not what's outside matches what's on the inside.

Viola, dressed as a boy Cesario, has become trusted servant for Orsino. She is talking to Valentine about her position when Orsino comes in and asks her to go to the house of Lady Olivia to woo her for him. Viola thinks that it is futile, but agrees to go.


Dear lad, believe it;For they shall yet belie ... thy happy years,That say thou art a man: Diana's lipIs not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipeIs as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,And all is semblative a woman's part. (1.4.5)


  • Orsino's sensual description of "Cesario's" mouth ("lip") throat ("small pipe"), and voice ("maiden's organ") is made even more provocative because the Duke describes a very attractive and androgynous boy actor, who is playing the role of a young woman, who is cross-dressed as a boy. The passage is also an erotic description of the anatomical features of female genitalia. Orsino nicely captures the gender confusion in an unintentionally ironic description of his young page. In other words, Orsino isn't exactly aware of it, but his description reveals that "Cesario's" sex appeal is a combination of both masculine and feminine characteristics.

I'll do my bestTo woo your lady:... Asideyet, a barful strife!Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife. (1.4.7)


  • Viola's sudden announcement that she's smitten with Duke Orsino may come as a shock. How could Viola fall for Orsino so quickly when she's only been working for him for three days? Also, what does Viola see in this guy anyway? After all, Orsino comes off as a moody, self-centered guy who lounges around and spouts off about deer hunting metaphors and flowers all day. It's easy to dismiss the question by saying that Viola's love for Orsino is totally unrealistic but is nevertheless important to the plot. Does Viola fall for Orsino because he's a kind of passionate poet? Does this make her just as silly and foolish as Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio? Viola's a sharp girl. Does the play seem to suggest that love and desire transform even the brightest and shrewdest people into sappy fools?

The jester, Feste, in Lady Olivia's house enters, and Maria inquires where he has been. She also tells him that he should beware of being late because it displeases his mistress.

  • Lady Olivia enters with Malvolio and dismisses the fool, but Feste refuses to go calling her the fool. He explains that she should not be mourning her dead brother because he is in heaven.
  • She asks Malvolio his opinion and he says she should not listen to the fool. She laughs at the opinions of the fool when Maria enters and tells her a young man is there to see her from Count Orsino.
  • Sir Toby however is blocking the gate and she sends Malvolio to handle the situation. Toby enters drunk and then leaves. Olivia, upset with her cousin, sends the fool to take care of him.

Malvolio returns saying that the young man refuses to leave until he speaks with Olivia. After many questions, Olivia agrees to speak with him.

  • Viola enters dressed of course as Cesario, and begins to give a speech about her beauty. Lady Olivia is not interested in hearing it, and Viola asks to speak with her in private. She concedes, and the servants exit. Viola then tells her of her master's love, but Lady Olivia states that she can and will not love him back. She tells Viola who she is, and the girl dodges the question.
  • When Viola leaves, the Lady Olivia ponders who he is. Malvolio enters again, and she tells him to go after the departed messenger and tell him to come back the next day if he wants reasons for why she cannot love the count. She also gives him a ring and tells him to return it to the young man, because he left it there.

Not yet old enough for a man, nor young ... enough fora boy; as a squash is before 'tis a peascod, or acooling when 'tis almost an apple: 'tis with himin standing water, between boy and man. (1.5.7)


  • Here, Malvolio implies that "Cesario" isn't quite ripe enough to be a "man." He compares "him" to a "squash" (an undeveloped peapod) and a "codling" (an unripe apple) in his attempt to explain away "Cesario's" androgynous good looks. Here, Malvolio attributes "Cesario's" seemingly undeveloped body to prepubescent youthfulness.

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? (1.5.48)


  • Olivia seems surprised that she has fallen in love with "Cesario," who has been sent to woo her on behalf of Duke Orsino. (Remember, she has sworn off men for seven years while she mourns for her dead brother.) Here, Olivia's comparison of falling in love to catching the bubonic "plague" is not unlike other passages we've seen that align desire with illness and injury. (There's also a bawdy reference to venereal disease, which was rampant in Shakespeare's London.)

Methinks I feel this youth's perfectionsWith an invisible ... and subtle stealthTo creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be. (1.5.48)


  • Olivia's use of the term "stealth" (the action of theft, plunder, or underhanded deception) is interesting because it suggests that falling in love makes one a kind of victim. In this way, Olivia suggests that "Cesario" has robbed her of something (her heart, her well being, etc.). The audience is also aware that Viola's deceptive disguise plays an important role in Olivia's physical attraction to "Cesario's" "tongue, face, limbs," etc., which gives new meaning to the concept of "Cesario's" "stealth," or underhandedness.

Viola's brother Sebastian is saved by a sailor named Antonio.

  • Sebastian is devastated because he thinks his beloved twin has drowned.
  • He tells Antonio that he plans to go to Orsino's court, and Antonio offers to be his servant, but Sebastian refuses him.

Malvolio finds Cesario and gives him the message and the ring.

  • Viola is confused because she never gave the Countess a ring, but takes it anyway.
  • She figures out that Lady Olivia has fallen in love with her while she, herself, has fallen for Orsino.
  • She does not know how to undo the "love knots" which have become tangled, and she curses her disguise for causing such problems.

Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness,Wherein the ... pregnant enemy does much.[…]How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly;And I, poor monster, fond as much on him; (2.2.3)


  • When Viola learns that Olivia is in love with "Cesario," she blames her "disguise," as though the act of cross-dressing is solely to blame for Olivia's attraction to her.

Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and the Fool are having a late night party. Maria enters and tries to make them be quiet,.

  • Malvolio comes and threatens to kick them out if they do not behave better.
  • In defense to Malvolio's attitude, Maria decides to forge a letter from Olivia telling Malvolio that she loves him. Toby, Andrew, and Feste think it is a wonderful idea, and she leaves to put her plan into action.
  • Sir Andrew reveals his bad financial state to Sir Toby, saying that he has to marry Olivia or he will be completely broke.
maria s description of malvolio 2 3 146 153
Maria’s description of Malvolio (2.3.146-153)

The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths; the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him. And on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work.

He isn’t really that pure and good. He’s just a conceited flatterer. He’s a pretentious guy who aspires to speak and act like nobility. He’s proud, and he thinks he’s so stuffed full of wonderful qualities that everyone loves him. That’s the weakness I’ll use to get revenge on him.


I will drop in his way some obscure epistles oflove; (2.3.8)


  • Maria's plan to forge a love letter (in order to trick Malvolio into believing Olivia loves him) furthers the play's notion that "epistles of love" are not to be trusted. Maria's forged letter is not so different from Duke Orsino's messages for Olivia (which aren't necessarily forged but are contrived nonetheless).
maria s plan
Maria’s Plan

I will drop in his way some obscure epistles of love, wherein by the color of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion,he shall find himself most feelingly personated.

I can write very like my lady your niece: on a forgotten matter we can hardly make distinction of our hands.

Sport royal, I warrant you. I know my physic will work with him. I will plant you two, and let the fool make a third, where he shall find the letter. Observe his construction of it.

I’ll drop some mysterious love letters in his path. He’ll think they’re addressed to him, because they’ll describe the color of his beard, the shape of his legs, the way he walks, and the expression on his face. I can make my handwriting look just like Lady Olivia’s: she and I can’t tell the difference between each other’s handwriting.

It’s going to be fun, I promise. I know my medicine will work on him. I’ll have you two hide—and the fool too—right where he’ll find the letter. Watch his reaction.

duke orsino s character delineated through metaphor 2 4 73 79
Duke Orsino’s Character delineated through metaphor:(2.4.73-79)


Now, the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal. I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything and their intent everywhere, for that’s it that always makes a good voyage of nothing.

I’ll pray for the god of sadness to protect you, sir. And I hope your tailor will make you an outfit out of fabric that changes color, because your mind is like an opal that changes colors constantly. Men as wonderfully changeable as you are should all go drifting on the sea, where they can do whatever comes their way, and go wherever the current takes them. Those are the men whose trips are always successful.

duke contradicts himself and confirms the fool s assessment of him 2 4 29 34 94 104
Duke contradicts himself and confirms the Fool’s assessment of him: (2.4.29-34 & 94-104)

Too old by heaven. Let still the woman take

An elder than herself. So wears she to him,

So sways she level in her husband’s heart.

For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,

Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,

More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,

Than women’s are.

. . .

Then let thy love be younger than thyself,

Or thy affection cannot hold the bent.

For women are as roses, whose fair flower

Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour. (2.4.29-34 )

That’s definitely too old. A woman should always pick an older man. That way she’ll adjust herself to what her husband wants, and the husband will be happy and faithful to her. Because however much we like to brag, boy, the truth is that we men change our minds a lot more than women do, and our desires come and go a lot faster than theirs.

So find someone younger to love, or you won’t be able to maintain your feelings. Women are like roses: the moment their beauty is in full bloom, it’s about to decay.

duke contradicts himself and confirms the fool s assessment of him 2 4 29 34 94 1041
Duke contradicts himself and confirms the Fool’s assessment of him: (2.4.29-34 & 94-104)

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. (2.4.94-104 )

No woman is strong enough to put up with the kind of intense passion I feel. No woman’s heart is big enough to hold all my love. Women don’t feel love like that—love is as shallow as appetite for them. It has nothing to do with their hearts, just their sense of taste. They eat too much and get indigestion and nausea. But my love’s different. It’s as all-consuming and insatiable as the sea, and it can swallow as much as the sea can. Don’t compare a woman’s love for a man with my love for Olivia.


Viola, Orsino, and Curio are at the court of Orsino when he requests a love song by Feste the jester. While someone fetches the fool, Orsino asks Cesario if he has ever been in love. Cesario says he has, and when Orsino asks for details, Cesario tells him that his love is like him.

  • Feste comes and sings a sad love song for them and Orsino is very pleased. He bade everyone but Cesario exit, and then he tells the young man to go back to Olivia.

Cesario tells him again that Olivia cannot love him, but he will not believe it. The young girl-boy then asks what he would do if he found out that another woman loved him as much as he loved Olivia.

  • The count thought that was impossible, but Cesario gave him an illustration made up of his lovesick sister (really herself).
  • The count gives him a jewel to take to Olivia and sends him off.

Then let thy love be younger than thyself,Or ... thy affection cannot hold the bent;For women are as roses, whose fair flowerBeing once display'd, doth fall that very hour. (2.4.8)


  • Here, Orsino tells "Cesario" to marry a young woman, because a woman's beauty (like a flower) fades just as quickly as a husband's sexual desire for his wife (especially once he's "deflowered" or, slept with her).

A blank, my lord. She never told her love,... But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,And with a green and yellow melancholyShe sat like patience on a monument (2.4.11)


  • In this passage "Cesario" speaks to Duke Orsino of "his" "father's daughter" (Viola), who kept her love a secret. "Cesario's" language is interesting here, as "he" suggests that secrets can eat away at, or "feed on," the person who keeps them hidden. The simile (a secret is like a worm eating a flower bud) also resonates with the play's portrayal of the relationship between love and food and love and disease or injury.

There is no woman's sidesCan bide the beating ... of so strong a passionAs love doth give my heart; no woman's heartSo big, to hold so much; they lack retention (2.4.16)


  • Throughout the play, Duke Orsino makes several contradictory speeches about the way women love. Here, he claims that women are incapable of "passion." In fact, he implies that women are physically incapable of love – their bodies are too weak to sustain the "beating" of a heart and they are also too small to contain big love. Women were thought of as "leaky vessels" in the 16th century. Here, Orsino's use of the term "retention" not only implies that Olivia is incontinent (can't control her bladder) but also suggests that she can't hold or "retain" any passionate feeling because it would seep or spill out of her, like urine.
theme what is suggested about men women and love in these two speeches
Theme: What is suggested about men, women, and love in these two speeches?


How easy is it for the proper false

In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!

Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,

For such as we are made of, such we be.(2.2.29-32)


Too old by heaven. Let still the woman take

An elder than herself. So wears she to him,

So sways she level in her husband’s heart.

For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,

Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,

More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,

Than women’s are. (2.4.29-34)

It’s so easy for a good-looking but deceitful man to make women fall in love with him.

It’s not our fault—we women are weak.

That’s definitely too old. A woman should always pick

an older man. That way she’ll adjust herself

to what her husband wants,

and the husband will be happy and faithful to her.

Because however much we like to brag, boy,

the truth is that we men change our minds

a lot more than women do,

and our desires come and go a lot faster than theirs.


Maria plants the letter meant for Malvolio, and Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and their friend Fabian wait hidden to see him find it.

  • Malvolio comes along praising himself aloud when he finds the letter. He reads it, sure that the writer meant for him.
  • The letter gives him certain directions to follow to win his lady's love. It tells him to be mean to Sir Toby and the servants, wear yellow stocking cross-gartered, and walk around constantly smiling.
  • Malvolio, delighted by the fact, goes to prepare himself, and the others prepare to watch his downfall as he tries to woo Lady Olivia.

Daylight and champaign discovers not more. This is open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors, I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-device the very man. I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg, being cross-gartered, and in this she manifests herself to my love, and with a kind of injunction drives to these habits of her liking. I thank my stars, I am happy. I will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on. Jove and my stars be praised. (II.v.140–150)



  • Malvolio speaks these words after he finds the letter written by Maria that seems to reveal that Olivia is in love with him. Until this point, Malvolio has seemed a straitlaced prig with no enthusiasms or desires beyond decorum and an orderly house. Here we see his puritanical exterior is only a veneer, covering powerful ambitions. Malvolio dreams of being loved by Olivia and of rising in the world to become a nobleman—both of these dreams seem to be fulfilled by the letter. For the audience, this scene is tremendously comic, since we can easily anticipate that Malvolio will make a fool of himself when he follows the letter’s instructions and puts on yellow stockings and crossed garters. But there is also a hint of pathos in Malvolio’s situation, since we know that his grand ambitions will come crashing down. Our pity for him increases in later scenes, when Sir Toby and Maria use his preposterous behavior to lock him away as a madman. Malvolio is not exactly a tragic figure; he is too absurd for that. But there is something at least pitiable in the way the vanity he displays in this speech leads to his undoing.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, andsome have greatness thrust upon 'em.“ (2, 5, 156-159)


In this scene, the comic plot (as opposed to the romantic plot) unfolds when Malvolio, Countess Olivia's priggish steward, comes upon a letter that the merrymakers in the play have left for him to find. One night as Sir Toby, Andrew, Maria and Feste are carousing, Malvolio bursts in to scold them for their behavior. His egotism and condescending manner so offends them that they decide to play a practical joke by arranging for him to find a love letter that he will believe is from Olivia to himself. The writer of this anonymous letter suggests that he can become "great" by doing certain things, each of which is more absurd than the next. Malvolio, in his ambitious and pretentious egotism, never questions the validity of the letter, nor the author, whom he firmly believes is Olivia. Later, as he carries out the ridiculous instructions in the letter, Olivia thinks her steward has gone mad and has him locked up.


To be Count Malvolio![…]Calling my officers about ... me, in my branched velvetgown; having come from a day-bed, where I have leftOlivia sleeping,--[…] And then to have the humour of state; and after ademure travel of regard, telling them I know myplace as I would they should do theirs (2.5.2)


  • Malvolio's unrealistic fantasy about marrying Olivia is not so much about erotic desire as it is about Malvolio's social aspirations. Here, he imagines himself leaving Olivia's bed, not being in it for any length of time. He also seems to get excited about the idea of wearing fancy clothes and bossing around his servants and Sir Toby. This seems to make him just as self-absorbed as, Duke Orsino.

Viola travels back to the estate of the Lady Olivia.

  • On her way, she encounters the fool, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew..
  • Olivia then appears with Maria, and dismisses everyone so she can talk to Cesario alone.
  • Once alone, Olivia declares her love to Cesario, but she of course refuses the Lady. She then presses with Orsino's suit, but is again rejected. They part.

I am not what I am. (3.1.29)


  • "Cesario's" cryptic statement to Olivia, who has fallen in love with "him," is both revealing and concealing. Olivia has no idea that "Cesario" is really Viola in disguise. The audience, however, knows that "Cesario" is not what "he" appears to be. "Cesario" suggests that "he" is neither a boy nor an appropriate object for Olivia to love.

By innocence I swear, and by my youthI ... have one heart, one bosom and one truth,And that no woman has; nor never noneShall mistress be of it, save I alone. (3.1.32)


  • "Cesario's" insistence on singularity – "he" has "one heart, one bosom and one truth" ("he's" in love with and devoted to Orsino only) is striking in this passage, especially given the fact that "Cesario's" cryptic words hold double meaning. This, of course, also draws out attention to the doubleness of Viola's disguised identity.
explain the irony
Explain the irony:

Olivia:Stay, I prithee, tell me what thou thinkest of me.

Viola:That you do think you are not what you are.

Oliva:If I think so, I think the same of you.

Viola: Then think you right: I am not what I am.

Oliva:I would you were as I would have you be!


Olivia:Stay, Please, tell me what you think of me.

Viola:I think you’re denying what you really are.

Olinia:If that’s true, I think the same thing about you.

Viola:You’re right. I am not what I am.

Oliva:I wish you were what I wanted you to be!

explain the irony1
Explain the irony:


By innocence I swear, and by my youth

I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,

And that no woman has, nor never none

Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.



And I swear by my youth and innocence

that I’ve only got one heart and one love to give,

and that I’ve never given them

to a woman and never will.


Sir Andrew is convinced that Olivia will never accept his suit, but Sir Toby presses him to stay. He tells him to challenge the young Cesario to a duel for the woman's hand, and Sir Andrew agrees.

  • The knight leaves to write a letter to Cesario proposing the duel when Maria enters.
  • She says that Malvolio has followed the directions giving in the mysterious letter and is about to present himself the Lady Olivia who will hate every thing he has done.

Marry, I saw your niece do more favours ... to thecount's serving-man than ever she bestowed upon me;I saw'ti' the orchard. (3.2.2)


  • Sir Andrew is clearly annoyed that Olivia isn't interested in marrying him. Here, it also seems that Olivia's apparent desire for a mere "serving-man" ("Cesario") is also something that rubs Andrew the wrong way. This may partially explain why Andrew's so easily convinced to challenge "Cesario" to a duel.
explain fabian s simile
Explain Fabian’s simile

This was looked for at your hand,

and this was balked.

The double gilt of this opportunity you let time wash off,

and you are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion,

where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard,

unless you do redeem it by some laudable attempt

either of valor or policy.


That’s what she was expecting,

and you let her down.

You wasted a golden opportunity,

and now my lady thinks badly of you.

You can only raise her opinion of you

with some impressive act of courage

or complicated intrigue.

This simile seems to suggest that Sir Andrew will be compared to a lump of elongated ice, frozen out and looking rather like a useless appendage on a foreigner's beard! Fantastic image! Unless he acts (and challenges a youth who had been shown favour by Olivia to a duel, so proving his valour to the lady he loves).


Sebastian is now in Orsino's city and he realizes that the sailor, Antonio has followed him.

  • Sebastian wants to go sight seeing, but Antonio tells him that the city is dangerous for him because he has a past with Orsino.
  • Sebastian understands the threat to Antonio, and dismisses him to find them lodging. They agree to meet at a hotel later, and Antonio gives Sebastian money for anything he may want to buy.

I could not stay behind you: my desire,More ... sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth;And not all love to see you, though so muchAs might have drawn one to a longer voyage,But jealousy what might befall your travel,Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger,Unguided and unfriended, often proveRough and unhospitable: my willing love,The rather by these arguments of fear,Set forth in your pursuit. (3.3.1)



  • There's no denying the intimacy of the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian, particularly when Antonio proclaims his devotion and willingness to risk his life to be with his beloved friend. Antonio says that he is driven by "desire," "jealousy," and "love" to follow Sebastian to Illyria, where Antonio is a wanted man. Just as Duke Orsino compares the experience of erotic love to a physically piercing "shaft", Antonio suggests that his desire for Sebastian is "more sharp than filed steel" (an arrow, spear, sword – whatever). This language not only gets at the sense that Antonio's love causes him physical suffering and heartache, but it also consistent with the imagery of sexual penetration we see elsewhere.While it's not clear if Antonio and Sebastian are lovers or just very close friends (though, one doesn't necessarily preclude the other), Antonio's affection is consistent with the kinds of erotic (both hetero- and homoerotic) desire we see throughout Twelfth Night. Note: "Homoerotic" just refers to erotic emotions that are directed toward a person of the same sex. It can be helpful to note that homoerotic relationships and strong male friendships are quite common in Shakespeare's work

Olivia tells Maria that she has sent after Cesario, and asks to see Malvolio.

  • He enters looking ridiculous in his yellow cross-gartered stockings. His constant smiling makes him appear mad, and he continually quotes the letter he found.
  • Olivia, thinking he's gone crazy, tells him to go to Sir Toby to be taken care of. Thinking it's a ploy to see if he follows the letter, Malvolio is rude to Sir Toby and leaves. Sir Toby, Maria, and Fabian plan to tie him up in a dark room for a while so he'll learn his lesson.
  • Sir Andrew enters with his letter for Cesario, and Sir Toby tells him it's wonderful. He also offers to deliver it to the boy. Sir Andrew leaves to prepare for the duel and Sir Toby, with no intention of delivering the letter, tries to think up some message to give Cesario orally for the challenge.

Olivia comes in again with Cesario at her side and she asks him to wear her pin. He again presses Orsino's suit, but the lady refuses.

  • She leaves but Toby and Fabian enter to talk to him. They tell him of Andrew's planned attack in the Orchard, but Cesario refuses to fight. The men lie about how good of a fighter Andrew is by saying that he is wonderful. Again Cesario refuses.
  • They all leave, but Andrew and Toby enter. Toby tells Andrew that Cesario is mad and cannot wait to fight. Andrew is scared, and offers to give Cesario his horse if they can just be at peace. This delights Toby, because he will take the horse.

Fabian and Viola enter, and Toby goes to speak with them. She still refuses to fight, but when Toby goes back to Sir Andrew, he says the young man cannot wait.

  • They take out their swords and are about to begin when Antonio enters. He offers to take on the battle for Cesario because he thinks it is Sebastian.
  • Officers come in to arrest Antonio for his previous crimes, and he pleads to Cesario but he doesn't know who the man is.
  • Antonio then refers to him as Sebastian and Viola is happy that her twin may be alive and in the city. She leaves and the men think she is dishonest and a coward for leaving her friend. They decide to go after her.

[Aside] Pray God defend me! A little thing would... make me tell them how much I lack of a man. (3.4.12)


  • When "Cesario" (Viola in disguise) prays that she doesn't get pummeled in the duel with Sir Andrew, she makes a joke about what she "lack[s]." Read alone, this passage would seem to suggest that being born with a penis somehow predisposes one to picking and winning a fight. However, given the fact that Sir Andrew was born with a penis and is a total coward, it seems that the play is pointing out that one's sex doesn't necessarily determine whether or not someone will be brave.

Lady Olivia sends the Fool to find Cesario, but he runs into Sebastian first.

  • Sebastian thinks the Fool is crazy and tries to give him money so he'll go away.
  • The men enter and Andrew punches Sebastian. Sebastian strikes back and a brawl ensues.
  • The Fool runs to fetch Lady Olivia. She comes, stops what has turned into a sword fight, and yells at Sir Toby.
  • The three men exit, and she goes to Sebastian, thinking that he is Cesario and professes her love again to him. She offers to have him come back to her house, and he, delighted, agrees.

Maria at Toby's request dresses the Fool up as a minister and sends him to the dark room in which they are keeping Malvolio.

  • The Fool, as the minister, tells him that he is mad, and leaves him in the dark. The fool, then as himself, sings and Malvolio recognizes the voice and calls to him. Feste talks to him in his own voice, but because it is dark, Malvolio cannot see it was he as the preacher.
  • Malvolio wants Feste to bring him paper, light, and ink and Feste leaves him to fetch the things.

Lady Olivia tells Sebastian of her love for him, thinking he is Cesario.

  • Sebastian has fallen madly in love with Olivia, and is delighted by this.
  • Lady Olivia, afraid he will change his mind again (thinking he's Cesario still), proposes a formal betrothal, and takes him before a priest. They have the ceremony performed that day.

Blame not this haste of mine. If you mean ... well,Now go with me and with this holy manInto the chantry by: there, before him,And underneath that consecrated roof,Plight me the full assurance of your faith; (4.3.1)


  • As readers we tend to focus on all the ways Viola's behaviour challenges notions of gender and what it means to act "like a woman." When Olivia steps into the traditionally male role and proposes marriage to Sebastian, we're reminded of just how bold Olivia is. We might think Olivia is weak at the play's outset (when we learn that she's in seclusion over her brother's death), but by the time Olivia sets out to seduce "Cesario," we understand that Olivia is just as untraditional as Viola. Both women break out of traditional gender roles assigned to Elizabethan women (quiet, submissive, "pure," wearing a dress, etc.).

This is the air; that is the glorious sun;... This pearl she gave me, I do feel't and see't;And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus,Yet 'tis not madness. Where's Antonio, then?I could not find him at the Elephant:Yet there he was; and there I found this credit,That he did range the town to seek me out.His counsel now might do me golden service; (4.3.1)



  • We've seen how deeply devoted Antonio is to Sebastian. Here, however, it's pretty clear that Sebastian doesn't feel as strongly about Antonio. (Prior to this scene, Sebastian tries to ditch Antonio before travelling to Illyria and then jumps at the chance to hook up with Olivia.) Here, as Sebastian muses about the strangeness of Olivia's love for him, Antonio is quite literally an afterthought. Sebastian's question, "Where's Antonio, then?" seems to be pinned on at the very end of a lengthy thought about Olivia and merits only half a line. What's worse, Sebastian only wonders where Antonio is (the poor guy was arrested back in Act 3, Scene 4) because he wants someone to give him some advice about his new girlfriend.

Fabian asks the Fool if he can see the letter Malvolio wrote, but the Fool refuses to show it to him.

  • Viola, Orsino, Curio, and other Lords enter and Orsino tells the Fool to fetch the Lady Olivia.
  • The officers bring in Antonio and Orsino calls him a pirate. Viola sticks up for him, saying that he helped her fight Sir Andrew and Sir Toby.
  • Antonio calls Cesario an ungrateful boy for not appreciating that he rescued him from the sea and brought him to the city. He also says that he has spent the past three months with the boy, but Orsino protests saying that Cesario has spent the last three months in his service.

Olivia and her attendants enter, and she greets Cesario as her betrothed. Orsino declares his love, but she refuses him explaining that she is going to marry Cesario. Viola refuses her and she is confused.

  • To prove that they are betrothed, she brings in the priest and he swears that they are betrothed. Orsino gets angry with Cesario because he thinks that he did agree to marry the girl he is in love with.
  • Sir Andrew enters bleeding and saying that Cesario beat him up. Cesario denies it, but Sir Toby comes in bloody as well.
  • Worried, Olivia sends Andrew, Toby, the Fool, and Fabian exit so they can fix any cuts they have.

Sebastian then enters apologizing to Olivia for hurting her kinsman.

  • Everyone is astonished to see Sebastian and Cesario together. Sebastian greets Antonio as a friend and tells him he was worried about him.
  • Sebastian looks at Viola and says that he never had a brother, only a sister.
  • Viola thinks that Sebastian is a ghost of her dead brother. Finally, Viola reveals herself, and Sebastian reveals to Lady Olivia that he loves her. He also says that Viola refused her because she was a woman.
  • Orsino is delighted that Cesario is a woman, and asks her to put on women's clothing because he loves her and wants to marry her. She tells him that the captain who rescued her has them.

Feste enters with Fabian, carrying the letter that Malvolio wrote, and gives it to Lady Olivia. She asks Fabian to read it, and after hearing him, tells him to fetch Malvolio.

  • While waiting, Olivia talks to Viola (as herself) and when Malvolio enters, he declares that Olivia has wronged him. He gives her the letter he found, and she says that the letter was in Maria's handwriting.
  • Fabian confesses the prank that they played and Olivia tells Malvolio it was just a prank. He promises revenge on the pranksters and leaves.
  • Orsino plans to marry Viola and takes her off.
  • The fool closes the play by singing a song.

That most ingrateful boy there by your side,... From the rude sea's enraged and foamy mouthDid I redeem; a wreck past hope he was:His life I gave him and did thereto addMy love, without retention or restraint,All his in dedication; for his sakeDid I expose myself, pure for his love,Into the danger of this adverse town (5.1.1)


  • The play's notion of folly is not limited to the silly antics of characters like Aguecheek and Feste. Here, Antonio mistakes "Cesario" for Sebastian and accuses "Cesario" of cruelty and dishonesty. Though we know "Cesario" is innocent, this passage reminds us that Antonio has foolishly pursued Sebastian, who does not return Antonio's love.

Orsino: If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,I shall have share in this most happy wrack.[To Viola] Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand timesThou never shouldst love woman like to me.Viola: And all those sayings will I overswear,And all those swearings keep as true in soulAs doth that orbèd continent the fireThat severs day from night.Orsino: Give me thy hand,And let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds. (5,1,.258–266)



  • This exchange follows the climax of the play, when Sebastian and Viola are reunited, and all the misunderstandings are cleared up. Here, Orsino ushers in a happy ending for his long-suffering Viola by declaring his willingness to wed her. This quotation thus sets the stage for general rejoicing—but it is worth noting that even here, the -gender ambiguities that Viola’s disguise has created still persist. Orsino knows that Viola is a woman—and a woman, apparently, to- whom he is attracted. Yet he addresses her as “Boy” in this speech, even as he is accepting her vows of love. This incident is not isolated: later, Orsino continues to call his new betrothed “Cesario,” using her male name. This odd mode of address raises, and leaves un-answered, the question of whether Orsino is in love with Cesario, the beautiful young man, or with Viola, the beautiful young woman.

"Cesario", come;For so you shall be, while you ... are a man;But when in other habits you are seen,Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen. (5.1.30)


  • It's pretty striking that Duke Orsino calls Viola "Cesario," even after they are engaged and Viola's identity is revealed. Clearly, the Duke is not quite used to the idea that his "boy" is actually a girl. This passage also raises the question of whether or not Orsino is attracted to "Cesario" or "Viola" or both.
what is love some final thoughts
What is Love? Some final thoughts

Love to some, is the embodiment of self indulgence: looking for ways to satisfy the flesh, as is the case for Olivia, mesmerized by the beauty and fairness of the youth Cesario, or satisfying the mind’s desire for love with the gluttony of ideological visions of love, as is present in Orsino.

But some choose to conceal their love, some for fear, and others to give another a chance. Viola loved Orsino to the point that she did his every wish including trying to woo Olivia for him. This is the envelope of self sacrifice that is mailed to a revered object of love.

These three take on the meaning and behavior of love in people and it is amazing in that it captivates everyone’s approach toward love.

Twelfth Night marks the end of the celebration of Christ’s birth, and is the festival of Epiphany. Epiphany can be described as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”, which can play on the moment that Viola’s true identity is revealed. Thus Viola is the manifestation of true love and no matter how difficult it may seem to fight said true love, it will always prevail.