MODERN TWELFTH NIGHT PLOT SUMMARY
Twelfth Night is classified as one of Shakespeare’s comedies – and it has a second title, unlike any of his other plays. The alternate name for the play is What You Will. This may have been a deliberate attempt on the playwright’s part to mirror one of the themes of the play – that of double identities.
The play is a comedy with an intricate plot and dozens of jokes to keep an audience entertained. It was written circa 1601, and the setting is Illyria, a fictional country.
The Duke of Illyria is one Orsino. Illyria appears to be a place where little is happening, and the inhabitants are not engaged in very much at all. It is likely set in the Mediterranean, as at one point Crete is mentioned. The Duke seems to be quite obsessed with the idea, and when the play begins, Orsino is courting Countess Olivia. Olivia, however, is in no mood for courting, as she has just lost her brother and is mourning her loss. She also seems to have little genuine interest in the hapless Duke. Even so, her uncle Sir Toby Belch is matchmaking. He thinks she would make a suitable mate for his ne’er-do-well friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The audience knows this is a farce, but it adds to the comedic quality of the play - Sir Andrew and Sir Toby spend much of their time drinking with a clown named Feste, who is a clever man. Andrew and Toby are characterized as buffoons who are essentially harmless until they perpetuate a hoax.
Illyria soon welcomes Viola, who has been shipwrecked on the coast. She had been traveling with her brother Sebastian, and she assumes he has drowned. To protect herself until she can figure out how she can survive in Illyria, Viola disguises herself as a young man and calls herself Cesario. The Duke offers Viola/Cesario a position at court and asks her to act as a go-between. He wants her to go to Olivia and convince the Countess that Orsino is the man for her. The plan backfires, for besides the fact that Olivia is the slightest bit interested in Orsino she soon falls in love with Cesario, not realizing that “he” is actually a she.
Comic relief is provided when Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, believes that she is in love with him. Maria, Olivia’s servant is angry with Malvolio and leaves a love letters, purportedly from Olivia, where he will find it. Maria and her partners in trickery, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian watch and laugh while the steward reads the letter. Malvolio is giddy with excitement and begins to woo Olivia, with hilarious results.
Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who had been given up for dead after the shipwreck, arrives. He is looking for his friend Antonio, a sea captain, who rescued him. Sir Andrew offers to fight with Cesario, who he does not realize is a woman, over Olivia; Cesario refuses at first but later gets in an altercation with him. When Olivia arrives she sees Sebastian there and believes he is Cesario – and carries him off to the chapel to get married. He is then reunited with Viola who reveals she is a woman and his sister. Orsino asks her to marry him, and Maria tells Malvolio that Olivia did not write the love letters. Malvolio is outraged and claims he will have his revenge on Olivia and Sebastian.
MODERN TWELFTH NIGHT CHARACTER ANALYSIS
One of two siblings shipwrecked off the coast of Illyria, Viola is the daughter of the late Sebastian, which is also the name of her brother. She believes her brother has drowned and despairs of ever finding out what truly became of him. She realizes she cannot wander around Illyria alone as a single young woman, so disguises herself as a man (Cesario), and finds employment with the Duke of Orsino, the ruler of Illyria. Her obvious aristocratic ways stand her in good stead. She falls in love with Orsino but becomes the object of Countess Olivia’s affection. In the end, her true identity is revealed, and she is reunited her brother, and marries the Duke.
The brother of Viola, he does not drown as she supposes, but is rescued by a sea captain named Antonio. They survive together for a few months before heading into the city; Sebastian wants to make it on his own but Antonio insists on accompanying him even though it is dangerous for him to go anywhere near the Duke’s palace. Sebastian is mistaken for his disguised sister Viola (they have a strong physical resemblance) and confusion ensues as the Countess Olivia declares her love for him, and he is attacked for being a perceived rival of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who wants to win Olivia’s hand. In the end, Sebastian marries Olivia.
The ruler of Illyria, the Duke is a passionate and headstrong man who is in love with his fellow aristocrat, the Countess Olivia. Olivia is in mourning for her brother who has recently died, but in reality she is not interested in Orsino at all. The Duke spends most of the play absorbed in his love for her and refuses to take “no” for an answer. He sends Viola/Cesario to convince her he would be the perfect man for her, but she is not impressed and falls in love with Cesario. When she meets Sebastian she believes he is Cesario and convinces him to marry her. Olivia is also the object of Andrew Aguecheek’s affection as well as her steward Malvolio, but she ends up disappointing them by choosing Sebastian.
Sir Toby Belch
Sir Toby is an uncle of Olivia’s and is living at her palace. He is a buffoon who loves to joke around, talk nonsense, and drink heartily. His last name is a joke in itself – as belching is one of the by-products of too much drink. He conspires with his friend Andrew to match him up with Olivia and seems to be oblivious to the fact that Andrew is a terrible choice for this intelligent and discerning woman. Toby and Andrew also conspire to play a joke on Olivia’s hated steward, Malvolio.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Sir Andrew has been visiting his good friend Toby Belch at Olivia’s residence in the hope of convincing the lovely young woman that he would make her the perfect husband. Andrew is hardly the type to catch Olivia’s eye, as he is a drunken buffoon like his friend Toby. Early on the play he expresses disappointment that she isn’t attracted to him and wants to return home, but Toby manages to convince him to stay and keep trying. The two of them get involved in tricking the steward Malvolio.
The clown or fool: Feste works for Olivia as her fool and entertains her with witticisms, songs, and general clowning around. He is quick witted and is portrayed as a bright man. He works with Toby, Andrew, and Fabian in perpetuating the hoax on Malvolio by dressing up in disguise as a priest. Feste usually escapes getting into serious trouble by using his wits.
A sea captain: Antonio is credited with saving Sebastian’s life after the shipwreck. He accompanies the young man as they wonder around Illyria but is reluctant to approach the city as he knows he is wanted by the Duke of Orsino for a crime he committed on one of the Duke’s ships. When they arrive in town the two split up while Antonio looks for lodgings – he is instrumental in unveiling Viola’s disguise when he mistakes her for Sebastian.
Maria (Sometimes called Mary)
Maria is a tiny birdlike woman who Sir Toby and Sir Andrew like to tease. She is a personal servant of the Lady Olivia. Maria is not above meddling in the affairs of those around her. Maria has a quick wit and makes accurate, of not always kind, observations about those around her. She has taken a personal dislike to Malvolio, the steward and plots with Andrew and Toby to play an elaborate trick on him. She is the brains behind the scheme.
Malvolio is a pompous puffed-up steward to Lady Olivia. In his position of authority, he is disliked by other servants as well as Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Maria the maid particularly dislikes him and hatches a plot with Toby, Andrew and Fabian to make a fool of him. They leave a letter in his path, presumably written by Olivia, in which it appears he is attracted to him. Malvolio naturally goes off the deep end about this and is put in solitary confinement as the others say he is crazy. The steward is humiliated and disgraced, and at the end of the play he storms out, saying he will get his revenge.
Fabian is another senior servant of Olivia’s and is complicit with her uncle Toby and his friend Andrew in bringing down the pompous and insufferable Malvolio. Fabian is angry with Malvolio for telling tales – that Fabian had been involved in bear-baiting, a sport his mistress thinks is deplorable. As he is an employee, he must do the bidding of both Olivia and Toby, so works as a go-between on both sides of the divide.
Aptly named, as a messenger of love, Valentine was sent as an emissary to Duke Orsino in an attempt to persuade Olivia to consider his declaration of love. When Olivia refused to see the young man, Orsino appointed his newest employee, Viola (disguised as Cesario) to take up the quest. She was successful in getting through to Olivia.
Curio is another Attendant of Duke Orsino’s and other than accompanying the Duke at the beginning and the end of the play, has little in the way of characterization or role. Orsino’s Attendants merely reflect his status as the ruler of Illyria.
The priest performs a quasi-religious ceremony (or perhaps publishes the banns of marriage) for the engagement of Lady Olivia and Sebastian. As the Countess considers her betrothal a serious business (as it would have been in the early 1600’s), she is outraged when she sees Cesario again and believes it is Sebastian. The priest is summoned during the last scene to testify that indeed Olivia and Sebastian are engaged.
Although not named, he is important at the beginning of the play as he rescues Viola from a certain death after the shipwreck. He provides her with men’s clothes to create a disguise for her so she can walk safely in the streets. Later, when she is telling this story to Orsino, she mentions the sea-captain can provide the evidence that she is truly a woman.
There are two officers who arrest Antonio and bring him to the Duke. Antonio is wanted in connection with a theft on one of his boats and the injuring of Orsini’s nephew.
EXCERPT FROM TWELFTH NIGHT IN PLAIN AND SIMPLE ENGLISH
SCENE I. DUKE ORSINO's palace. Enter DUKE ORSINO, CURIO, and other Lords; Musicians attending
If music be the food of love, play on;
If music is what feeds love, keep playing;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
Give me more than I need of it, which, without having enough,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
The desire for love might starve, and then die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
That sound again! it got quieter and quieter;
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
Oh, it came over my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
That drifts over a field of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
Stealing and then giving away the scent! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
It is not as sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
Oh the spirit of love! You are so quick and fresh,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
That, no matter your depth
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Takes in as much as the sea; nothing enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
No matter how real and strong,
But falls into abatement and low price,
That doesn't become less and cheaper,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
Even in a minute: affection is so full of imagination
That it alone is high fantastical.
That by itself it is fantasy.
Will you go hunt, my lord?
Will you go hunt, my lord?
The hart [a kind of deer, but sounding like "heart"].
Why, so I do, the noblest that I have:
Why, indeed I do, the most noble that I have:
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Oh, when I first saw Olivia,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!
I thought she took all the poison from the world!
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;
In that moment I was turned into a heart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
And my desires, like evil and cruel hunting dogs,
E'er since pursue me.
Have been chasing me ever since.
How now! what news from her?
So, what's going on? Any news from her?
So please my lord, I might not be admitted;
My lord, I am afraid I was not allowed to see her;
But from her handmaid do return this answer:
But her maid gave me this answer:
The element itself, till seven years' heat,
The sun itself, unless after giving the heat of seven years all at once,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
Would not be able to easily see her face;
But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk
But, like a nun, she will walk with a veil over her face
And water once a day her chamber round
And spread salt water around her room
With eye-offending brine: all this to season
Once a day, in order to honor
A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh
Her love for her dead brother, which she wants to keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
And lasting in her sad memories.
O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
Oh, she has a good heart,
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
To pay so much love and sacrifice just to a brother,
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
How will she love, when fate and time
Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else
Has killed her ability to love anything else
That live in her; when liver, brain and heart,
That might be found inside her; when her liver, brain, and heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and fill'd
Those ruling thrones, are all occupied and filled
Her sweet perfections with one self king!
Her sweet virtues with one person as king!
Away before me to sweet beds of flowers:
Let me go now to sweet beds of flowers:
Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.
Thoughts of love are richer when covered with garden plants.
SCENE II. The sea-coast. Enter VIOLA, a Captain, and Sailors
What country, friends, is this?
What country, friends, is this?
This is Illyria, lady.
This is Illyria, lady.
And what should I do in Illyria?
And what should I do now that I'm in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
My brother is in Heaven.
Perchance he is not drown'd: what think you, sailors?
Unless by some chance he is not drowned: what do you think, sailors?
It is perchance that you yourself were saved.
It was by chance that you yourself were saved.
O my poor brother! and so perchance may he be.
Oh my poor brother! And so maybe he will be saved by luck
True, madam: and, to comfort you with chance,
True, madam: and to comfort you with how likely it is,
Assure yourself, after our ship did split,
Be reassured, after our ship split,
When you and those poor number saved with you
When you and the too-small number saved with you
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Hung onto our lifeboat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Very wise and practical in danger, tying himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
Courage and hope both inspiring him to do so,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
To a strong mast that floated on the sea;
Where, like Arion on the dolphin's back,
Where, like that mythical character riding the dolphin
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
I saw him fight against the waves
So long as I could see.
As long as I could see him.
For saying so, there's gold:
For saying so, here's some gold:
Mine own escape unfoldeth to my hope,
My own escape encourages the hope,
Whereto thy speech serves for authority,
Which your speech gives authority to,
The like of him. Know'st thou this country?
The likelihood of him living. Do you know this country?
Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Yes, madam, well; for I was born and raised
Not three hours' travel from this very place.
Less that three hours' travel from this very place.
Who governs here?
Who rules here?
A noble duke, in nature as in name.
A noble duke, who is also a good man.
What is the name?
What is the name?
Orsino! I have heard my father name him:
Orsino! I have heard my father speak of him:
He was a bachelor then.
He was a bachelor then.
And so is now, or was so very late;
And also is now, or was so very recently;
For but a month ago I went from hence,
For it was only a month ago when I left here,
And then 'twas fresh in murmur,--as, you know,
And then the rumor was - since, as you know,
What great ones do the less will prattle of,--
The poor love to gossip about the rich, -
That he did seek the love of fair Olivia.
That he wanted the love of beautiful Olivia.
What is she?
A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count
A virtuous young woman, the daughter of a count
That died some twelvemonth since, then leaving her
That died about a year ago, then leaving her
In the protection of his son, her brother,
Under the guardianship of his son, her brother,
Who shortly also died: for whose dear love,
Who soon also died; and for whose sake,
They say, she hath abjured the company
They say, she has given up the company
And sight of men.
And presence of men.
O that I served that lady
Oh how I wish I served that lady
And might not be delivered to the world,
And would not have to face the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,
Until I had helped resolve this situation
What my estate is!
And found my fortune!
That were hard to compass;
The duke's situation is difficult;
Because she will admit no kind of suit,
Because she refuses any kind of courting,
No, not the duke's.
No, not the duke's.
There is a fair behavior in thee, captain;
You are both handsome and honest, captain;
And though that nature with a beauteous wall
And though nature often uses an attractive wall
Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee
To disguise trash, yet when it comes to you
I will believe thou hast a mind that suits
I will believe you have a mind that suits
With this thy fair and outward character.
Your attractive and kind appearance.
I prithee, and I'll pay thee bounteously,
I ask you, and I'll pay you well,
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
Hide what I am, and help me
For such disguise as haply shall become
With the kind of disguise that would be helpful
The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke:
For my purposes. I'll work for this duke:
Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him:
You can present me as a eunuch to him:
It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing
It may be worth your trouble; for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
And talk to him pleasantly and cleverly
That will allow me very worth his service.
That will make him hiring me very worthwhile.
What else may hap to time I will commit;
What else may happen I leave to time;
Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.
Only keep my secret.
Be you his eunuch, and your mute I'll be:
You be his eunuch, and I won't say a thing about it;
When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.
If I blab, may I go blind.
I thank thee: lead me on.
Thank you: now show me the way.
SCENE III. OLIVIA'S house. Enter SIR TOBY BELCH and MARIA
SIR TOBY BELCH
What a plague means my niece, to take the death of
What in tarnation is my niece doing, to react to the death of
her brother thus? I am sure care's an enemy to life.
her brother in such a way? I am sure moping is bad for you.
By my troth, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier o'
Truthfully, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier at
nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great
night: your relative, my lady, has a lot of
exceptions to your ill hours.
issues with your bad timing.
SIR TOBY BELCH
Why, let her except, before excepted.
Well, let her have issues before she is issued.
Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest
Yes, but you must keep yourself inside the bounds
limits of order.
of proper behavior.
SIR TOBY BELCH
Confine! I'll confine myself no finer than I am:
Keep myself! I'll keep myself no better than I am kept:
these clothes are good enough to drink in; and so be
these clothes are good enough to drink it; and so are
these boots too: an they be not, let them hang
these books too: and if they are not, let them hang
themselves in their own straps.
themselves in their own straps.