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Twelfth Night
William Shakespeare

THE STORY, continued


Maria's joke works. By following the instructions in the letter, Malvolio makes a fool of himself in front of Olivia. Viola's brother Sebastian and his friend Antonio arrive in Illyria. They separate, because Antonio will be arrested if he is seen there. Another practical joke begins when Andrew sees how lovingly Olivia receives "Cesario." Toby and Fabian convince the knight to challenge the boy to a duel. Before they can fight, however, Antonio mistakes Viola for her brother and intervenes. Antonio is recognized by Orsino's officers and arrested.


LINES 1-70

Viola (as Cesario) arrives at Olivia's house. She finds Feste outside playing his drum. As the two talk, we learn more about both of them.

It becomes clear that the fool's art is to take advantage of the fact that a word can mean many things or nothing at all. Every question Viola asks is twisted by Feste into a different meaning.

Viola: Dost thou live by thy tabor (drum)?

Clown: No, sir, I live by the church.

Viola: Art thou a churchman?

Clown: No such matter, sir. I do live at my
house, and my house doth stand by
the church.

(III, i, 1-7)

"Live by" can mean "make a living with," as Viola intends, or "live near," the meaning Feste answers.

Viola quickly sees what the fool is doing. She agrees that words are dangerous, because clever people can make them mean anything they like. Viola's awareness of that fact helps her survive in this tricky situation. Notice how precisely she chooses her words in her scenes with Orsino and Olivia.

Feste even points out the different meanings of the word "fool." Viola asks "Art not thou the Lady Olivia's fool?" Feste will not accept the title. Olivia's husband, when she takes one, will be her fool, he says. Feste is her "corrupter of words."

Afraid that she will become the butt of his jokes, Viola gives him a coin and asks him to leave. Feste's cleverness gets him another coin. Then he goes into the house to announce Cesario's arrival.

After he leaves, Viola's comments show a real appreciation for the fool's art. She realizes that his jests are not just random comments. The fool's skill, she says, demands careful observation of the people he jests about. To be a good fool "is a practice / As full of labor as a wise man's art."

NOTE: Shakespeare himself can be seen as a "fool," in a way. Twelfth Night seems to be a comedy about foolish people- love-sick nobles, drunken knights, girls who dress as boys, pompous servants, and so forth. Clearly, Shakespeare wanted to make his audience laugh, and he succeeded. But at the same time he is commenting on the nature of love, the meaning of maturity, and the dangers of vanity and self-deception.

LINES 71-96

While Viola is waiting in the garden, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew enter. Sir Andrew addresses Viola in French. He is just showing off and assumes that the boy will not understand him. Sir Andrew is impressed when Viola answers him in French. Having used up the little French he knows, he is barely able to get out an appropriate answer in English. Sir Toby steps in and asks Viola to enter the house. Just as she is about to do so, Olivia and Maria come out.

Viola's formal way of greeting Olivia impresses Sir Andrew even more than her speaking French. He is about to try to top her when Olivia orders everyone out except herself and the messenger.

LINES 97-173

Olivia now believes she is alone with the boy she loves. She asks for his hand, and she asks his name. Viola complies formally, saying that she is doing her duty and that she is Olivia's servant. Olivia wants to be more direct. She corrects "Cesario," saving that he is Orsino's servant. "Your servant's servant is your servant, madam," replies Viola. Olivia responds sharply, declaring that Cesario should never mention Orsino again.

Becoming even more direct, Olivia asks Cesario to "undertake another suit" than Orsino's (i.e., to declare his own love for Olivia). That would delight her as much as "music from the spheres." Olivia goes on to apologize for her boldness in sending the ring to Cesario. She admits her love for the boy and asks him to tell her how he feels about her.

What can Viola say? She cannot love Olivia, nor can she explain why. There is no way in the world for Olivia to get what she wants from "Cesario." Viola says what she feels: "I pity you." Olivia finds hope in that statement, pointing out that pity is "a degree to love." Viola explains that there is no hope. She reminds the lady that people often pity their enemies.

Olivia seems to give up. She says she will not spend any more time being unhappy over Cesario. Admitting that she envies the woman who will one day marry Cesario, she sends him on his way.

Viola knows how much it would mean to Orsino to have some message from Olivia. Before she goes, she asks if the lady has no word for her master. In that moment of delay, Olivia loses her self-control. She blurts out "Stay / I prithee tell me what thou thinkst of me." The exchange that follows is a masterpiece of double meaning:

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

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

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

Olivia: I would you were as I would have you be.

Viola: Would it be better, madam, than I am?
I wish it might; for now I am your fool.

Viola's frustration builds as she answers as honestly as she can but is not understood. Olivia's passion mounts, because she cannot understand why this proud youth is rejecting her. Finally, Olivia makes an all-out declaration of love. She swears by everything she holds dear that in spite of Cesario's proud refusal to love her, she cannot help loving him.

Cesario takes an equally strong oath that no woman will ever be mistress of his heart. As the "boy" turns to go, Olivia uses the one weapon she has left. Knowing that this messenger is genuinely concerned for his master, she says that if he will come back another time, he may win her heart for Orsino.

Take a moment to look at Viola's line "You do think you are not what you are," because it sums up a major theme of the play. How many of the other characters could you say the same thing about? Malvolio thinks he is something he's not, and so do Orsino and Sir Andrew. See if you think that description fits any of the others.


Sir Andrew Aguecheek spied on Olivia and Cesario during the last scene. He is furious, because Olivia, who is barely even polite to him, fawned all over Cesario. As this scene begins, Sir Andrew is angrily swearing to leave Olivia's house right away. Sir Toby and Fabian are trying to talk him out of it.

LINES 1-65

After Sir Andrew explains why he is so upset, Fabian asks whether Olivia knew he was watching. Sir Andrew vows that she did (although from reading the scene we have to assume that he only imagines she saw him). Fabian turns the situation upside down by insisting that what Sir Andrew saw was actually proof that Olivia loves him.

Olivia, he asserts, was only trying to make Sir Andrew jealous by treating Cesario so well. He claims that Sir Andrew missed a golden opportunity to prove his love for Olivia. He should have rushed in and used his wit to put Cesario down completely. (Does that sound to you like something Sir Andrew could have managed?) Having missed his cue, he will have to make up for it "by some laudable attempt either of valor or policy." In other words, he must either challenge Cesario to a duel (valor) or outsmart him (policy).

Sir Andrew takes the bait. He hates "policy" (can we blame him?), so it has to be "valor." Sir Toby coaches him in how to compose a properly fearsome challenge. Sir Andrew goes off to write it.

After he leaves, Fabian and Sir Toby laugh about the joke they are playing. Fabian calls Sir Andrew a "dear manikin," but Sir Toby explains that he is more than a toy- he is also a ready source of money. Sir Toby promises to deliver Sir Andrew's challenge to Cesario, but he's sure the two will never fight. "For Andrew," says Sir Toby, "if he were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I'll eat the rest of the anatomy.

NOTE: Why is Sir Andrew so lacking in the skills a knight should possess? Since he comes from a wealthy family, you would expect him to have received the proper training. His ineptness could be due to his stupidity. There is another possible explanation. In Elizabethan England, a rich but untitled person could raise his social status by purchasing a title. Perhaps the wealthy Andrew is Shakespeare's parody of a cloddish commoner who has bought his noble rank but cannot so easily acquire the courtly graces to go with it.

LINES 66-83

Maria dashes in, helpless with laughter. She has news of their other prank. Malvolio has followed every one of the instructions in the letter. He is walking around in yellow stockings and crossed garters and smiling like an idiot. All three run off to see him.

NOTE: The pace of the Low Comic plot is quickening. Just when a new jest is added, the first joke begins to pay off. As you read, take notice of the rhythm Shakespeare establishes as he cuts back and forth between his various plots. You may find it confusing. Remember that, in production, the distinctive appearance of each character would help you to keep track of what is going on. Forming clear mental pictures of the thin, pale Sir Andrew, the fat Sir Toby, the prissy Malvolio, etc., might help you as you read.


Viola's brother Sebastian and his friend Antonio arrive in Illyria. Antonio has just caught up with Sebastian. He explains that he followed along partly out of concern for Sebastian, who doesn't know his way around. But he says his main reason for coming was his love for his friend.

NOTE: Shakespeare is introducing another kind of love into the play. The other characters are involved in Romantic love. What Antonio and Sebastian feel for each other is friendship or brotherly love. Their shared experiences have given them true trust and affection for each other. This fact will sharpen Antonio's reactions when the confusion begins in the next scene.

Sebastian is touched by Antonio's devotion to him. He proposes a tour of the town. Antonio admits he must not be seen in Illyria. He once took part in a sea battle against Orsino's navy. If caught, he faces serious consequences.

The two plan to separate for an hour. Antonio will go to a tavern called the Elephant while Sebastian looks around the town. Antonio wants Sebastian to have his purse, in case he wants to buy anything.

NOTE: The Sebastian/Antonio plot will eventually blend with the Romantic plot. You have been told that Sebastian and Viola are now both in Illyria and that they look exactly alike. What you do not yet know is how Shakespeare will use their physical similarity.


LINES 1-17

A feeling of anticipation hangs over this scene. In her garden, Olivia waits for Cesario. She sent a servant to bring him back before he could reach Orsino's palace. How will she win the boy over, she wonders? Since rejection has made her sad, she asks for Malvolio. His seriousness will suit her mood.

Maria anticipates what will happen when the "new" Malvolio comes in. Of course, she must not betray her excitement. Feigning innocence, she tells Olivia that Malvolio is behaving strangely and smiling constantly. Olivia asks to see him.

NOTE: Speaking of Malvolio, Olivia says "I am as mad as he, / If sad and merry madness equal be." Twelfth Night can be seen as a wonderful demonstration of both kinds of "madness." Orsino and Olivia are mad with lovesick sadness. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew seem mad in their drunken merry-making. Malvolio's madness ranges from his exaggerated solemnity in the beginning to the "merry madness" produced by the letter.

LINES 18-67

Dressed in bright yellow stockings and smiling like an idiot, Malvolio almost dances in. He is certain that Olivia loves him. When she asks "Wilt thou to bed, Malvolio?" meaning "You seem to need some rest," he replies "To bed? Ay, sweetheart; and I'll come to thee."

His true pride reveals itself in the way he answers Maria:

Maria: How do you do, Malvolio?

Malvolio: At your request? Yes, nightingales answer daws!

(III, iv, 37-39)

Though they are both servants and equals, Malvolio behaves as if he were far superior. True, he does what the letter told him, but he has secretly felt superior all along.

Though Olivia is shocked, her compassion shows itself again. Malvolio has gone crazy. She is worried about him. When a servant arrives to announce that he has- with great difficulty- brought Cesario back, Olivia sends Maria to fetch Toby. She wants her uncle to take special care of Malvolio. (Remember how she sent Feste to look after Toby?)

You have to ask why Malvolio, who always behaves in such a proper fashion around others, can be so easily gulled into acting foolish. Why do you think he accepts the letter without reservation or suspicion? Could it be because he wants the letter to be true? Or does his ambition to be great override any caution? Certainly he refuses to see that Olivia treats him like a madman. Is he so vain it never occurs to him the letter could be a fake? After all, Maria claims in Act II, Scene iii that Malvolio believes that "all that look on him love him." In that case, he might assume that Olivia is playing with him. One thing is clear- vanity has made Malvolio blind to reality.

LINES 68-146

Left alone, Malvolio marvels at how well things are working out. He assumes that Sir Toby has been sent for so that Malvolio can be rude to a kinsman, as the letter advised.

He does just that when Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian enter. They pretend to be very concerned for him, but he rudely says "Go off, I discard you."

Sir Toby, Maria, and Fabian are now in exactly the position they've longed for- they can mock Malvolio to their hearts' content. Hovering about him, they tell him he is possessed by the devil. They treat everything he says as the raving of a madman. Finally, Malvolio has had enough. "I am not of your element," he tells them. That is, "I am better than you." And he leaves.

The three conspirators are delighted. Their joke is working better than they had dared hope. Sir Toby proposes that they use the excuse of Malvolio's madness to have him locked away in a dark cell.

NOTE: Sir Toby wants to extract as much revenge from the scheme as he can, but he isn't heartless. The joke is "for our pleasure and his penance," says Sir Toby. He sees the prank as a way for Malvolio to atone for his sins. Eventually they will "have mercy on him."

LINES 147-202

Before they can pursue their prey, Sir Andrew struts in. He has just written his challenge to Cesario and is very proud of it. When Sir Toby reads the letter aloud, it quickly becomes clear that all Sir Andrew has accomplished is to prove what a fool he is. The wording of the challenge ranges from confusing to laughable.

Sir Toby and Fabian praise Sir Andrew's writing. Maria says that Cesario is with Olivia even as they speak. Sir Toby sends Sir Andrew to lie in wait for Cesario outside the garden. He advises the knight to draw his sword and swear loudly as soon as he sees Cesario.

Once Sir Andrew has gone, Sir Toby reveals that he has no intention of delivering the letter. Cesario, he says, would realize that it came from an idiot. He will, however, make Sir Andrew's challenge for him verbally. In doing so, he will convince Cesario that Sir Andrew is a fearsome opponent.

LINES 203-410

Just then, Olivia and Cesario enter the garden. Sir Toby, Fabian, and Maria sneak off to make up a challenge.

Olivia tells Cesario that she fears she has been too open with him. Her love for him is so strong that she simply cannot be cautious, she says.

Viola replies by once again pleading Orsino's cause. "With the same 'havior that your passion bears / Goes on my master's grief." Olivia gives a picture of herself to Cesario and asks him to come again tomorrow. Her parting line confirms how smitten she is: "A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell." She would not only give up all her worldly goods for the boy, but give her soul to the devil!

NOTE: This brief scene underlines the ways that Orsino and Olivia are similar. They are both afflicted with the "sad madness," as Viola points out. They also share a liking for excess. Is Olivia really prepared to go to hell for the love of this messenger boy, or is she indulging herself in the same way Orsino is when he talks about dying for love?

As soon as Olivia leaves, Sir Toby and Fabian dash in to tell Cesario that a valiant and deadly knight challenges him to a duel. Sir Toby says he doesn't know what Cesario did to offend him, but the knight is very angry. He is determined to have blood. Sir Toby describes Sir Andrew as a master swordsman who has killed three men.

Viola is terrified. First, she tries to go back to the house, but Sir Toby will not let her. Then, since she is sure she has not done anything to offend anybody, she asks Sir Toby to find out why this knight is so angry. He agrees to ask, and goes off, leaving Fabian to make sure "Cesario" does not run away.

Fabian adds to Sir Toby's portrait of Sir Andrew: "He is indeed, sir, the most skillful, bloody, and fatal opposite [opponent] that you could possibly have found in any part of Illyria." He promises to try to make peace, if he can, and asks Viola to follow him.

Meanwhile, Sir Toby tells the same lies to Sir Andrew about Cesario. Sir Toby claims he fought with the boy and barely escaped with his life. Hearing this, Sir Andrew wants to drop the whole matter. Sir Toby warns him that Cesario is so angry that he's determined to fight. Fearing for his life, Sir Andrew offers to give Cesario his horse if he will forgive the offense. Sir Toby says he will convey the message.

Fabian arrives with Viola. She and Sir Andrew are equally terrified. In order to coax them into fighting, Sir Toby tells each one that the other promises not to hurt him.

NOTE: A sequence like this practical joke on Sir Andrew and Viola serves to remind you that Shakespeare had an actor's understanding of stagecraft. The comedy of this passage is mainly physical. It provides wonderful acting opportunities for the players. Try to imagine how a good comic actor would portray Sir Andrew's swift shift from swaggering challenger to fearful coward, or what tone of voice the actor playing Sir Toby would use to frighten his two victims.

The two trembling adversaries reluctantly inch towards each other. Just as they are about to clash, Viola cries "I do assure you 'tis against my will." At that moment, Antonio walks in. He thinks he sees his friend Sebastian being forced to engage in a sword fight. Antonio leaps to his friend's rescue.

Sir Toby steps in to confront Antonio, possibly because he knows that Sir Andrew could never defend himself against a real swordsman. But before they can begin fighting, two officers arrive to arrest Antonio. As he feared, he has been recognized as an enemy of Orsino's. Antonio tries to bluff his way out of his predicament, but he quickly sees that it's hopeless.

Regretfully, he asks "Sebastian" (who is actually Cesario, who is really Viola!) to return his purse. Viola appreciates Antonio's coming to her aid as he did, but she has no idea what he means when he asks for his purse.

Antonio is stunned. He can't understand why this man he has loved as a brother should betray him now in his hour of need. just before the officers drag him off, Antonio rebukes his friend. in doing so, he says the name Sebastian.

Now it is Viola's turn to be stunned. She could see that this man believed he knew her. What's more, he called her Sebastian. Could she, dressed as a man, have been mistaken for her brother? She is hopeful, but cautious. She still has no proof that her brother lives.

NOTE: Contrast Viola's reaction to being called by her brother's name with Malvolio's response to finding Maria's letter. Each is being told what he or she wants to believe. Viola wisely realizes that things are not always what they appear to be. Malvolio lacks that wisdom. Therefore, Viola can keep her balance in a difficult situation, while Malvolio contributes to his own downfall.

After Viola leaves, Sir Toby and Fabian pick up the pieces of their joke. They say that Cesario has proved himself a coward by failing his friend. If the man is a coward, Sir Andrew will fight him. Off he goes after Cesario, followed closely by Sir Toby and Fabian.

NOTE: In this long scene, all the plot strands become entangled. Viola has been drawn into the action of the Low Comic characters. Antonio, who was previously only involved with Sebastian, is now mixed into the other plots. You know that each of these characters will draw others in. Whatever affects Viola will affect both Olivia and Orsino. Sebastian will have to find out what happened to his friend Antonio.

The motifs of confusion and deception rapidly "snowball" to great comic effect. Shakespeare has laid the groundwork in earlier scenes. By this point, every character is either being deceived or is deceiving somebody else. Viola does both- she deceives Olivia and is deceived by Toby and Fabian. Every action in the entire scene is based on some kind of mistake.


The confusion continues when Sebastian is mistaken for his sister Viola. After being threatened by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, Sebastian is taken by Olivia into her house. Then Feste helps Sir Toby and Maria to further punish Malvolio, who has been locked up as a madman. When you next see Sebastian, he is trying to figure out if he has gone mad. Olivia has asked him to marry her. Though Sebastian is stunned and confused, he is also delighted and so he accepts.


LINES 1-23

Now that Viola has been mistaken for Sebastian, it's time for Sebastian to be taken for her. As this scene begins, Feste believes he is talking with Cesario. In fact, he's talking to Sebastian. Each thinks the other is crazy. Feste tells "Cesario" that Olivia wants to see him. Sebastian says that Feste is talking nonsense. In his frustration, Feste declares "Nothing that is so is so."

NOTE: It's no mistake that Feste did not appear in the previous scene. The action of that scene deepens the confusion. The characters cling to their misconceptions. Feste provides perspective. He seems to play with, rather than become involved with, the other characters. Notice that as soon as the Fool reappears, he delivers a piece of "nonsense" that clarifies the situation: "Nothing that is so is so."

LINES 24-70

Sir Andrew runs up and makes the same mistake as Feste. Thinking he's caught up with the cowardly boy, he walks right up to Sebastian and hits him. Sebastian now thinks everybody has gone crazy. He hits Sir Andrew back. Once again, Sir Toby comes to Sir Andrew's defense. Feste runs off to tell Olivia what is happening.

Just as Sir Toby and Sebastian draw their swords, Olivia enters. She can't believe her eyes. Sir Toby is trying to hurt her beloved Cesario! Olivia gives her uncle a good scolding and orders him and his friends to leave.

Then she turns to comfort the man she believes is Cesario. Lovingly, she apologizes for her uncle. She practically begs "Cesario" to come into her house.

Sebastian concludes that he either has gone mad or is dreaming. But if it is a dream, he prefers to stay asleep. He enjoys the attention he's getting from this beautiful woman. Olivia is delighted that "Cesario" finally responds to her affection. The scene ends with two surprised but happy people.

NOTE: Shakespeare wrings the last ounce of humor out of the disguises by piling mistake upon mistake. Sir Andrew is always wrong about his opponent. When he thinks Cesario is a great swordsman, the boy is actually a frightened girl. When he decides Cesario is a coward, Sebastian has taken his sister's place, so Sir Andrew gets a beating.


LINES 1-74

Shakespeare now turns his attention back to Malvolio and yet another disguise. Maria has locked up the steward in a dark cell. Her plan calls for Feste to disguise himself as a priest- Sir Topas. While Toby and Maria watch, "Sir Topas" visits the prisoner.

Feste uses his skill at twisting the meanings of words to torment Malvolio:

Malvolio: Sir Topas, Sir Topas, good

Sir Topas, go to my lady.

Clown: Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vexest
thou this man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies?

(IV, ii, 24-27)

When Malvolio complains about being locked in a darkened cell, Feste insists that the cell has huge windows and is full of light.

Malvolio wants to prove his sanity by answering a question about philosophy. Feste asks him such a question, then twists Malvolio's answer into further proof that he's mad.

Sir Toby and Maria enjoy the joke, but Sir Toby says it's time to call a halt. The fight with Cesario has gotten him into trouble with Olivia. He tells Feste that he wants to let Malvolio out before things get worse. Sir Toby and Maria leave.

LINES 75-135

Feste displays even more skill when he returns to Malvolio without the disguise. Taking advantage of the fact that Malvolio cannot see him, he plays both himself and Sir Topas.

Malvolio asks the fool to bring him a pen, ink, some paper and a candle. He wants to write a letter to Olivia. Pleading with the fool, Malvolio says he is being tormented by "ministers... asses."

Just then, thanks to Feste's acting ability, "Sir Topas" appears. He reprimands Malvolio and tells the fool not to speak with him.

When Malvolio thinks the priest has left, he offers the fool money to take the letter for him. Feste decides to help Malvolio. Singing a song, he goes off to get the pen and paper.

Notice how responsive Feste is to money. His need or desire to be paid helps to remind us that he's human. Though he often seems removed from the foibles of ordinary people, he has his own failings too.

NOTE: Is Malvolio's punishment too harsh for his crime? Some readers consider him an almost tragic figure. All he really wants is to better himself. That's a common human desire. It was especially popular in the nineteenth century to take a sympathetic view of Malvolio. Later readers have disputed that view as overly sentimental. They hold that he's a cold-hearted, mean-spirited hypocrite who gets what he deserves, much to everyone's delight. It's not unusual for Shakespeare's characters to be reinterpreted in different eras. For example, in Shakespeare's theater, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was played broadly with heavy makeup as a figure of fun. Today, Shylock is considered a profoundly human and tragic character.


In Olivia's garden, Sebastian tries to figure out what is happening to him. To get his bearings, he looks around. Air is still air, he says. The sun looks like it always has. But why has Antonio vanished? And why should a noble and beautiful lady want to marry him after knowing him for only a few seconds? He doesn't think he's crazy, and the lady seems sane, but something strange is happening.

Olivia enters with a priest in tow. She wants "Cesario" to swear before the priest that he will marry her. Sebastian has apparently fallen in love with Olivia as quickly as she fell in love with "Cesario." He follows her off to make the promise. This scene offers the first hint of the happy ending to come. None of the confusions have been resolved. The situation will get worse before it gets better. But Olivia now has a suitable mate, and he wants to marry her.

NOTE: Though you may not realize it, you are taking an active role in all the scenes of mistaken identity. The actors cannot look exactly alike, of course. In real life no male and female, even twins, could be mistaken for one another. Shakespeare makes it very clear that you should believe it, though. For the sake of enjoying the fun of the play, you do. That process is sometimes called "willing suspension of disbelief."


Orsino, accompanied by Viola, visits Olivia. In one long scene, all of the confusions are resolved. After being reunited with her brother, Viola reveals her true identity. She and Orsino will wed, as will Olivia and Sebastian. You learn that Toby has already married Maria. Malvolio is released from prison and the joke played on him is explained. Though Olivia tries to appease his anger, Malvolio is too proud to forgive those who humiliated him. He stalks off. The others leave to prepare for the double wedding. Feste ends the play with a song.


LINES 1-102

In front of Olivia's house, Fabian tries to get Malvolio's letter away from Feste. They are interrupted by Orsino, Viola, and Orsino's other servants. Orsino finally has come to see Olivia himself.

The duke knows Feste. As the two banter, Feste sneaks in another bit of wisdom under the guise of nonsense. He says that he is better off because of his enemies and worse because of his friends. Orsino says the fool must mean the opposite. Look at Feste's explanation:

Marry, sir, they [my friends] praise me an make
an ass of me. Now my foes tell me plainly I am
an ass; so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the
knowledge of myself, and by my friends I am abused.

(V, i, 17-20)

Impressed by the fool's logic, Orsino gives him a coin. Feste begs another. Then he goes in to tell Olivia that she has a visitor.

NOTE: Feste points up a major theme in the play- the danger of vanity. Malvolio and Sir Andrew, for example, both suffer because they believe they are better than they really are. You could say the same of Orsino. His indulgence in suffering the pangs of unrequited love is an act of vanity. He would profit if somebody would tell him he's acting like an ass.

At that moment, the officers drag Antonio in. Viola testifies that he is the man who helped her. Orsino knows him as an enemy. He calls Antonio a pirate.

NOTE: Some readers object to the fact that you never get to know much about the nature of Antonio's offense against Orsino or his supposed reasons for opposing the duke. Shakespeare only tells you enough to justify his use of Antonio in the plot. It is interesting that, in a play that makes so many implausible actions seem believable, Shakespeare lets Antonio remain a bit of a loose end.

Antonio denies that he ever was a pirate, though he was Orsino's enemy. He bitterly accuses "that most ungrateful boy there," who he thinks is Sebastian, of betraying him. He claims to have taken care of the boy for three months. Orsino says the man is mad. The boy has been his servant for three months.

LINES 103-184

Olivia's entrance takes Orsino's attention away from Antonio. The lady doesn't want to hear Orsino's vows of love. That's hardly surprising. She has refused to hear them for months now. What is unusual to Orsino is that Olivia seems much more interested in Cesario than she is in him. She even interrupts the master to ask the servant to speak.

Orsino begins to realize what has happened- that Olivia loves Cesario. He reminds Olivia of a legendary Egyptian who tried to kill a woman when he could not have her. But Orsino will not do that. Instead, he will "sacrifice the lamb that I do love [Cesario]" to spite Olivia. He starts to leave. Viola follows, vowing that she would gladly die for the love of Orsino.

Olivia is shocked. Cesario is going back on his word. Calling him "husband," she summons the priest who confirms that Olivia and Cesario exchanged vows only two hours before.

Never has Orsino been so abused! Instead of wooing his lady for him, Cesario married her himself. Orsino cannot believe that such a young boy can be so evil. What will he be like when he grows up, Orsino wonders?

LINES 185-220

Suddenly, Sir Andrew runs on, crying out for a surgeon. Both he and Sir Toby have had their heads split open by Cesario, he cries. Imagine Sir Andrew's surprise when he looks up and sees Cesario staring at him. Sir Toby comes in next, drunk and bleeding. Feste has to hold him up.

Sir Toby has apparently been pushed to the breaking point, because he becomes honest. When Sir Andrew offers to help him, he harshly replies "Will you help- an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave- a thin-faced knave, a gull?" Olivia orders that Sir Toby be looked after. Feste, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian all leave.

You have now seen the last of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. However, you will hear more of Sir Toby. Sir Andrew can be got rid of, because he only served to add humor. There is no need to resolve the question of whether he will be successful in wooing Olivia. He never stood a chance.

Sir Toby's last line to Sir Andrew is cruel but honest. Following Feste's reasoning from the beginning of the scene, Sir Toby does Sir Andrew a favor. He finally tells him plainly he is an ass. We have no scenes to indicate whether Sir Andrew profits from this honesty. Whatever he does, though, it could not be worse than what he did while Sir Toby falsely flattered him.

LINES 221-348

As they go, the man who really beat them- Sebastian- walks in. He apologizes to Olivia for hurting her uncle. He had no choice, he explains. He was attacked. Then he sees Antonio. Finding his friend alive fills Sebastian with joy.

Sebastian notices that everybody is staring at him in disbelief. Following Antonio's gaze, he spots what looks like his mirror image standing by Orsino. Both brother and sister are overcome with wonder. They question each other, trying to discover whether what they see is true.

NOTE: Notice again how cautious Viola and Sebastian are. Their behavior contrasts sharply with that of the characters who rashly believe anything they are told. In a play that exposes the types of foolishness people are liable to fall into, these two characters are sensible.

Finally, Viola and her brother admit what their hearts have told them since they first spied each other. Viola reveals to everybody who she really is. She explains that the sea captain who rescued her has her woman's clothing.

Sebastian jokes with Olivia, saying that she was almost betrothed to a girl, "But nature to her bias drew in that."

NOTE: Read that line again. It contains the key to unravelling the confusions of the play. He and Olivia were drawn together, Sebastian says, because that's how it should be in the natural order of things. Almost every character in the play tries to fool himself or others. In the end, the true nature of each one is revealed.

Orsino is overjoyed to find out Viola's true nature. He asks whether she meant it when she said she would never love any woman as she loved him. Viola affirms that she meant what she said.

NOTE: The Romantic Plot has now been resolved. The obstacles between the lovers melt away as the confusions are cleared up. To Shakespeare's audience, it would have seemed perfectly natural that the characters of noble birth should have been attracted to each other, even in disguise. According to the Elizabethan sense of order, God ordains your place in life. Orsino, Viola, Olivia, and Sebastian would thus be suited for each other and for no other characters in the play.

Viola cannot change into her women's clothes, because Malvolio had the sea captain put in jail for reasons Shakespeare never makes clear. Mention of Malvolio reminds Olivia that her steward seems to have lost his mind. Feste says that he has a letter from Malvolio. He begins to shout out the letter, imitating the way Malvolio spoke while locked in the dark cell.

Olivia orders Fabian to read the letter, instead. In it, Malvolio says that he was treated shamefully. He explains that he was only following the instructions in Olivia's own letter. Olivia concludes that he doesn't sound crazy. She orders him released and brought to her.

Now that Orsino and Olivia have their proper mates, peace can be made between them. Olivia offers to hold the weddings at her house and at her expense. Orsino accepts and promises Viola he will marry her. Olivia gladly accepts her former beloved as a sister.

LINES 349-415

Malvolio enters, shaking with rage. He says he has been wronged. To prove it, he shows Olivia the letter. She admits the handwriting looks like hers, but she recognizes it as Maria's. She sweetly apologizes to Malvolio and promises that he will be able to sit in judgment on whoever played the trick on him.

Fabian steps forward to confess his and Sir Toby's part in the joke. He doesn't want to mar the happiness of the day with any bad feelings. Sir Toby and he invented the joke to get even with Malvolio, he explains. Maria wrote the letter to please Sir Toby. In return, Sir Toby has married her.

They and Malvolio are now even, according to Fabian. He suggests that everybody should have a good laugh and forget about it. The fool agrees.

Malvolio cannot forgive his tormentors. Angrily vowing revenge on everybody, he stomps out.

NOTE: Unlike the others, Malvolio remains a victim of his vain self-deception to the end. His pride prevents him from laughing at himself. He can neither forgive nor accept forgiveness. Shakespeare seems to be saying that you can't avoid looking foolish at times. The only solution, according to the play, is to laugh and forgive.

Olivia feels sorry for Malvolio. Servants are sent to chase after the man and make peace with him. Orsino vows to remain in Olivia's house until the marriages take place.

NOTE: Shakespearean comedies end in marriage. Tragedies end in death. Thus, Hamlet concludes with a funeral procession, while A Midsummer Night's Dream ends with a wedding march.

LINES 416-435

The final moments of the play are Feste's. The fool closes the show with a song. The nature of his song is rather surprising. At the end of a comedy you might expect a light little "ditty." Instead, you get a melancholy ballad.

The lyrics concern the stages of a man's life- from boy to man to husband to bed-ridden old man. Images of rain and wind fill the verses.

"The rain it raineth every day" goes the refrain. That is not literally true. In fact, some readers consider the song mere nonsense verse. That could be true. But think about what the image of rain could signify. The refrain could mean "each day goes by and is washed away into the past." It could also mean "every day you have troubles."

Look at the final verse. It could speak for Shakespeare the playwright:

A long while ago the world began,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain;
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

(V, i, 432-435)

He may be saying: time goes on; people have troubles; everybody gets old and dies. All I can do is entertain you with my play. Remember it is a play in which the actors have been playing characters who in turn pretend to be what they are not. As a character in a different play says, "All the world's a stage."

As you've seen, Twelfth Night portrays a whole range of faults that humans fall prey to. It finally takes an amused, forgiving view of those faults in a song which reminds us of the sadness of life but says, "What can you do? Just laugh."

Is it possible that Shakespeare included it because the actor who played Feste sang it especially well? In that case, perhaps the verse is mere nonsense. Why do you think Shakespeare chose it to end his play? As with all questions of interpretation, you have to make your own choice.



ECC [Twelfth Night Contents] []

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