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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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Act IV, Scene 1

Feste meets Sebastian in front of Olivia’s house and mistakes him for Viola. Complications arise as Feste insists that Sebastian come with him to Olivia’s house. Sebastian becomes irritated with the fool’s dogged persistence and tries to give some money to get rid of him. Just then Sir Toby, Fabian, and Sir Andrew enter and make the same mistake. Sir Andrew accuses Sebastian of being cowardly and strikes Sebastian, who responds by beating him up and wondering if everyone in this country is mad. Feste claims that he is about to go tell Olivia what has transpired between her uncle and her favorite suitor and Sir Toby intervenes by challenging Sebastian to a fight. He is stopped by Olivia, whom Feste has called. She angrily dismisses Sir Toby, and apologizes to Sebastian mistaking him for Viola/Cesario. She invites him to her house, and asks him to marry her. Surprised, but pleased at the turn of events, Sebastian accepts the proposal of marriage.


Notes

This scene brings the second subplot to an end while also underscoring how mistaken identities can have some comic effects. The exchange between Feste and Sebastian is the first instance of how two characters can speak at cross-purposes and the audience participates in understanding what has prompted the confusion. This type of dramatic irony pervades most of the play. Even more funny is that Sir Andrew thinks that Cesario/Viola is scared of him which gives him added courage yet when he makes a stance he faces Sebastian who has no hesitancy about striking blows, which is completely unexpected. When Sir Toby joins the fray, he is accused by his niece of tormenting Sebastian whom she thinks is Cesario. Although Sir Toby has set out to have some fun, Sebastian's reaction to Sir Andrew's challenge, and Olivia's subsequent anger subdues Sir Toby's desire as well as makes his position in Olivia’s household more precarious. This will influence his attitude and behavior towards Malvolio later on as he does not have the same freedom in which to take his joke to its bitter end.

The main plot, having reached the climax in the earlier act, now begins to reach its logical end. Although it is natural for Olivia to mistake Sebastian for Cesario/ Viola, it is odd that Sebastian is so easily led to marry her. However, like most of the suitors of Olivia, they have admired her from afar and therefore, Sebastian is following this pattern. He has doubts however as to what exactly is occurring in this country where he is beaten up by one man, restrained by another, and seduced by a beautiful woman all in a matter of hours. The theme of madness is then looked upon from another perspective, that of an outsider into a culture which is strange and new to him. In this scene, Shakespeare uses mistaken identities to resolve the complications that have arisen during the earlier actions of the play.

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