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Twelfth Night (1601)

Twelfth Night (1601)

Hundred Word Summary

After her shipwreck, Viola – disguised as Cesario – agrees to speak for Orsino to Olivia, with whom he’s in love.  But Olivia’s in mourning, and not interested.  Until she meets Cesario.

Meanwhile Olivia’s “guests” convince her pompous servant Malvolio that she is in love with him. Now he’s a changed man.

But Cesario is suddenly being confused for someone else. Meanwhile Sebastian has appeared, and is inexplicably invited to marry Olivia.

Confusion reigns: Olivia is angry with Cesario for denying they’re married.  Orsino is angry at the “betrayal”.  Finally, Sebastian appears, the confusion is cleared up – and Orsino can marry Viola.


Table of Contents



Shakespearean Theatre was male through and through.  True, women were part of the audience, and female characters appeared on stage. But there the role of women ended.

Yet Shakespeare’s plays are full of dynamic female characters.  From Portia to Lady Macbeth, from “Antony and Cleopatra” to “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, his plays are an endless source of powerful and memorable women.

In Shakespeare’s day (and for half a century to follow) these parts were played by males.  It’s hard to believe that the early portrayals of Lady Macbeth were given by males, but they were.  There was probably a particular male in Shakespeare’s acting troupe who specialised in these parts – for whom, indeed, they were written.

Now many of these female characters – it is almost a cliché – occasionally feel the need to disguise themselves as males: Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”, for example, wants to appear in court as a lawyer, so she has to dress as a male.  In “As You Like It”, Rosalind goes a step further and disguises herself as a male (Ganymede) willing to play a female role to help show Orlando how to fall in love: a male actor plays a female character pretending to be male acting the part of a female. 

“Twelfth Night” does not go to such extremes, though it also plays with gender in inventive ways.  Viola becomes Cesario and impresses all who meet him with ‘his’ fine if delicate appearance.  So this is as good a moment as any to reflect on what this play implies about the embargo on women appearing on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage.

First, Shakespeare is saying – this ban on women playing a full role in public life is absurd if, once they’re disguised (like Portia), they’re as good as the men and maybe better.  After all, it’s Portia who breaks the logjam in court after all the men have failed. 

And second, Shakespeare’s saying that the prohibition is particularly ridiculous if once a woman disguises herself as a man, nobody can tell.  In short, he says, gender is a social construct.

Shakespeare is a brave writer and in many ways a radical one; and in his approach to gender, he’s a modern writer too – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for example is in many ways a distinctly feminist text – and his whole approach to the rules restricting female participation in the theatre seems to say: these rules are ridiculous, and so easy to outwit, why have them? 

Shakespeare’s plays are always asking good questions, and this is another example.


Scene by Scene

Act One Scene One

In far-away Illyria, Duke Orsino is restlessly awaiting news of Olivia, with whom he has fallen in love.

Curio asks whether he wants to go hunting but he replies that since falling in love he has felt hunted.

News arrives that Olivia’s brother has died and she will be mourning him for the next seven years.

Act One Scene Two

After being shipwrecked in Illyria, Viola scrambles ashore, concerned about the fate of her brother.

The captain tells her that he may have survived drowning by binding himself to the mast of his boat.

It so happens the captain knows this country and is able to tell Viola about Olivia and Duke Orsino.

Hearing that Olivia is concealing herself in mourning from the sight of men, she craves to join her.

But if that is not possible she will disguise herself as a young man and seek to serve in Orsino’s court.

Act One Scene Three

Maria warns Sir Toby Belch that her mistress Olivia is becoming impatient with his riotous behaviour.

It seems she is also losing patience with his friend and drinking partner Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

But he points out that Sir Andrew is an accomplished musician and linguist with many natural gifts.

Sir Andrew appears and flirts with Maria, but she is not in the mood for fooling around with him.

Andrew tells Toby he will head for home tomorrow, but he’s persuaded to stay one last month.

He has lost hope that Olivia will marry him but Toby says she won’t be marrying Duke Orsino.

Andrew takes comfort in his ability to dance as well as “any man in Illyria” and his hopes revive.

Act One Scene Four

It seems that Viola (now known as Cesario) is already a favourite at Orsino’s court after three days.

Orsino reveals that he has told Cesario / Viola his “secret soul” and now has a mission for him / her.

He (or she) must go to Olivia and reveal the “passion” of Orsino’s love for her on his behalf.

He is ideal for this task because although Cesario is clearly a man, he has many feminine qualities.

Viola reveals as a private “aside” to the audience that she would happily marry Orsino herself.

Act One Scene Five

Maria advises Olivia’s clown Feste that, having been absent for a while, he will need a good excuse.

Olivia arrives with her steward Malvolio and they agree that Feste should be sent away.

But Feste cheers Olivia up: If your brother’s in Heaven, he asks her, why mourn for him?

Olivia relents while chastising Malvolio for lacking generosity and being too full of “self-love”.

Sir Toby appears, drunk – though it’s still early – to announce that he has sent the visitor away.

Malvolio adds that the young man refuses to leave – so Olivia agrees to give him an audience.

Cesario / Viola appears before Olivia, and admits cryptically to her that “I am not that I play”.

Olivia agrees to clear the room to speak face to face and then to unveil herself to her visitor.

Cesario / Viola tells Olivia that Orsino loves her but receives the response “I cannot love him”.

Olivia, keener on Cesario than Orsino, asks after her background, and invites her to return.

Then she sends a ring after Cesario, pretending he left it, and repeating the invitation to return.

Act Two Scene One

Sebastian thanks Antonio for his offer of companionship but says he will tread a solitary path.

He explains that before she drowned he had a twin sister, a woman thought by many to be beautiful.

Sebastian explains that he is heading for Duke Orsino’s court, where Antonio has “many enemies”.

Act Two Scene Two

Malvolio catches up with Cesario / Viola to “hand back” the ring s/he is said to have left there.

Viola alone has spotted that Olivia “loves” her and recognises the ring as a “cunning” love token.

But she regrets that Olivia “were better love a dream” since “Cesario” is simply a disguise.

She perceives a complicated love triangle in the making and leaves it to time to “untangle” matters.

Act Two Scene Three

It is late at night at Olivia’s house but Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are still up drinking and carousing.

They talk Feste into singing them a love song when Maria appears to remind them to keep quiet.

Malvolio arrives to tell Sir Toby pompously that he needs to reform his behaviour if he wants to stay.

Sir Toby and Feste continue to sing, and now Malvolio threatens Maria that he’ll report her to Olivia.

When Malvolio leaves Maria explains her plan to trick the steward by playing on his self-importance.

Maria will impersonate Olivia’s handwriting, letting the steward know that she is in love with him.

Act Two Scene Four

Orsino questions Cesario about “his” emotions and finds he is in love with someone like himself.

Orsino suggests that women love less powerfully than men, and should seek out older lovers.

Feste is brought in to sing a song about a lover who has died “slain by a fair cruel maid”.

Orsino notices the parallel between the song and himself, and sends Cesario back to Olivia.

She is to say that his love for Olivia is “more noble than the world” and he will not be refused.

Cesario invents a sister who loved a man like Orsino, but suffered for her love and kept it secret.

Orsino despatches Cesario back to Olivia with a jewel and told not to take “no” for an answer.

Act Two Scene Five

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are joined by Fabian, a servant of Olivia with a grudge against Malvolio.

Maria promises that the letter she has forged will make a “contemplative idiot” of the steward.

Malvolio appears speculating on his chances of marrying Olivia while the four spectators watch.

He imagines himself master of the house, advising Sir Toby to drink less and see less of Andrew.

Malvolio comes across the forged letter and thinks he recognises Olivia’s handwriting here.

The letter implies she is in love with a servant, and her life is “swayed” by the letters M, O, A, I.

Malvolio realises that these letters may be found in his own name, though in a different order.

The letter advises that advancement is possible, but that he should be “surly with servants”.

He is also directed to wear yellow stockings cross gartered, and to make a habit of smiling.

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are so pleased with the trick, they joke that they could marry Maria.

Maria reminds them how much their mistress Olivia dislikes yellow stockings and smiling.

Act Three Scene One

Cesario has come to Olivia’s house with Orsino’s message of love, and she encounters Feste here.

Feste banters light-heartedly with her, and Cesario almost reveals that she is really Viola.

After Sir Toby and Sir Andrew have been sent away, Olivia can be alone with her beloved Cesario.

Cesario tries to pass on Orsino’s message to Olivia, but is told to “never speak again of him”.

Olivia admits that sending Cesario the ring was a ruse to provoke further meetings between them.

Cesario says he pities Olivia, and both agree they are not altogether what they seem to others.

Olivia reveals she cannot “my passion hide” but Cesario says no woman will ever conquer his heart.

Act Three Scene Two

Sir Andrew sees that Olivia isn’t going to fall in love with him despite his hopes and resolves to leave.

He’s persuaded to stay by Sir Toby and Fabian, and to rise to the challenge laid down by Cesario.

Maria arrives to report that Malvolio is now sporting yellow cross-gartered stockings and a smile.

Act Three Scene Three

In a street in Illyria Antonio reassures Sebastian that he could not abandon him alone in a new place.

But he reveals that it is dangerous for him to be here following past disagreements still unresolved.

He gives him his purse and arranges to meet later after Sebastian has had a chance to look around.

Act Three Scene Four

Maria warns Olivia that Malvolio, who “does nothing but smile”, appears to be possessed.

In conversation with Olivia, he quotes repeatedly from the letter Maria forged to fool him.

Olivia concludes that he is indeed deranged, saying “this is very midsummer madness”.

But he remains convinced by the letter, and resolves to follow its instruction to treat Sir Toby badly.

After encountering Malvolio, Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria agree he need to be put “in a dark room”.

Sir Andrew shows Sir Toby the letter he has written challenging Cesario to a duel over Olivia.

Olivia gives Cesario a locket with her picture, but he / she begs her to love her “master” instead.

Sir Toby warns Cesario that Sir Andrew is angry with him, but he (she) cannot understand why.

He begs Sir Toby to go to the person issuing this threat and find out what offence has been caused.

Sir Toby returns with Sir Andrew, having convinced him that the young man is a fine swordsman.

Both Cesario and Sir Andrew have been fooled, but as they are about to duel, Antonio appears.

But now with the duel cancelled, Officers appear to arrest Antonio under Orsino’s instructions.

Antonio mistakes Viola for Sebastian, and begs her to forward him some of the money he lent him.

Viola is confused and offers what she has, but it seems Antonio believes her to be her dead brother.

Sir Toby is not impressed that Cesario abandoned his friend, inciting Sir Andrew to fight him still.

Act Four Scene One

After Viola was mistaken for Sebastian by Antonio, now Sebastian is mistaken for Viola by Feste.

Sir Andrew makes the same mistake, picks up his quarrel from before and lands a blow on Sebastian.

But Sebastian is stronger and braver, and lands several blows on him before Sir Toby intervenes.

Olivia separates the combatants and then repeats the earlier errors, mistaking Sebastian for Viola.

Alone with “dear Cesario”, she brings him to her home, believing her love is finally being returned.

Act Four Scene Two

Feste disguises himself as a clergyman to visit Malvolio, locked in his dark room as being mad.

He tells Malvolio that the room is not dark at all but “hath bay windows transparent”, then leaves.

Next Feste adds his own voice to that of the clergyman in another effort to confuse Malvolio.

The prisoner begs Feste for pen, ink and paper, together with a candle, but receives only a song.

Act Four Scene Three

Sebastian, resting in Olivia’s garden, is concerned about the whereabouts of his friend Antonio.

He is equally confused about the events that have brought him to this garden and this marriage.

But he reasons that though it looks like “madness”, other evidence suggests that all is “stable”.

Olivia arrives with a real clergyman, and leads Sebastian to the chantry nearby to marry him.

Act Five Scene One

As Feste and Fabian are amusing themselves with Malvolio’s letter, Orsino arrives with Cesario.

Antonio appears and Orsino recognises him as an honourable pirate enemy from many years ago.

Antonio angrily replies he was brought here by witchcraft out of regard for the ungrateful Cesario.

He saved him from shipwreck and motivated by love for him followed him into this hostile town.

Cesario is bewildered by this speech, but now Olivia arrives to accuse Cesario of broken promises.

Olivia is still implacably hostile to Orsino, which only makes him issue threats against Cesario.

Cesario / Viola is more than willing to go with Orsino and if needed die “a thousand deaths” for him.

Olivia is horrified to see Cesario disappear with Orsino, as she thinks they have only just married.

The priest confirms the wedding, leaving Orsino to swear never to encounter Cesario again.

Sir Andrew arrives in need of a doctor, following (so he reports) a very bloody fight with Cesario.

Sir Toby arrives to confirm the story of the fight, before he and Sir Andrew are dismissed by Olivia.

Now Sebastian arrives to apologise for fighting, only to encounter strange looks from everyone.

Orsino is confused; Antonio is relieved; Olivia is amazed; and Viola confirms she once had a brother.

Both confirm through shared history that they are brother and sister Sebastian and Viola.

Olivia and Orsino are promised by Viola that she will put on her female clothing.

Viola explains where she has left her “woman’s weeds” – Orsino wants to see her dressed in those.

Olivia suddenly remembers Malvolio – and when she sees his letter, she realises he is not mad.

Orsino abruptly offers Viola his hand in marriage, so she will become “Your master’s mistress”.

Malvolio arrives with a litany of complaints against Olivia for the practical joke where he was gulled.

But Olivia recognises Maria’s hand in Malvolio’s humiliation, and promises to get to the truth.

Fabian explains that Maria was encouraged by Sir Toby for fun, and they have now married.

Malvolio leaves, threatening that he will take his revenge on everyone who participated in the joke.

Appropriately the characters depart leaving Feste alone on the stage to end the play with a song.


Thinking Aloud


Twelfth Night is January 6th, twelve days after Christmas, the day the decorations traditionally come down.  In this case it may refer to the date of the play’s first performance, January 6th 1601, to mark the departure from London of the Italian diplomat the Duke of Orsino.  In the Christian calendar, it was Epiphany – the day the three kings arrive at the birth of Jesus Christ, bearing gifts.


In Tudor times, Twelfth Night had a special significance: the end of the holiday period, a return to the normal rules.  So it was often marked by rule-breaking, drunkenness, revelry and a challenge to the social norms: for example, masters dressing as servants, women dressing as men and vice versa.  Shakespeare’s play personifies this convention through the tension that develops between the rule-breaking Sir Toby and Sir Andrew on one side and the law-enforcing Malvolio on the other, not to mention the fluid gender roles at the centre of the play.


Many of Shakespeare’s best-known scenes are set at night: the ghost in “Hamlet”, the murder of Duncan in “Macbeth”, much of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  There are numerous other examples.  Confusingly, almost every scene in “Twelfth Night” is set during the day.


It seems that Shakespeare was drawn to the idea that a storm at sea and a shipwreck make for a dramatic opening scene.  Other plays of his to open in this way include “The Comedy of Errors”, “Pericles” and “The Tempest”.  In the last of these, Ferdinand survives but is sure that his father Alonso has drowned; meanwhile, Alonso has in fact survived but is certain that his son is lost.  Something similar here between brother and sister as the plot unwinds.


In this play, Shakespeare places the most riotous of his comic characters Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the most restrained of places: Olivia’s house while she is in mourning.  The contrast between the two roguish old drinkers and their rather reserved hostess seems like a recipe for conflict.  Yet this is avoided, with Malvolio the lightning conductor (or scapegoat), and Sir Toby contributing a marriage of his own in the final scene.


By the end of 1.3, Olivia has two suitors who superficially could hardly seem more different: Sir Andrew is a libertine who likes nothing more than a drink and a dance, while Duke Orsino is sensitive and cultivated, preferring flowers to hunting.  But beneath the surface, they do share common ground in their love of music.


Orsino notices that in many ways Cesario (or Viola) resembles a woman: “Diana’s lip / Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe / Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, / And all is semblative a woman’s part,” he says (1.4). Dramatic irony to the fore, since the audience knows exactly what her gender is, even if Orsino hasn’t rumbled her yet.


At the end of Act One, Olivia has made it clear that she doesn’t want to marry Orsino because she is mourning her brother.  But the arrival of Orsino’s messenger Cesario suggests that she is open to persuasion.  So she sends a ring after him, pretending he left it there by accident.  Clearly rings have a super-symbolic role in our society (and in Shakespeare’s) and Olivia’s trick is a reminder of a similar game played by Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”.  It is worth remembering that at this stage, Olivia is not the only character in the play who has lost a brother, or seemed to.


On a biographical note, and on the subject of sisters losing brothers, it is worth remembering that Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet died in 1596, aged 11, leaving an older sister, Susanna, and a twin, Judith.  “Twelfth Night” was written in around 1599.  Viola and Sebastian are of course identical twins.


When Sebastian tells Antonio in 2.1 that he has a sister said to resemble himself, the audience is being alerted to the prospect of confused identities later in the play. 


Antonio’s respect and affection for Sebastian, evidenced in 2.1, are so strong that even though he has enemies in Orsino’s court, he is still determined to follow his friend there.  Many of Shakespeare’s plays have strong male / male friendships of this type – one example is the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio in “The Merchant of Venice”.  A strange co-incidence, perhaps, that on each occasion, one of the characters – in each case the character more emotionally involved – is called Antonio.


Viola knows by the time she’s returning from her visit to Olivia in 2.2 that though Orsino loves Olivia, unfortunately, Olivia loves her – and she, perhaps, loves Orsino. Quite a complex love triangle, as she observes – but the real problem is that they both mistakenly think she’s male.  Once again, dramatic irony is an essential component of Shakespeare’s comedy: it’s all very well for Viola to say (as she does in 2.2) “Disguise … thou are a wickedness”, but disguise is also an essential ingredient of Shakespeare’s art.


In telling Olivia “I am not what I am” (3.1), Viola not only tells the truth – on Cesario’s behalf – but also anticipates Iago in “Othello”, who uses the phrase in quite a different sense.


Maria’s plan, explained in 2.3, to impersonate Olivia’s handwriting in letters that will persuade Malvolio that his mistress is in love with him serves as a reminder of the important role that is played by letters in Shakespeare’s plays:  Macbeth writes to his wife to inform her of his encounter with the witches in Act One of that play; in “King Lear” Edmund frames his innocent brother Edgar, so that it seems he wants to kill their father Gloucester, by forging a letter; in “Romeo and Juliet”, the letter Friar Lawrence sends Romeo to let him know that Juliet is not really dead fails to arrive, with catastrophic consequences.  Maybe the importance of letters in Shakespeare tells us something about how literate Elizabethan England was.


The first of the play’s songs in 2.3 serves as a reminder that “Twelfth Night” opens with a tribute to music and love: “If music be the food of love …”. Nowadays we are surrounded by music but in Shakespeare’s day, listening to beautiful music was a rare experience for the vast majority of people.  So Shakespeare’s plays often contain song and dance, as here, a treat for the ears as well as the eyes of the audience.


When in 2.5 Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, fancies himself sporting a velvet gown to mark his importance as the master of the house (having married above himself), he is indirectly referencing the Laws of Sumptuary, which dictated what clothes might be worn by members of certain social classes.  Tudor monarchs like Elizabeth I were said to have been particularly keen on enforcing these laws.  Cross-gartered yellow stockings, incidentally, denote a member of the servant class, so encouraging Malvolio to wear them while aspiring to marry the Lady of the house is particularly cruel.


Much of the play revolves around the confusion and humour that arise from mistaken identities.  This is particularly the case in 3.4, where Malvolio believes himself to be someone he isn’t – a suitor for Olivia’s hand.  Sir Andrew shares much the same misapprehension, not only about himself, but also about the young “man” Cesario, whom he believes to be a love rival.  Meanwhile, Antonio arrives to mistake Viola for Sebastian, and intensify the confusion.  It is probably fair to say that at this point in the play, only the audience knows who is really who.


In 4.1, the implication is that Viola and Sebastian are physically indistinguishable, since in this scene all four characters Sebastian meets – Feste, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Olivia – mistake him for his sister.  But indistinguishable or not, Shakespeare nonetheless allows a gender stereotype to creep in when he presents Sebastian as more than ready for a fight.  The audience will naturally compare his pugilistic instincts with the more peaceable ways of his sister in 3.4.


In 4.2 Feste enters Malvolio’s darkened room to engage with him disguised as a clergyman.  Before doing so he dresses the part – an unnecessary detail, one might imagine, given that he cannot actually be seen. Still, his disguise is only the latest case in this play of clothes mattering: Malvolio dreams of velvet; his tormentors suggest yellow stockings; Viola dresses as a man and now Feste dresses as a priest.  In a play about disguise, confusion and mistaken identity, clothes play a central role.


Malvolio’s fate is cruel, but on the whole the audience colludes.  They do so (a) because he is a pompous fool – puritans were evidently quite strongly disliked – and (b) because in presuming to marry Olivia, he is getting ideas above his station.  There’s at times quite strong class consciousness in Shakespeare – and no doubt among his audience too.


The function of the final scene is to clarify any surviving misunderstandings.  These must persist until such time as the two principal sources of confusion – Viola and Sebastian – appear in the same place at the same time.  Once they have been identified as being two separate and distinct characters, the game is up.  Moreover, any pending marriages can now be ticked off – as happens here, with Sir Toby and Maria joining Olivia and Sebastian and Viola and Orsino.  Three is also the number of marriages at the end of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.


The final scene is also a reminder how useful twins can be in constructing the plot for a comedy built around mistaken identity.  “The Comedy of Errors” (written around ten years earlier) uses the same plot device, and operates in the same way: confusion reigns until the final scene when the two brothers being mistaken for one another arrive in the same place at the same time.  They too are identical twins, confusingly given the same name – though (in contrast to “Twelfth Night”) they do at least share the same gender.


A last note on the arrival of Sebastian: without him, the love triangle could not be resolved.  With his appearance, a perfectly satisfactory solution emerges: Olivia marries Sebastian and Orsino marries Viola.

Finally, it’s worth observing that the play combines three separate narratives, which are brought together in the final scene: Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Cesario; Malvolio is a pompous bore who needs to be taken down; and Sebastian and Antonio arrive in a town where both have unfinished business.  It’s Shakespeare’s genius (or one aspect of it) to weave the three narratives together into a satisfying and stimulating whole.  Dramatic irony underwrites all three plots so through all the confusion Shakespeare weaves, the audience knows the score.




Resourceful in the way she recovers her fortunes after the shipwreck, unsentimental in the way she puts the loss of her brother behind her, and profoundly loyal in the way she represents Orsino to Olivia, Viola is an admirable personality if not the most exciting character.  Her virtues are those we might most like to see in a friend – dependable, trustworthy, resilient – and she is rewarded with her heart’s desire at the close of the play.


Detached from her household, with whom she seems to communicate via Maria or Malvolio, Olivia is nevertheless anything but detached in her emotional life.  In response to Orsino she is very clear – he is not for her – but her reaction to Cesario is immediate and intense, and she reinforces her passionate commitment with some cunning – the episode of the ring for example.  Her impetuous instincts return when she marries Viola’s brother Sebastian without having first discovered who he is.


A melancholy character, so passive that he engages Viola to conduct his wooing of Olivia on his behalf, yet despite what seemed an unwavering commitment to Olivia, he is apparently decisive enough to switch his affections abruptly from Olivia to Viola when the need arises.


The victim of the practical joke played by Maria and her two co-conspirators, he might easily be a sympathetic figure. But he is a joyless Puritan, which disperses our sympathy, and he is deluded about his marriage prospects, which makes him seem somewhat absurd.  Nonetheless when he is locked in the darkened room and condemned as mad, he retains just enough dignity to elicit the slither of sympathy that comes his way at the play’s end.


When we first encounter him, he is a passionate friend of Sebastian imploring him to keep him company and all too willing to serve him if that is necessary.  His hunger for Sebastian’s respect emerges most passionately when he accuses Viola of letting him down – mistaking her for her brother. Sebastian’s arrival in the play punctures the tension developing in the tangled love triangle between Orsino, Olivia and Viola – but it leaves Antonio (like his namesake in “The Merchant of Venice”) the only character to miss out on love.

Quick Quiz

  1. How does Curio suggest Orsino might like to spend the day in act one scene one?
  2. How long does Olivia intend to spend in mourning after the death of her brother?
  3. How long does Sir Toby persuade Sir Andrew to stay on at Olivia’s house?
  4. Which present does Olivia send to Viola after their first encounter?
  5. Which present does Orsino send to Olivia (through Viola) as a token of his love?
  6. Malvolio imagines himself in a handsome gown – made of which material?
  7. What is Antonio’s historical offence that leads to his arrest?
  8. Which three items does Malvolio request when he is locked in the darkened room?
  9. What disguise does Feste wear to make this visit?
  10. The play ends with a song – who is the singer?
  1. Hunting
  2. Seven Years
  3. One month
  4. A ring
  5. A pearl
  6. Velvet
  7. Piracy
  8. Pen, ink and paper
  9. Clergyman
  10. Feste

Last Word

In Act 2 Scene 3, Maria tells the two riotous knights, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, that she intends to turn Olivia’s steward Malvolio into “a common recreation”.  Why do you want to do this, asks Sir Toby, and Maria replies that he’s a “kind of puritan”.  “O” interjects Sir Andrew, “if I thought that, I’d beat him like a dog”.  Evidently puritans weren’t very popular among Shakespeare’s audiences, so the desire to beat them like a dog doesn’t need much elaboration.


In the context of 16th / 17th century Britain, a puritan was a somewhat joyless but devoutly religious person, inclined to impose rules prohibiting light-hearted behaviour of the kind favoured by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.  So Sir Andrew’s antagonism towards puritans would have been reciprocated.


When Shakespeare wrote “Twelfth Night”, the puritan cause was marginal.  But it grew in significance as time went by, emerging dominant with the English Civil War, and a brief “interregnum” or interlude in government, led by Oliver Cromwell.  Among other measures enacted to the glory of god at this time, the puritans closed the theatres.  So Malvolio gets his revenge – albeit temporarily – in the end.


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