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Twelfth Night

Robert A. Albano

Los Angeles


Robert A. Albano

First Printing: September 2011

All Rights Reserved 2011 by Robert A. Albano

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.

Los Angeles


Introduction Act I Act II

11 17 53 77 97

............................................................. .............................................................

Act III ............................................................. Act IV ............................................................. Act V

............................................................. 105

Final Remarks .................................................. 119 Comments from the Critics .. Artwork Inspired by the Play . 133 137

Books by Robert A. Albano Middle English Historiography Lectures on Early English Literature Lectures on British Neoclassic Literature Understanding Shakespeare's Tragedies Understanding the Poetry of William Wordsworth Understanding Shakespeare (series) 1. The Sonnets 2. Henry IV, Part I 3. Hamlet 4. Macbeth 5. Othello 6. Julius Caesar 7. Antony and Cleopatra 8. Much Ado about Nothing 9. A Midsummer Nights Dream 10. TwelfthNight

NOTE: All act and scene divisions and lines numbers referred to in this text are consistent with those found in The Norton Shakespeare (Stephen Greenblatt, editor).


The eminent literary critic Harold Bloom compared the pacing of Shakespeares Twelfth Night to that of a Marx Brothers comedy. In their wild and zany motion pictures from the 1930s, the Marx Brothers Groucho, Harpo, and Chico mixed raw physical humor or slapstick with clever verbal humor (including mad puns and foolish banter). Audiences during the 1930s in Depression-ravaged America needed an escape from the drudgeries of life, and the Marx Brothers provided just such an escape. The pacing of their films was unrelenting: one joke followed quickly upon the heels of another, and the people in the audience never had a chance to take a breath because they were so doubled-over with laughter. William Shakespeare was aware that the audiences of his own day also needed psychological escape. Life was not always easy in England during the time of the Renaissance, and the people attending Shakespeares theater also desired to leave the insanity of the real world for a different kind of insanity the insanity of foolishness in a makebelieve world of nonsense. Two words that perhaps best describe a Marx Brothers comedy are insanity and fun. Blooms comparison is not as far-fetched as some people might at first think. Twelfth Night is also a play about insanity and fun. Shakespeare, as he does with nearly all of his plays, engages the imagination of his audience; but he does so in a clever and amusing

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

manner. Like a Marx Brothers film, Shakespeares comedy stretches the limits of believability in his plot; but the Renaissance audience did not mind that. The play was not intended to be either serious or realistic. A reader of this play should always keep in mind that Shakespeare plays with the notion of credibility the reader should not take the plot seriously. Shakespeare amuses and delights his audiences, yet in this delightful tour de force he also teaches his audience about the meaning of love and the behavior of lovers. The full title of Shakespeares comedy is Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The word will was a potent one for Shakespeare. Of course, it was his nickname a designation that he surely enjoyed because it was so full of meaning. The word, on the one hand, means want or wish. And the characters in this play do wish for things, usually things they cannot obtain easily or at all. But the word will also indicates desire, including sexual desire and the desire for love. In most of Shakespeares plays including his serious tragedies the playwright examines the conflict between emotion (or passion) and reason. In Othello, for example, the heros jealousy causes him to lose his reason or rational ability. In Macbeth, the main characters ambition blinds him from assessing his situation rationally. Any intense emotion may cause someone to become totally and completely irrational. And Shakespeare was certainly well aware that one of the most intense emotions was love. In the conflict of reason vs.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

emotion, Shakespeare time and again revealed that emotion could and would triumph over reason. The first part of the title is also significant. Specifically, Twelfth Night refers to the twelfth night after Christmas. Christians during the Middle Ages referred to this date, January 6, as the Feast of the Epiphany. It was intended to be a holy and special occasion. However, the occasion became a secular one throughout many places in Europe. Instead of being a religious holiday, it became the wild and chaotic Feast of Fools. Readers familiar with any motion picture version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (or with Victor Hugos book, Notre Dame de Paris) may recall how the film begins with the title character, Quasimodo, being elected as the King of Fools. The entire celebration, including the election of the King of Fools, played an important psychological function for the people living during the Middle Ages. Many felt life to be oppressive. Only a small minority, the aristocrats, enjoyed power and privilege. The commoners worked long hours six days a week, and found little in life worth enjoying or celebrating. But on the Feast of Fools, the world order was turned upside down. Laws and rules did not apply. The King and other aristocrats were, for that day, suspended from enjoying their power. The biggest fool was elected as king for the day to indicate that foolish and wild behavior would instead reign over the kingdom. Chaos and anarchy supplanted order and rule. The people celebrated,


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

became wildly drunk, and acted quite madly. There was no place for reason on that day. In fact, so wild did the festivities become that, towards the end of the 15th Century, the Church found it necessary to end the practice and celebration known as the Feast of Fools. A hundred years later, by the time Shakespeare was a child, the Feast of Fools was no longer associated with a religious holiday. Yet the celebration continued although perhaps with less wild abandon as a secular holiday. People still desired to have a day where they felt unconstrained by political and social ties. They still needed a day when they could act a little wild and crazy. The action of Shakespeares comedy lasts for several months, so the playwright was not using the title to refer to a specific chronological point in the calendar. Rather, the title is symbolic. Most of the major characters act wildly and madly throughout most of the play. In fact, Shakespeare clearly introduces a theme of madness running throughout his comedy. Rational thought and rational action rarely appear. Moreover, Shakespeare even provides his audience with a King of Fools in the character of Sir Toby Belch. As his name indicates, Sir Toby likes to drink; and a thoughtful director would most likely have his actor perform as if he were drunk throughout most of the play. The Russian literary critic and theorist Mikhail Bakhtin coined the expression carnivalesque to designate works of literature that

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

suggest or symbolize the Feast of Fools carnival or celebration. The Feast of Fools was an important cultural and social event that impressed itself upon the minds and consciousness of the people of Europe for many centuries. Shakespeare sets the action of his play in Illyria a name the geographically indicates the coast of the Balkans along the Adriatic Sea. However, Shakespeares Illyria is actually a onceupon-a-time, make-believe kingdom that is not really intended to suggest any real place. Yet, although Shakespeares Illyria is not a real place, the emotions of his characters are quite real and do represent the emotions within all people. In Illyria, everyone is in love, and that emotion renders everyone irrational and a little bit mad. The plot of Twelfth Night involves identical twins and mistaken identity. Such a device was not original with Shakespeare (although he did use the concept earlier in his Comedy of Errors). But plots involving mistaken identity and twins appear in French and Italian comedies years before Shakespeare was even born. However, Shakespeare employs the device in a new way. In this play, the twins are Viola and Sebastian, a female and a male. In the comedy, Viola disguises herself as a young man when she finds herself shipwrecked and alone on a foreign shore. Unescorted woman were not only at risk for their safety, but they were not allowed the privileges and freedom that men at that time were given. Disguised as a male, Viola is thus able to

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

protect herself and achieve a certain amount of success that would have been impossible had she not disguised herself. However, to complicate matters and to complicate the plot, Viola is mistaken for being Sebastian. And much comic madness results from the mistake. During the Renaissance, Shakespeare most likely did not have twins to play the parts of Sebastian and Viola (although a male would have been used to play the role of Viola since females were not allowed to act on public stages in that era). Yet even if the two actors did not closely resemble each other, the Renaissance audience would not have been bothered by such a detail. Renaissance audiences were accustomed to supplying gaps or inconsistencies in the plays with their imagination. They would readily accept the supposition that Viola and Sebastian do resemble each other. If not, they would not be able to enjoy the comedy. But Renaissance audiences did indeed enjoy this popular comedy. They enjoyed the sheer raw madness of it. The play, like the Feast of Fools carnival, provided a means of escape from the drudgeries of the world. Watching the play allowed the people in the audience to release some of the stress and anxiety that was so much a part of daily living.


Act I, Scene 1: Unrequited Love The comedy begins with a topic well known to Renaissance audiences: unrequited love. Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is in love with the Countess Olivia; but she does not love him. So, Orsino is feeling listless and blue. He is depressed and cannot find satisfaction in anything. The reader should also note that although the name Illyria does suggest a real location, Shakespeares Illyria is actually more imaginary, a far-away place that existed once upon a time. Orsino is the ruler of Illyria, but his mind is on affairs of the heart rather than on affairs of state. The scene opens with Orsino sitting languidly in his palace and listening to one of his servants play music. Orsino is hoping that the music will distract him from thinking about Olivia:
If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken and so die. (1-3)

Orsino begins with the metaphorical idea that music is the food of love. When lovers listen to music, their feelings of love increase. Orsino is hoping that he will become too full of love. Like a hungry man who eats so much that he no longer desires food, Orsino is hoping that his appetite for love his desire for Olivia will end. The common depiction of an unrequited lover during the Renaissance is someone who cannot eat or sleep or function in any normal or

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

rational way. The unrequited lover thus experiences a type of madness. Orsino no longer wishes to be mad, but he cannot help himself. Orsino quickly finds the music to be unsatisfactory. His desire for Olivia has not ended. Orsino asserts that the last strain of music (the last series of musical notes) has a dying fall (line 4). Literally, he is suggesting that the music ends with a sequence that descends or becomes lower. But metaphorically Orsino is indicating that (1) the music has a dead or null effect on him and that (2) he still feels like he is dying dying for the love of Olivia. Orsino orders his musician to stop playing (at line 7) and then launches into a philosophical comment about the spirit of love (beginning at line 9). People, especially young people, fall in love quickly and easily. Shakespeare uses the simile as the sea to describe love (line 11). Falling in love is like falling into the ocean. It overwhelms the lover. And this ocean or sea can even overwhelm or drown someone who has a high rank and great abilities (validity and pitch). Neither the ocean nor love discriminates. It treats everybody equally. Even someone as high-ranking as the Duke of Illyria becomes overwhelmed and powerless (worthless: low price) when he falls into the sea of love. His high rank does not help him keep his head above the water. The unrequited lover is like a drowning man, helpless and hopeless. Orsino concludes his philosophical comment with the following:

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

So full of shapes is fancy That it alone is high fantastical. (14-15)

The word fancy here could be used to indicate either imagination or love. Orsinos feelings of love are causing him to be imaginative and metaphorical. Orsino realizes that he is not being a realist; he is not seeing life from a realistic or rational perspective. Orsino is an obsessed lover. When Orsinos servant then suggests that Orsino should go out hunting a deer or hart to take his mind away from his troubles, the imaginative Orsino quickly thinks that he would rather go out hunting the heart (that is, the heart of Olivia). And the Dukes imagination then causes him to think of the mythological tale of Actaeon, a hunter who one day came across the goddess Diana bathing naked in a pond. Actaeon cannot stop staring at the beauty of the goddess, but Diana becomes enraged and magically transforms Actaeon into a deer or stag. Actaeons own hunting dogs then chase him, kill him, and rip him to pieces. Orsino compares his situation to Actaeons. Olivia is like the goddess Diana. And, in this extended metaphor, Orsinos desires of love become the hunting dogs. Orsino feels that his own desires are ripping him apart. Being an unrequited lover is painful and agonizing.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act I, Scene 1: Seven Years of Mourning Orsinos servant interrupts the Dukes imaginative musings. The servant, appropriately named Valentine, has just returned from the estate of the Countess Olivia. Valentine had gone there to deliver the Dukes message of love to the Countess. But Countess Olivia refused to see him. In fact, she refuses to see anybody for the next seven years:
The element itself till seven years heat Shall not behold her face at ample view. (25-26)

The word element refers to the sky. The Countess Olivia refuses to go outside without wearing a veil for the next seven years. She intends to keep her face covered because she is in mourning over the death of her brother. So great are her feelings of sadness that she plans to express her feelings in daily tears (eyeoffending brine). Although Countess Olivia is described as being warm-hearted and sensitive, the careful reader should also note that she is as mad as Orsino. Mourning the loss of a loved one is natural, but pledging to mourn for seven years is excessive and obsessive. Olivia is now a young woman of marriageable age and is in the full bloom of her beauty. If she persists in mourning for seven years and in refusing to see men in all of that time, she will be squandering her youth and beauty. In seven years time she will no longer be so young (especially given

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Renaissance standards). Although the life of her brother had been important to her, Olivia needs to realize that she should not give up her own life because of him. Her life is also important. Thus, in both the characters of Orsino and Olivia, Shakespeare reveals the conflict of Reason vs. Emotion. In cases where the emotion is extremely intense, reason loses the conflict. It does not matter whether the emotion is love (as in Orsinos case) or sadness (as in Olivias case) or any other emotion. The person experiencing the excessive emotion will become irrational, obsessive, and mad. When Orsino hears about Olivias refusal to see him or anyone else, the irrational but hopeful Duke interprets the news in a positive manner (beginning at line 32). Orsino explains that if Olivia has this much devotion and love for her brother, then, when she finds a man to become her husband, she will be even more devoted and loving. Orsino firmly thinks, or hopes, that Cupids arrow of love (the rich golden shaft: line 34) will cause Olivia to push away all other emotions and think only about the man in her life. Of course, Orsino already feels the effect of such an arrow on himself. He can only think about Olivia, and he hopes that soon Olivia will only think about him. A curious line in this passage is the one where Orsino expresses that the affections or emotions reside in the liver, brain, and heart (line 36). Although today people commonly suggest that emotions are connected to the heart, during the

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Renaissance the view was more complicated. Thoughts (including thoughts of love) come from the brain, feelings (like love) come from the heart, but passions or intense emotions come from the liver. Shakespeare, through the character of Orsino, thus expresses that love is an emotion in which all of the relevant organs of the body become involved and united to produce a single, overpowering effect.

Act I, Scene 2: The Shipwreck The second scene is more important in terms of plot than in terms of theme. A ship has crashed just off the coast of Illyria, and some survivors have swum to shore. Among them is a lady named Viola as well as the Captain of the ship. Viola is worried about her twin brother Sebastian, who was on the ship with her. Viola fears that her brother has drowned and that his soul now rests in Elysium (line 3). Viola is speaking metaphorically. Although Elysium specifically refers to the pleasant paradise-like part of the underworld in Roman mythology, Viola simply uses the word as a substitute for Heaven. The word choice contributes to the old-fashioned, once-upon-a-time feel of the play. The Captain tries to cheer Viola and tells her that he saw her brother tie himself to the fallen mast of the ship. The Captain adds that he saw the mast and Sebastian floating off away from the ship and

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

that Sebastian was still alive at that time. The Captain uses a simile to describe Sebastian riding on the mast: he was like Arion on the dolphins back (14). In Greek mythology Arion was a musician who was about to be murdered when he was traveling aboard a ship. Arion jumped overboard, and a dolphin carried him to safety. This simile also contributes to the mythic or fairy-tale quality of the play. More importantly, the simile also gives Viola hope. Since Arion survived, perhaps Sebastian did so as well. The Captain informs Viola that they are now standing in Illyria and that Illyria is ruled by Duke Orsino. He adds that Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia, but that Olivia rejects him because she is in mourning over the loss of her brother. Viola responds with the following:
Oh that I served that lady, And might not be delivered to the world Till I had made mine own occasion mellow, What my estate is. (37-40)

Viola realizes that she is in a somewhat dangerous position. As a single lady without her brother or any other escort, she may not be safe. When she hears that Olivia is mourning the death her brother, Viola believes that Olivia may be a sympathetic ally. Viola, after all, has also lost a brother. The word delivered (in line 38) means revealed. Viola does not wish to reveal that she is a lady of high estate. A single woman who is a commoner stands a much

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

better chance of passing by in a strange country unnoticed and unbothered. The word mellow is used here to mean ready. Viola feels that when the time is right, when it is safe to do so, then she will reveal to others that she is a lady. But until that time, she wants to disguise herself so that she will be safe. Unfortunately for Viola, the Captain tells her that the Countess refuses to see visitors of any sort. Viola will not be able to see Olivia, let alone ask her for employment as her servant. But Viola does not give up. She still plans to disguise herself, but she will seek employment with the Duke instead:
Ill serve this duke. Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him. (51-52)

Viola is asking the Captain to help her disguise herself as a eunuch. A eunuch is a male who has been castrated. Castration was often a common practice in olden times with young boys who were fine singers. Castrating (cutting off) their sexual organs would prevent their voices from changing, from becoming deeper, when they reached the age of puberty. Viola is well aware that being disguised as a male will make it easier for her to find some kind of work and that telling others that she is a eunuch will explain why her voice is not very deep. Besides, as Viola tells the Captain, she has a fine singing voice; and so she hopes to work as a musician for the duke.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

The Captain agrees to help Viola with the disguise and pledges not to reveal her secret to anyone.

Act I, Scene 3: Sir Toby Belch The third scene of the play is set at the estate of the Countess Olivia. Living at her house is her uncle, Sir Toby Belch. Although Sir Toby is an aristocrat, he is a poor one; and he is also drunk on most occasions. In fact, a director may ask the actor portraying Sir Toby to act as if he is drunk throughout the entire course of the play. Sir Toby is arrogant, pompous, and self-serving. He represents those poor aristocrats of Shakespeares own time. Such aristocrats would never be expected to work. If they did not have money, they would take it from their relatives. If their relatives refused to give them money, then such aristocrats would borrow money and goods from the commoners with no intention of ever paying them back. Since the unjust laws of the time also sided with the aristocrats, the commoners who were robbed by them had little help. There was not much they could do. Although Sir Toby represents this negative aspect of society, he is not entirely a negative character. He is witty and clever, and his dialogue contributes much to the humor of the play. As already suggested earlier, Sir Toby is the Carnivalesque King of the Fools. He represents

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

mayhem and disorder. He represents the breaking of the rules. He symbolizes the power of emotion over reason. Sir Toby is the obvious symbol of foolhardy behavior, but his subjects in this kingdom of fools (including Orsino and Olivia) are every bit as foolish as their king. At the beginning of the scene, Olivias servant Maria is warning Sir Toby to be quiet. The time is very late at night, and Toby would have just entered in a noisy and drunken manner. Maria informs Sir Toby that the Countess is not pleased by his raucous behavior. The careful reader should pay particular attention to the character of Maria. She is also a witty and clever individual. In fact, she has even more wit and more cleverness than Sir Toby. Shakespeare, who was not an aristocrat himself, time and again reveals that wit and cleverness are not necessary qualities of just aristocrats. In fact, some aristocrats are quite foolish and witless (as in the case of Sir Andrew in this play) while the most clever and thoughtful characters in Shakespeares plays are often commoners. More importantly, because Maria is a witty character, her dialogue with Sir Toby is all the more delightful. The use of word play and wit begins early in the scene. When Maria tells Sir Toby that he should confine or control his behavior, the drunken knight responds with the following:


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Confine? Ill confine myself no finer than I am. (8)

The word finer has a double meaning: (1) it suggests Sir Tobys waist line, for he is a fat knight, and (2) it also suggests a fine manner of dress. Thus, Sir Toby then proceeds to explain that he will not change his behavior or his weight or his manner of dress. He likes himself just the way he is, and nothing is ever going to change him.

Act I, Scene 3: Sir Andrew Aguecheek Sir Toby, being poor, hopes to take advantage of his nieces wealth by convincing her to marry his companion, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Sir Toby has Sir Andrew in his control, and he knows that if he can convince Olivia to marry Sir Andrew, then Sir Toby will be able to freeload at her house and to take advantage of Olivias generosity for the remainder of his days. Sir Toby may be clever in some instances, but his cleverness definitely has its limits. Sir Andrew is not only a poor specimen of a knight, but he is also a poor specimen of a man. He is cowardly and foolish. Despite being distraught over the death of her brother, the Countess Olivia will never be so reckless and thoughtless that she would marry Sir Andrew. Sir Tobys plan will never succeed.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

The use of comic names was conventional during the Renaissance. A belch is a burp, a common occurrence of someone who drinks too much. But the word also could mean to erupt violently, suggesting that Sir Toby may be somewhat hotheaded. An ague is a fever, and so ague-cheek may describe Sir Andrews pale complexion. Someone who has an ague or fever also frequently shakes and shivers, which the cowardly Sir Andrew would do when he is attacked. Maria also readily recognizes Sir Andrew as a fool. Sir Toby attempts to defend Sir Andrew:
Hes as tall a man as anys in Illyria. (16)

Although Sir Toby means brave and worthy by the word tall and although Maria knows that this is what Sir Toby means, she responds by suggesting that Sir Andrew is merely tall in height and has no other positive qualities. Sir Toby knows that Sir Andrew is cowardly and foolish, but he is surprised that Maria has so quickly found this out as well. Yet Sir Toby continues to defend Sir Andrew, for he desperately wants to trick Olivia into marrying him. Sir Toby tells Maria that Sir Andrew can speak several foreign languages (this is soon revealed to the audience to be a lie) and that Sir Andrew has all the good gifts of nature (23). Maria responds with some word play of her own:
He hath indeed almost natural, for besides that hes a fool, hes a great quarreler. (24-25) 28

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Maria plays on the word nature by suggesting that Sir Andrew is a natural, which, during the Renaissance, meant fool or idiot. Maria also plays off of the expression gift of nature: Maria explains that because Sir Andrew likes to argue but because he is also a coward, he will soon have the gift of a grave (line 27). She means that his argumentative nature will get him into trouble and that someone will eventually kill him because of it. The stubborn Sir Toby continues to defend Sir Andrew, but Maria is too clever to believe anything that the fat knight says. The audience soon discovers that Maria is correct when Sir Andrew enters (at line 37). Sir Andrew not only does not only know any foreign languages, but he also has a great deal of difficulty with English. Sir Andrew addresses Maria as shrew, which is an extremely poor word choice. Sir Andrew thinks it is a term of affection, but Maria as well as everyone in Shakespeares audience knows that it is a term for nasty, ill-tempered women. The word shrew literally refers to a vicious rodent-like animal. Sir Andrew also misunderstands when Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew to accost (to greet) Maria properly because she is the Countess Olivias attendant. But the oafish Sir Andrew thinks that the word refers to her name: Good Mistress Accost (line 44). As Sir Andrew attempts to converse with Maria, she responds with several jokes that infers that he is a fool. However, Sir Andrew is such a fool that he does not understand any of them. For example, as

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Sir Andrew holds Marias hand, he asks her if she has many jests or jokes. She responds with the following:
Ay. Sir, I have them at my fingers ends. Marry, now I let go your hand I am barren. (66-67)

The expression at my fingers ends means that they are readily and quickly available. Yet, the expression also literally refers to Sir Andrew, who is at the ends of her fingers. Thus, Maria implies that Sir Andrew is a jest. Of course, when she lets go of Sir Andrews hand, she no longer has the jest at the ends of her fingers. So, she is barren or empty of jests. Sir Andrews lack of skill in foreign languages also becomes apparent at this time. Sir Andrew, realizing that being a suitor to the Countess seems to be hopeless, tells Sir Toby that he will leave tomorrow. Sir Toby responds by asking Pourquoi? (line 77: pourquoi is the French word for why). Sir Andrew exclaims that he wishes he had studied foreign languages (referred to as tongues in line 79). Sir Toby then takes the occasion to make a few jokes of his own:
SIR ANDREW SIR TOBY SIR ANDREW O, had I but followed the arts! Then hadst thou had an excellent head of hair. Why, would that have mended my hair?


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night


Past question. For thou seest it will not curl by nature. (80-83)

When Sir Andrew says arts, he is referring to the liberal arts (which is the study of any non-scientific topic, including foreign languages). Sir Toby puns or plays on the word, for the word art also suggests artifice. Beauty is created either by nature or by art (artifice). Sir Toby is also punning on the word tongues, which sounds quite similar to the word tongs. During the Renaissance, many women used curling tongs to add curls to their otherwise straight hair. Thus, Sir Toby jokes about Sir Andrews long, thin, straight hair. Sir Andrew would have curly hair if he had put more time with the tongs to make his hair curl artificially. As to be expected, though, Sir Andrew does not get the joke. The puns with the words tongues/tongs and art/artifice contribute to a language theme that is prevalent throughout most of the play. Shakespeare enjoyed puns and other forms of word play, and they appear frequently in his comedies. The theme is also evident in the various acts of misunderstanding that occur among the characters in the play. Sir Andrew also does not understand Sir Tobys bawdy joke that follows. The word bawdy means obscene or risqu, and such jokes were common in Renaissance comedies. When Sir Andrew asks about whether his hair is proper or suitable, Sir Toby responds with the following:


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Excellent, it hangs like flax on a distaff, and I hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs and spin it off. (85-86)

Flax is a textile fiber used in making clothes. Women or housewives would hang the flax on poles (called distaffs), which they held between their knees, and spin it into cloth. The flax would hang in long, thin, yellowish strands (which also describes Sir Andrews not-so-excellent hair). A polite interpretation of Sir Tobys line would be that Sir Toby hopes to see a woman companion become close to Sir Andrew and play with his hair. But the bawdy interpretation comes from the word housewife, which was pronounced as huswife, a word that was used for a prostitute. Prostitutes were also frequently known for passing venereal diseases onto men, and the result of such a disease was often baldness. Thus, Sir Toby hopes that Sir Andrew will lose his unattractive hair that it will be spun off of his head. Yet, despite Sir Tobys jokes, he wants Sir Andrew to stay at the estate and continue his attempts to win the Countess Olivia as his bride. When Sir Andrew informs Sir Toby that he is good at dancing (cut a caper at line 101), Sir Toby encourages him to reveal his skill to Olivia. Maybe that will help Sir Andrew win her affections. The scene ends with Sir Andrew dancing or cutting a caper. Sir Andrew is nearly as drunk as Sir Toby, and his dance is a silly jig. A jig is a fastpaced, lively dance with plenty of high steps and

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

kicks. Such jigs were funny and popular during the Renaissance, and many comedians in the theater found having skill in these types of comic dances would contribute to their fame.

Act I, Scene 4: Cesario The fourth scene takes place at the palace of Duke Orsino. Viola, disguised as a male and using the name Cesario, has been serving the Duke for three days. The Duke has taken a liking to Cesario, and already Cesario has become one of the Dukes favorite servants. Of course, the Duke does not know that Cesario is actually a lady named Viola. When another attendant on the Duke comments about the rapid popularity that Cesario has earned with the Duke, Cesario responds with the following:
Is he inconstant, sir, in his favours? (5-6)

The line has a double meaning. As a servant, Cesario would naturally wish to please his master and hope that his master appreciates his service. However, the word constant was frequently used to refer to love in the Renaissance. A constant lover was a true lover, one whose love would last forever. Viola, as a woman, may be wondering about Duke Orsinos constancy toward the Countess Olivia. Viola may be


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

wondering whether she can turn Orsinos affection toward herself. The Duke enters at this juncture and makes a request of his new but trusted servant. The Duke asks Cesario to go to the Countess and present his message of love to her. The Duke adds that Cesario should not leave the Countess estate until he has spoken to her; and, if Olivia refuses to admit him, then Cesario must be noisy and boisterous and do whatever it takes to gain admittance. Viola, quite naturally, does not want this task; but the Duke believes that Cesarios youthful charms may be successful where an older servants ability has failed. The Duke then catalogs the charms of Cesario:
they shall belie thy happy years That say thou art a man. Dianas lip Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maidens organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative a womans part. (29-33)

Although the Duke does not know that Cesario is woman, he recognizes the feminine qualities that Cesario has. Orsino even compares Cesario to Diana, the beautiful Roman goddess of hunting and of virginity. The word shrill here is not a negative term: it simple means high-pitched, and the word sound is used to indicate that Cesarios voice does not crack and break like many young men who are passing through puberty. The smooth skin and red lips were features much prized by men during the Renaissance.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

The Duke finds Cesario to be attractive like a beautiful woman. But since the Duke believes him to be a male, he has no feelings for Cesario/Viola. Viola reluctantly agrees to accept the task that the Duke has asked of her, but her aside reveals her true feelings in this matter: myself would be his wife (41). An aside was a conventional device often used in Renaissance drama. It is not intended to represent real speech. The actor would turn to the audience and in a loud whisper (a stage whisper) speak the lines that represent his thoughts or feelings. The other actors do not hear the line: they proceed as if the line had not been spoken. With this particular aside, the audience thus learns that Viola has already fallen in love with the Duke. But since she does not think that she could ever have a chance to win his love (because his love is constant for Olivia), she unenthusiastically agrees to do as the Duke asks.

Act I, Scene 5: Feste, the Clown The fifth scene takes place at the estate of the Countess. Maria is talking to Feste, the fool or clown, whose job it is to entertain Olivia. Since Olivia is in mourning and thus not receptive to jests of any sort, Feste has also been working in the service of the Duke. Maria is scolding Feste for having been away for so long, and she warns the fool (in an exaggerated manner) that he will be hanged for his absence. A

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

witty dialogue then follows between Feste and Maria. Festes responses are not only witty or humorous, but they are also often philosophical. For example, he informs Maria that he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colours (4-5). The expression fear no colors is a military one indicating that a soldier should have no fear of the enemies flags (whatever color they might be). But the word colors also means deceptions. Thus, a man who is hanged (and is dead) not only (1) no longer has to fear his enemies; but he also (2) no longer has to fear the deceptiveness of the world. Some lines later Feste also states that many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage (17). A man who is hanged well (a good hanging) and thus has died then cannot get married. Feste is implying that bad men make for bad marriages, but he also could be suggesting that most marriages are bad and probably should be prevented. Feste also recognizes that Maria is a rather witty person herself and suggests that she would not be a bad match for Sir Toby (lines 23-25). Of course, Maria is a servant and Sir Toby is an aristocrat. But Feste sees beyond the caste boundaries of his day. He is more open-minded about such matters. At this point in the scene Olivia enters with her steward Malvolio (at line 27). A steward is the head servant who is in charge of all of the household affairs. The name Malvolio means ill-will (or evil volition). Malvolio is a negative and mean-spirited


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

individual, and the other servants do not like him at all. Knowing that Olivia has been feeling depressed and moody lately, Feste hopes to cheer her up. In an aside, Feste asserts the following:
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit. (31)

Feste is a witty fool (or clown). He is clever and funny, and he uses his humor to entertain and delight others. On the other hand, there are a great many men who believe themselves to be wise and witty, but they are actually silly or ridiculous individuals who do not realize what fools or nincompoops they really are. And because they believe themselves to be wise and clever, they assert their nonsensical notions upon others. Somehow, though, a large number of foolish wits attain positions of power and rank, and thus they bring much harm to others. Feste, perhaps, is specifically referring to Malvolio when he uses the expression foolish wit. When Feste greets the mourning Countess, Olivia asks her other servants to take the fool away (33). She is feeling down, and has no desire for jokes of any sort. But Feste welcomes the challenge, for he does wish to make the Countess less gloomy. So, he jokes, Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady. He is, of course, implying that she is the fool. Olivia, not yet ready for humor, criticizes Feste as a dry fool (35). The word dry in this context means wearisome or dull. But Feste wittily

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

responds that drink and good counsel will amend or improve him (lines 37-38). If he gets something to drink, then his throat will no longer be dry; and if he gets some good counsel or advice, then he can act wisely instead of foolishly. The witty clown thus turns Olivias comment upside down. Feste ends his comments on changing or improving with a syllogism:
As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beautys a flower. (44-45)

A syllogism is a form of deductive reasoning, but the reasoning here may be difficult to decipher. In fact, some critics have even suggested that the first part of this is just nonsense. On the other hand, the line may make sense. A cuckold is a man whose wife is cheating on him (who is having a sexual relationship with some other man). The word cuckold was also sometimes used to mean fool since only a foolish man would allow his wife to cheat on him. Calamity is another word for misfortune. Feste could thus be implying that it is acceptable or honest to make a cuckold out of misfortune or calamity. That is, one should try to cheat on misfortune. Why? The word so above means because. Beauty is like a flower in the sense that it does not last for very long. A person should take advantage of their positive qualities (beauty or strength or speed) when they can because they will not last. Thus, Festes line in direct reference to Olivia indicates that she should cheat on or leave her misfortune (the death of her brother)

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

because she is now young and beautiful. She should not squander or waste her beauty on her sadness or misfortune. Feste, then, is declaring Olivia to be a fool for she has wedded her calamity and is remaining true to it. Feste then repeats his line to the servants to take Olivia away because she is the fool (lines 4546). However, Olivia protests that they should take Feste the fool away. But then Feste protests that he is not a fool: I wear not motley in my brain (49-50). A motley garment was one of many bright colors and was traditionally worn by a court jester or court fool. Feste is saying that although he may look like a fool on the outside, he is not a fool in his mind. Rather, he is wise and clever. Feste then asks the Countess permission to prove that she is a fool. The Countess accepts, and so Feste proceeds using a question-and-answer technique that was commonly used in catechism or religious schools:
FESTE OLIVIA FESTE OLIVIA FESTE Good madonna, why mournest thou? Good fool, for my brothers death. I think his soul is in hell, madonna. I know his soul is in heaven, fool. The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brothers soul, being in heaven. (57-62)

The choice of the catechism technique is a clever one because, in the religious schools, people were taught that the goal of all good Christians was to enter the

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

kingdom of heaven. They were also taught that afterlife in heaven was far more important than the transitory (short-termed) life one spends on earth. After all, life in heaven is for all eternity. Thus, Olivia is a fool to mourn her brother because he has achieved the ultimate goal of Christians. She should be rejoicing in his success. Olivia finds the clever wit of Feste to be amusing. So, despite her pledge to mourn, she probably would smile (or even laugh) at this point in the scene.

Act I, Scene 5: Feste vs. Malvolio The Countess asks Malvolio what he thinks of Feste, but the ill-willed steward has no sense of humor and thinks that all fools should be eliminated. Feste responds by implying that Malvolio himself is a fool. Malvolio then tells the Countess that the other day he saw Feste exchanging quips (jokes or witty remarks) with an ordinary or common fool, and the ordinary fool was able to defeat Feste in the contest of wits. Malvolio notices that Feste is quiet at this remark and does not argue against it. So, Malvolio then asserts
Unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged. (74-75)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Malvolio is implying that if no one laughed at fools, they would just sit quietly and sulk. Incidentally, Feste does respond to the line at the end of the play (see Act V, Scene 1: 363-64) when Malvolio is proved to be the gagged fool. Yet even in this scene, Malvolios pompous and foolish behavior becomes apparent. He does not need Feste to prove himself a fool. Malvolio does not know when to stop. He not only criticizes fools, but he also criticizes the aristocrats who laugh at them. He refers to these aristocrats as the fools zanies (line 76). The zany was the straight man in the theater the witless character who exchanged dialogue with the witty fool and who became the target of his humor. Malvolio obviously has spoken without thinking. His employer, the Countess Olivia, has just laughed at Feste. That would make Olivia a zany as well. Olivia scolds and criticizes Malvolio and defends fools:
To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things for birdbolts that you deem cannon bullets. There is no slander in an allowed fool. (78-80)

A birdbolt was an arrow that had a pad instead of a pointed end. Such an arrow was used for hunting small birds because the arrow would stun or kill the bird without damaging it. Olivia is implying that the comments made by fools are like birdbolts shot at people: their quips or jokes cannot seriously harm

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

people. Olivia indicates that Malvolio exaggerates the harm of fools by implying that their comments are as dangerous as cannonballs. Feste is pleased with Olivias defense of fools, and would most likely give a little smirk of delight in Malvolios direction at this time.

Act I, Scene 5: Cesario and Olivia A few moments later, after the Countess has exchanged lines with her drunken uncle, Sir Toby, Malvolio informs Olivia that a young man bearing a message from the Duke has arrived. Moreover, the young man refuses to leave the estate until he has spoken with the Countess. At first Olivia refuses to see him (line 129). But then Malvolio describes the messenger as a handsome youth not quite ripe in years: as a codling when tis almost an apple (140-41). A codling here means an unripe apple suggesting, perhaps, Cesarios fresh and saucy appearance. Olivia, who is in need of diversion, agrees to allow Cesario to enter. Viola (as Cesario) comes before the Countess and Maria with a speech she has memorized, which, in the typical Renaissance fashion, will praise the beauty of the lady before coming to the point. Olivia, who has heard all of this from the Duke before, tells Cesario to skip the praise and come to the point. Olivia does not wish to hear any more of the Dukes words of praise. Cesario, however, is insistent:

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night


Alas, I took great pains to study it, and tis poetical. It is the more like to be feigned, I pray you keep it in. (172-73)

Shakespeare is playing a little joke regarding the craft of writing. Olivias declaration that people who speak poetically are speaking feign or fake words the words are insincere and untrue. Obviously, the great poet Shakespeare knew that poetry contained many universal truths. Olivia, here, though, is implying that the Dukes words of love are insincere or untrue. She does not believe them. Or, even if she did believe them, the words hold no truth for her; for she does not love the Duke. Olivia then urges Cesario to be brief and get to the point:
If you be not mad, be gone. If you have reason, be brief. Tis not that time of the moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue. (175-77)

Olivia is telling Cesario that if he is mad, then he should go away. But if he is reasonable, then he should state his message briefly. The reference to the moon suggests the lunar effect on people. Even during the Renaissance some people believed that madness or lunacy was caused by the moon. Olivia is declaring that she is not mad, and she has no desire to engage in any mad or frivolous (skipping)

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

dialogue. Shakespeare thus brings up the conflict of Rationality vs. Irrationality (or Madness), which is similar to the conflict of Reason vs. Emotion. Ironically, Olivia is mad in her decision to mourn the death of her brother for seven years. She just does not realize it. However, her madness is different from that of the Dukes, which is caused by love. Cesario continues urging his message, declaring that the words he is to speak are divinity, words that are scared and holy (line 190). Of course, to Viola, the words are holy; for she would strongly like to hear the Duke declare such words to herself. But to Olivia, the words are heresy, words that are profane or sacrilegious (line 201). The words are vile or evil to Olivia, for they are words that she definitely does not wish to hear. When Olivia tells Cesario this, he becomes frustrated. Viola (as Cesario) has made her best effort to deliver the Dukes message, but she realizes that she is not being successful. So far in the conversation, the Countess Olivia has been wearing a veil. Since she is in mourning, she is covering her face. This was part of her pledge or vow in mourning her brother. She had promised not to allow any man to see her face. Viola, though, wants to look into Olivias eyes. She perhaps believes that she will be more successful if she can look at the Countess directly. So, she asks the Countess if she may see her face:
Good madam, let me see your face. (202)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

The Countess notes that the young messenger is overstepping his bounds by making such a request. However, Olivia is also charmed by the brash Cesario and agrees to unveil herself:
But we will draw the curtain and show you the picture. (204-05)

Olivia refers to her face as a picture or painting and the veil as a curtain. The Countess then asks Cesario what he thinks of the picture. Cesario admits that Olivia is indeed quite beautiful, with the traditional Renaissance concept of beauty suggested by the words red and white (209). The ideal woman, according to Renaissance standards, was one who had fine white skin and red cheeks and lips. But after praising the beauty of Olivia, Cesario then adds the following:
Lady, you are the cruelest she alive If you will leave these graces to the grave And leave the world no copy. (211-13)

A careful reader may note here that Shakespeare switches the dialogue of the scene from prose to poetry. The shift marks a point where the dialogue moves away from being a mere message and to being an emotional discussion or debate about love. Those familiar with Shakespeares other works will also note a connection between these lines and Shakespeares Sonnets. In those well-known poems, the speaker urges a beautiful young man to find a

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

woman to marry and have children because the young man is so beautiful that the world would be deprived if later generations did not have the opportunity to view such beauty for themselves by seeing that beauty in his offspring. Cesario is stating the same idea to Olivia: the word copy refers to offspring or children. Olivia, however, who has absolutely no feelings for the Duke at all, makes a joke concerning the word copy. She says she will copy out or make a list (or catalog) of her physical features: two lips, indifferent red two grey eyes, with lids to them (216-18). Shakespeare briefly returns to prose at this juncture because the Countess is being insincere. Her words are neither emotional nor true. Viola then sums up her own conclusion as to why the Countess refuses to love the Duke:
I see what you are, you are too proud. (219)

Shakespeare has keenly remarked both here and elsewhere (notably the comments made by Rosalind to Phebe in Act III, Scene 5 of As You Like It) that many people let pride get in the way of love. They think of themselves as being too good or special (or too beautiful). They think that they are superior to the men (or women) who woo them (who are attracted to them and wish to marry them). And, so, they miss out on an opportunity of finding love in their life. Cesario is suggesting that Olivia does not have any good reasons for rejecting the Duke. Of

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

course, In Violas mind, the Duke is perfect: Olivia is not superior to him. And, so, Cesario asserts that Olivia should recompense the Dukes love, that Olivia should love the Duke even if she were the most beautiful woman in the world (lines 222-23). Cesario explains that the Dukes love is full of passion and force. However, although the Countess admits that the Duke is full of noble qualities, she just does not love him (at line 231). Cesario then asserts that the Duke, because his love is so intense, cannot understand the Countess response. Cesario explains that if she were the Duke, she would express her love in numerous ways:
Make me a willow cabin at your gate And call upon my soul within the house Write loyal cantons of contemned love And sing them loud even in the dead of night; Halloo your name to the reverberate hills, And make the babbling gossip of the air Cry out Olivia! O, you should not rest Between the elements of air and earth But you should pity me. (237-45)

Viola is attempting to reveal the depth of the Dukes passion to the Countess. The speech here is exceptionally poetical and passionate. The willow tree is the symbol of the unrequited or rejected lover, and the gossip of the air is a metaphor for an echo. Cesario declares that the air would hold no peace, for the name of Olivia would be vibrating and echoing through the hills until he ran out of breath. This

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

passage also is an allusion to the Greek tale of Narcissus and Echo. Echo was once a lovely nymph, a minor goddess of nature, who fell in love with Narcissus. But Narcissus loved only himself, and he rejected Echo. Echo, calling out the name of Narcissus in her grief, was transformed into just a mere voice and nothing else. Hence, Cesario is suggesting that if he were the Duke, he would waste away and die in his unrequited love for Olivia. Although this passage has the primary purpose (1) of Cesario attempting to reveal the depth of the Dukes love for Olivia, the lines serve two additional purposes as well: (2) The passage expresses Violas own desire for the Duke. She herself is Echo. Subconsciously, the depth of her passion is as great as that of the nymph, for this explains how she is able to express so well the thoughts and feelings of the unrequited lover. But, (3) the passage has an unusual and unexpected consequence as well. Because Viola expresses these lines with such great passion and intensity, Olivia is moved by them so much so that she does fall in love, but not with the Duke. Olivia falls in love with Cesario. Olivia becomes quite interested in Cesario and asks him about his parentage and social standing. Then she tells him that the Duke should send her no more messages about his love
Unless, perchance, you come to me again To tell me how he takes it. (251-52)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Olivia may not wish to hear from the Duke ever more, but she clearly does want to see Cesario again.

Act I, Scene 5: Olivias Soliloquy After Cesario exits, Olivia finds herself surprised over her own feelings for the messenger. At this point she really does not realize what has just happened. So quick and sudden is the effect of loves arrow that the victim often cannot understand the emotional impact of it. Olivia attempts to understand her emotions, which are revealed in a soliloquy, a speech that reveals the inner thoughts of a character. In a sense, a character is speaking to herself (or himself) in the soliloquy, and other characters do not hear these lines. Olivias soliloquy or speech is somewhat chaotic, to reflect her own chaotic feelings or emotions. She begins by repeating some of the lines previously spoken by Cesario, and then adds
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast. Soft, soft Unless the master were the man. How now? Even so quickly may one catch the plague? Methinks I feel this youths perfections With an invisible and subtle stealth To creep in at my eyes. (262-68)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Olivia realizes that as an aristocrat, she is compelled by social conventions to marry another aristocrat. She worries that, even though Cesario had declared himself to be a gentleman, he is far beneath her socially. Cesario is, after all, the Dukes servant. Olivia tries to argue with herself about this convention. She asserts that Cesarios behavior and deportment, and physical features give him five-fold blazon. Olivia is referring to a coat of arms, a symbol of a noble family. The words five-fold suggest that a person represented by this symbol has a noble lineage and is descended from five noble families. Olivia, in her imagination that is fueled by love, is attempting to create a royal background for Cesario so that she can justify her desire for him. But her muddled mind tells her to slow down (soft, soft). She thinks such a relationship would only be possible if Cesario (the man) were the Duke (the master). Of course, that is not the case; and, so, Olivia questions herself (how now?). In the next line the metaphorical word plague refers to love. Love is like a disease: one catches it quickly, without warning. Another metaphor follows, for Olivia declares that Love is like a crafty and subtle burglar who invisibly and sneakily (with stealth) breaks into a house without the inhabitants of the household knowing it. Of course, love enters through the eyes, for it is the sight of someone that usually first causes a person to feel the powerful effects of that powerful emotion, love.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

After her soliloquy, Malvolio enters. Olivia hands Malvolio a ring and tells him that Cesario left it as a gift or love-token from the Duke. Olivia orders Malvolio to chase after Cesario and return the ring to him. However, Cesario actually left no such ring. The ring belongs to the Countess herself. She is just trying desperately to find a way to get Cesario to come back to her. She hopes that Cesario will return for an explanation. Time and again Shakespeare reveals that love often causes one to act foolishly and irrationally. In the conflict of love vs. reason, love is the more powerful force. Olivia herself realizes that she is being irrational:
I do not know what, and fear to find Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind. (278-79)

In these metaphorical lines, the eye refers to love (for love enters through the eyes) and the mind represents reason. The eye has flattered reason: the eye has convinced reason to be unreasonable and to feel love. Love is an emotion: it is an irrational entity that reason cannot control. The first act ends with Olivia declaring that she cannot control herself or the situation. She is a victim of destiny:
Fate show thy force. Ourselves we do not owe. (280) 51

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

The word owe here actually is poetical expression for own. Olivia is expressing the idea that people cannot own or control their own lives, their own destiny. Shakespeare frequently expresses the belief in Fate as an overwhelming and potent force in the universe that is beyond the control of any man or woman. People cannot control their feelings of love any more than they can control the time and place of their birth. Everyone is a victim to fate.


Act II, Scene 1: The Other Twin The second act begins with a scene in which the audience learns about the fate of Violas twin brother, Sebastian. A man by the name of Antonio rescued Sebastian from the sea. Antonio brings Sebastian to the coast of Illyria, and there Sebastian describes his adventures. Sebastian tells Antonio that he comes from a respectable family and that he has a twin sister whom, he believes, was drowned. Sebastian believes that he suffers from a terrible fate or destiny (line 3: my stars shine darkly over me), and so he warns Antonio to leave him. However, Antonio becomes a loyal friend who intends to help Sebastian recover his good fortune (luck). Sebastian decides to go to Count Orsinos court to see what help he may find there. Although Antonio will remain as Sebastians friend, he must keep himself hidden: I have enemies in Orsinos court (39). Antonio had fought in the wars against Illyria, and he was an accomplished soldier well known to his enemies. Thus, he is not safe in Illyria. However, he does not wish to leave Sebastian. So, Antonio enters the city but does not go to Orsinos court with his new friend.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act II, Scene 2: Violas Soliloquy Malvolio catches up with Cesario (Viola) on the road and presents him with the ring from the Countess Olivia. Cesario is confused about the ring and refuses to take it. The ill-tempered Malvolio then throws the ring on the ground and hurries off. Viola picks up the ring and then speaks her thoughts (a soliloquy) about what Olivia means by the ring. In the first part of the soliloquy, Viola realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with her:
I left no ring with her. What means this lady? Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her! She made good view of me, indeed so much That straight methought her eyes had lost her tongue, For she did speak in starts distractedly. She loves me, sure: the cunning of her passion Invites me in this churlish messenger. None of my lords ring! Why, he sent her none. I am the man. If it be soas tis Poor lady, she were better love a dream! (15-24)

Viola recalls the way Olivia spoke and acted when they were together. Viola realizes that Olivia viewed her appearance her outside closely and spoke in an awkward or distracted manner. The expression cunning of her passion suggests that someone who is very much in love becomes cunning or clever in attempting ways to be with the person whom he or she loves. Viola realizes that Olivia sent the churlish

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

(rude or ill-natured) Malvolio with the ring as a trick to get her to return. Viola concludes that it would be better for Olivia to love a man in a dream, for Cesario does not really exist. He is a fantasy created by Viola. Viola then begins to believe that disguising herself as a man was a mistake, and she also then launches into a commentary about the frailty of women:
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness Wherein the pregnant enemy does much. How easy is it for the proper-false In womens waxen hearts to set their forms! Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we, For such as we are made of, such we be. How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly, And I, poor monster, fond as much on him, And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me. What will become of this? As I am man, My state is desperate for my masters love. As I am woman, now alas the day! What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe! O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me tuntie! (25-39)

Viola realizes that using a disguise is one type of deception and that deception is a trick of the devil. She refers to the devil as a pregnant enemy, for the devil is always full and ready to conceive new deceptions with which to trick mankind. Viola then makes a generalization (broad statement) about the weakness or frailty of all

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

women: women are easily deceived or tricked by false men. Many men will tell women that they love them when they do not really mean it, but the women press these men into their hearts. They fall in love with them and believe they are speaking the truth. In short, women are easily tricked or deceived into believing something that is not true. And Cesario is something that is not true. Viola does not know what to do about this problem. She wonders what will happen next (suggested by the word fadge). Viola also refers to herself as a monster. In Greek mythology monsters were usually half man and half animal (the minotaur, for example, was half man and half bull). Viola is half man and half woman, but she also has gotten herself into a monstrous situation. Viola has created a monstrous love triangle. Viola realizes that as long as she disguises herself as a man, her love for Orsino is hopeless (desperate). She can never win Orsinos love in that disguise. However, because she really is a woman, Olivias own situation is also hopeless or desperate. Olivia can never and will never have Cesario. Viola does not know what to do. She decides, in a sense, to do nothing. She leaves it up to time to untangle or resolve the problem. In essence, she is leaving it up to Fate. Some literary critics disapprove of Viola because she is a passive character in this situation. She is not a forceful character who takes action to solve her difficulties.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Viola is unlike Rosalind, the heroine in As You Like It. Rosalind also disguises herself as a male, but she uses her disguise to improve her situation and change her fate. However, one should, perhaps, not be too critical of Viola at this juncture; for there are times in everyones life in the lives of both women and men when fate steps in and is too powerful a force to control or manipulate. Shakespeare is suggesting that Viola is facing one of these times.

Act II, Scene 3: The Song of the Fool Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are inside the house of the Countess at night, and they are already quite drunk as the scene opens. There are some jokes about the merits of staying awake all night, and the verbal humor continues when Feste joins them. Much of Festes humor is verbal nonsense, but his best joke is one that will not make much sense to modern audiences. When Feste enters, he greets Sir Andrew and Sir Toby with the following line:
Did you never see the picture of we three? (14-15)

This is an example of contemporary humor a joke that would be easily understood by the people of Shakespeares own time. A person would approach another and ask if he would like to see a picture of three asses or three fools. Receiving the picture, he

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

would see only two asses or two fools on it. The third ass or fool was the person holding the picture. This practical joke was well known in Shakespeares time, but of course is no longer well known today. Feste is obviously implying that the three fools are Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and himself. Feste may have already had a drink, or two, himself, for he quickly joins in the merriment and foolishness of the two drunken knights. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew each give Feste a coin and ask him to sing a love song. The fools, as this scene suggest, do not earn a salary but rather live on tips or gratuities. That would explain why Feste often visits the Dukes palace to make extra money. Renaissance comedies were often full of music, song, and dance. The people living in those hard times wanted light entertainment to make them forget their problems and worries. Festes love song suggests that a person should love when he or she is young and take advantage of the present moment and not concern himself with the future:
Whats to come is still unsure. In delay there lies no plenty. (45-46)

The future is uncertain or unsure. Love may not be available (no plenty) if one waits or delays. Feste is encouraging his listeners to take advantage of love when the occasion arises, for tomorrow the occasion may no longer exist. These lines directly apply to the


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

situation of the Countess Olivia. Olivia may lose her chance at love if she waits too long. The last line of the song also applies to Olivias situation:
Youths a stuff will not endure. (48)

Youth is brief. One gets old far too quickly. If Olivia waits for seven years before she thinks about love, she will have wasted her youth. She will no longer be so young, and perhaps she will no longer be so beautiful.

Act II, Scene 3: The Stewards Scorn

The three fools are singing loudly and shouting in their drunkenness at this point, and Maria comes in to tell them to be quiet. The Countess Olivia, still in mourning, does not wish to be disturbed by the revels of Sir Toby and his associates. Maria tries to warn them that Olivia will have all of them thrown out if they do not behave, but she is too late. The sour and ill-willed Malvolio also enters.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Malvolios scolding is most stern:

My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my ladys house, that ye squeak out your coziers catches without any mitigation or remorse of your voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you? (78-83)

The reference to tinkers indicates the loud noise that the three fools are making. A tinker was a maker, repairer, or seller of metal household utensils. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, most likely, have been banging on the pots and pans as if they were drums to keep time with the music. A cozier (alternative spelling of cosier) was an inept tailor who would botch his work. Malvolio is using the term generally to mean guildsmen or illiterate craftsmen The word catches refers to short songs or comic songs. Malvolio thus implies that the songs that Sir Toby and Feste are singing are the songs of the common rabble and do not belong in the house of a countess. Being drunk, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would bray their lyrics in an off-key manner. Their singing is definitely not refined or pleasant. Malvolio is also telling them to lower their voices. He is really telling them to be quiet. On the one hand, Malvolios point is a valid one. Sir Toby and the others are guests in the house of the Countess, and they are acting in a most

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

disrespectful way. But symbolically, Malvolio is the counterpart to Sir Toby. Where Sir Toby, as the King of Fools, represents fun and good cheer and gaiety, Malvolio represents somberness and sobriety and seriousness. There is no joyfulness in Malvolio: he is the spirit of grimness. More to the point, during the Renaissance Malvolio may be overlooking the distinction between classes. Sir Toby is an aristocrat, Malvolio is a commoner. Although Malvolio, as steward to the countess, has the duty to deliver her messages, he does not have the right to deliver them in such a rude and scornful manner. Thus, Sir Toby, even though he is drunk, has a right to criticize Malvolio:
Art any more than a steward? (102-03)

Sir Toby is telling Malvolio that he is a commoner, and as such he should know his place. Malvolio realizes that he cannot control Sir Toby and the rest. So the steward exits with the weak threat that he shall inform the Countess Olivia about their behavior.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act II, Scene 3: Marias Scheme Because Malvolio also criticized and threatened Maria, she wants to get revenge against him (lines 120-22). Maria wants to play a trick on Malvolio that will embarrass and humiliate him. Maria informs Sir Toby and Sir Andrew that Malvolio is a Puritan (line 125). A Puritan was a Christian who wanted to purify or simplify his religious faith. They believed that their churches should be plain and simple without expensive ornamentation of any kind. They were severe and strict in their beliefs. Like the Christians of the Middle Ages, they believed that their sole purpose on earth was to prepare themselves for the afterlife for life in heaven. So, the Puritans wore plain and simple clothes black, white, or gray and did not believe that mankind should waste their time with art or fun. They believed in work and prayer and little else. Among other things, the Puritans were against the theater. Puritans did not go to the theater because they believed that dramatic plays were frivolous and sacrilegious. Obviously, playwrights and actors were not fond of the Puritans; and Puritans were often made into comic characters on the stage. In fact, most of the people in England were not fond of the sanctimonious and proud Puritans either; and so theater audiences were always ready to criticize and laugh at Puritan characters on stage. Even if Malvolio were not a Puritan, he is a sour individual who wishes to suppress all fun and

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

merriment. He is an anti-comic force. Thus, Renaissance audiences would readily agree that Malvolio should be humiliated. Marias scheme involves writing a love letter. Maria knows that Malvolio is secretly in love with the Countess Olivia. Maria also knows how to forge or imitate the writing style of Olivia. So, Maria plans to write a somewhat obscure or cryptic letter that suggests or hints that Olivia loves Malvolio. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby will drop the letter in the garden at a spot where Malvolio will be sure to find it. And then Malvolio will believe what he reads in the letter and make a fool out of himself. The revenge scheme against Malvolio becomes, then, a subplot of the play.

Act II, Scene 3: A Note on Sir Toby After Maria leaves the room, Sir Toby advises Sir Andrew to send for more money (161-62). Being poor, Sir Toby relies on Sir Andrew to help him buy wine and other alcoholic beverages. Thus, Sir Toby does not want Sir Andrew to leave. Sir Toby then is taking advantage of Sir Andrew and is using him for his own selfish purposes. In a sense, he is similar to Iago in the tragedy of Othello. Iago took advantage of a man named Roderigo. Iago told Roderigo that he would help him win the love of the lady Desdemona, but that he needed money to achieve this goal. However, Iago never spent the

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

money on gifts for the lady. He kept Roderigos money for himself. Sir Toby, however, is not quite as despicable as is Iago. Where Iago realizes that Roderigo will never win the love of Desdemona, Sir Toby (perhaps because he is so drunk) actually thinks there is a chance for Sir Andrew to obtain the Countess Olivia as his wife. In fact, Sir Toby strongly desires for this match to happen so that he can continue to freeload off of the bounty of the Countess. Sir Toby wishes to live off of the wealth of the countess. Sir Toby simply wishes to keep his cup full.

Act II, Scene 4: Women Are as Roses Back in the palace the Duke is still melancholy and emotionally distraught because of his unrequited love. As he listens to some music with his new young page, the Duke asks Cesario (Viola) if he has ever been in love. Cesario responds that he does love a woman and admits that this woman is about the same age as the Duke (at line 27). Of course, this person that Cesario is referring to is exactly the same age as the Duke, for Viola is subtly referring to the Duke himself. Of course, Duke Orsino has no idea about this; and, so he warns the young Cesario to love a woman who is younger than himself. The Duke explains that the affections (fancies in line 32) of men are more giddy and unfirm than those of

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

women. He is implying that men are more fickle than women, that men lose interest in women as the women get older:
For women are as roses, whose fair flower Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour. (37-38)

With this simile Orsino is declaring that the beauty of women does not last for very long. Like a flower that has reached full bloom, the beauty is short-lived. The flower shortly afterwards withers and its petals start to fall. Womens beauty also fades as they get older, and fickle men lose interest in them. Some critics refer to lines such as these as proof that Shakespeare no longer loved his wife. William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 because she was pregnant with his child. Shakespeare was only eighteen years of age at that time, but Anne Hathaway was seven or eight years older. However, the cautious reader should be aware that Shakespeare is writing a work of fiction; and not every line should be interpreted as an autobiographical certainty. Shakespeare continued to have additional children with his wife. Moreover, he provided them with an expensive house and attended to all of their needs. There is no actual proof that Shakespeare did not love his wife throughout his natural life.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act II, Scene 4: A Good Voyage of Nothing Feste enters at this time, and the Duke asks him to sing a song that he (the Duke) is particularly fond of. Feste then sings a sad song about unrequited love in which the sad lover thinks about his own lonely and dismal death. The Duke finds the song pleasing, and he rewards Feste with a handful of coins. As Feste exits, he comments that he hopes the Duke will find some relief from his melancholy and sadness. Feste then, in a metaphor, describes the Dukes mind as an opal (74). The opal is a good choice. On the one hand, it is a translucent or semitransparent gemstone. Feste is declaring that he can obviously see the melancholy that consumes the Duke. On the other hand, an opal can also be cloudy or murky. The Dukes thoughts are also clouded by his passions for Olivia. Feste then adds a philosophical quip about constancy:
I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything, and their intent everywhere, for thats it that always makes a good voyage of nothing. (74-76)

Feste is suggesting that constancy in love remaining true in a situation of unrequited love is a good voyage of nothing. In other words, remaining true to a woman who does not return that love produces nothing of value. Nothing good comes out of it. A sailor who is out at sea must attend to the

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

shifting currents and the changing winds. Trying to maintain a single course without paying attention to the winds and currents could mean disaster. Feste is suggesting that Duke Orsino is like that. The Duke is maintaining a steady course and is ignoring the winds and currents of life. The Duke is heading toward disaster. Thus, Feste hopes that the Duke will change his mind and his behavior.

Act II, Scene 4: Men vs. Women in Matters of Love After Feste and the other attendants exit, Duke Orsino and Cesario have a discussion or debate about the differences between men and women in matters of love. The debate begins when Orsino requests Cesario to return to the estate of the Countess Olivia and attempt again to deliver his messages of love. The Duke wants the Countess to know that he is not attracted to her wealth and property but rather that he is attracted to her own natural qualities. However, Cesario suggests that the Countess Olivia may not be able to feel any love for the Duke (at line 85). The Duke then responds that he cannot accept such a response. So then Cesario puts forward the notion that what if there existed a woman who was in love with the Duke. Cesario adds that the Duke should suppose that this womans love was as great as that which the Duke has for the Countess, but

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

also that the Duke did not love her. Cesario asks whether that woman should accept the Dukes refusal of her. Of course, this woman is not just an imaginary or theoretical construct. The woman is really Viola (disguised as Cesario). Viola is wondering how the Duke would respond if she revealed her true identity and revealed her love to him. But the Duke thinks such a woman is just imaginary, and he responds with a generalization regarding the ability of women to love:
There is no womans sides Can bide the beating of so strong a passion As love doth give my heart. (91-93)

The Duke, who is speaking emotionally rather than rationally, is claiming that women do not love as intensely as do men. Literally, he is claiming that his heart is so beating passionately in his love for Olivia that a womans body (sides) would not be strong enough to contain such a heart. The Duke even compares the love of women to appetite or hunger. He is suggesting that a womans love is easily satisfied. He is suggesting that their love is not as deep and as complex as that of a mans love. The Duke emphasizes his distinction with metaphors to the palate and liver (lines 95-96). True love, according to some Renaissance sages, comes from the liver (just as some people suggest with the heart in the modern age). The palate, the mouth, represents only superficial desire and is easily satisfied. The

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Duke also claims that women are not as constant or as faithful as men, and he concludes with the simile that his love is as hungry as the sea (98). The sea can continuously swallow objects from land without ever being full. The Duke is declaring that his love will never be as easily satisfied as a womans love can be. Viola (as Cesario) argues the point. Keeping her identity hidden, Viola relates that her father had a daughter who loved a man (106). Of course, Viola is referring to herself, and the man refers to the Duke. However, the Duke assumes that Cesario is talking about a sister and some other man. Cesario then relates how his fathers daughter pined and sorrowed because of her unrequited love:
She never told her love, But let concealment, like a worm in the bud, Feed on her damask cheek. (109-11)

The simile of unrequited love being like a worm is an excellent image. The worm destroys the beauty of the rose before it ripens and reaches full bloom. The word damask indicates the rose, which was often used to describe the beauty of a woman during the Renaissance (her white skin and red cheeks like that of white and red roses). The bud represents the beauty of the young woman. Before the young woman blossoms into a beautifully mature woman, her feelings of unrequited love have caused her to pine and mourn and grow pale and weak. Her feelings have destroyed her beauty.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Viola then proceeds to describe her fathers daughter in a state of melancholy and utter sadness sitting like a statue representing patience (112-13). The word patience describes Violas role in the play. She sits passively waiting for fate or some other force to come to her rescue. Viola then expresses her main point:
We men may say more, swear more, but indeed Our shows are more than our will; for still we prove Much in our vows, but little in our love. (115-17)

Simply put, actions speak louder than words! In this passage, the word shows means actions, the word will means desires, and the word still means always. Viola is declaring that men may say more, swear more, and vow more than do women; however, their actions do not live up to their words. No matter how much a man may say about the greatness of his love, his actions always prove that his love is neither so strong nor so constant. A woman will spend her lifetime in mourning for a lost love, a man will not. The Duke is moved by Cesarios words and asks if his sister died from her grief. However, Cesario (Viola) must answer I know not (120). The story is not over yet. The conclusion of this tale of the fathers daughter is still unfinished.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act II, Scene 5: The Love Letter The fifth scene takes place in the garden of Countess Olivia. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are joined by another servant named Fabian, who also wishes to play a trick on Malvolio. Maria enters and places the love letter which she herself had written in a spot on the ground where Malvolio will surely be able to spot it. After Maria exits, the three men hide just before Malvolio comes into the garden. The haughty and proud Malvolio is daydreaming. He is imagining himself as the husband of the Countess Olivia. He imagines ordering the servants to perform his every whim. In his imagination, Malvolio orders the servants to bring Sir Toby before him; and he also imagines Sir Toby bowing down before him (at line 55). Of course, Malvolio does not realize that Sir Toby himself is hiding nearby and can hear his every word. Sir Toby, of course, becomes angry when he hears Malvolios comments about himself. Malvolio continues to imagine himself reprimanding or scolding Sir Toby about his drunken behavior and about his having a foolish knight (meaning Sir Andrew: line 69) as his constant companion. Malvolio then sees Marias letter, picks it up, and reads it. In this false love letter, in which Maria has duplicated the handwriting of the Countess, Maria has written the following:


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

M.O.A.I. doth sway my life. (97)

Although the four letters do not really mean anything, the arrogant Malvolio assumes that the M stands for Malvolio and that the other letters are some kind of code because the Countess Olivia does not want to reveal the name of the man who sways her or influences her feelings. Maria also considers the difference in class and status and tricks Malvolio into thinking that these distinctions are not important:
In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. (125-27)

The word stars refers to fate or destiny. In reading this, Malvolio believes that the Countess thinks that he is as great as any aristocrat. Malvolio already believes that he is a great person who just has not had the opportunity to reveal his abilities but that Olivia will thrust greatness upon him by marrying him. As a side note, the reader should recognize that the some are born great passage is a famous line that is often quoted out of context usually without the irony that appears in the play. The lines are ironic because Malvolio is not great; he is just proud and pompous. In addition to convincing Malvolio that he is a great man and that the Countess wants to marry him,


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Maria adds some other clever touches to the letter. The writer of the love letter advises Malvolio 1. To quarrel with Sir Toby (Olivias kinsman) 2. To be surly or rude with the servants 3. To be opinionated (arguments of state) 4. To wear yellow stockings 5. To wear cross-garters 6. To smile continuously Malvolio does most of these actions already, but now he will believe that the Countess supports him in all of his rudeness and odd behavior. So, he will be even ruder and more opinionated from this time on. What Malvolio does not know (but what Maria does know) is that the Countess Olivia detests the sight of yellow stockings and cross garters. She will not be happy when she sees Malvolio wearing these items. Moreover, because Malvolio is a Puritan, the use of bright colors is a contrast to the dark and somber colors that Puritans are supposed to wear. The stocking and garters will make Malvolio look like a clown, like a fool. That is precisely what Maria wants to do to make Malvolio appear foolish before the Countess. Finally, because the Countess Olivia is in mourning, the smiling face of anyone around her will appear presumptuous, insolent, and rude. The Countess will think that Malvolio has gone mad. The letter works. Malvolio believes that all of the advice comes directly from the Countess, and so

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

he asserts that he will do all that is asked of him. Malvolio will become a willing fool. Sir Toby is so pleased with the cleverness and the result of Marias letter that he tells Sir Andrew
I could marry the wench for this device. (158) And ask no other dowry but such another jest. (160)

The word wench means girl or female servant and refers specifically to Maria. The lines are important not only because they reveal that Sir Toby is pleased with the trick and that he appreciates the cleverness of Maria. The lines are also important because they reveal that Sir Toby prizes something as more valuable than money or liquor. The word dowry refers to a substantial sum of money or property that a bride or brides father would have to present to the groom before he would agree to the marriage. A large dowry was expected in any aristocratic marriage. In these lines, then, Sir Toby reveals that he values cleverness over wealth and property. Sir Toby additionally tells Maria (when she appears to them at line 161) that he would willingly gamble his freedom away and become her bondslave (166). He is referring to his freedom as an unmarried man, and humorously referring to husbands as being slaves. The cautious Maria does not take him seriously, however, and ignores the references to marriage. But the careful reader should note that despite Sir Tobys faults, he is unusual in a

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

positive way in that he disregards class distinctions in his evaluation of people and in his views of marriage.


Act III, Scene 1: Witty Banter Feste the Clown encounters Cesario in Olivias garden, and some clever dialogue and witty banter follows. Feste makes a remark that words and phrases are often turned inside out that is, they are often misused or misunderstood. Viola (as Cesario) agrees:
VIOLA FESTE VIOLA FESTE They that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton. I would therefore my sister had no name. Why, man? Why, sir, her names a word, and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton. (13-18)

The word dally means play or abuse, the word nicely means foolishly or subtly, and the word wanton means corrupt or meaningless. Viola is thus suggesting that playing with words or language may cause those words to become meaningless or useless (Shakespeare could also be subtly referring to bad playwrights in these lines). The word wanton, though, has another meaning: unchaste (not a virgin). Feste cleverly agrees with Viola and at the same time provides an example of how to play subtly with language and corrupt its meaning. The word would in Festes line means wish. Feste humorously suggests that any man who jokes about his sister by saying her name would therefore cause her to lose her

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

virginity. Of course, the notion is absurd and preposterous. Yet, at the same time, Feste cleverly shows how to dally with words and to turn the meaning inside out. In this dialogue, and elsewhere throughout the play, Shakespeare presents a theme on language. Words are often false or mean something other than what the speaker literally says. The words of a lover may also be false, and even the promises or vows of an aristocrat may be worthless. There is also a theme on foolishness. Viola asks Feste if she had not seen him recently at the palace of the Duke. Feste responds by saying that foolery shines everywhere (34-35). Feste has a double meaning: (1) he, the fool, appears to be everywhere; (2) foolish behavior appears everywhere. Feste is, of course, referring to the foolish or mad behavior of both the Duke and the Countess.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

After Feste exits, Viola presents a soliloquy in which she praises fools:
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool, And to do that well craves a kind of wit. He must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons, and the time, And, like the haggard, check at every feather That comes before his eye. This is a practice As full of labour as a wise mans art, For folly that he wisely shows is fit, But wise men, folly-falln, quite taint their wit. (53-61)

Many critics consider that writing comedy is easier than writing tragedy. But Shakespeare realized that writing clever, witty comedy could be every bit as difficult (and perhaps even more difficult) than writing tragedy. In a sense, Shakespeares praise of fools in this soliloquy is also praise of good comedy. One of Shakespeares outstanding characteristics as a playwright is his characterization. To create such marvelous characters, Shakespeare had to be a keen observer of people and insightful about their motivations. In this passage Viola is suggesting that the fool also requires this same keen observational skill and insight into people if that fool hopes to be successful. Such keenness of observation is indicated by the metaphor to the wild hawk (the word haggard here refers to the hawk). The hawk is a successful hunting bird not only because it is strong and fast. Such a bird can also observe small animals

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

from great distances. The hawk pays attention to every detail as does the great writer of plays and the successful fool. Folly is an art form, and only a great fool or jester is truly a master of such an art form. But, as Viola concludes, many men who consider themselves to be wise are actually quite foolish (fallen into folly) and display a lack of humor and cleverness when they attempt to be witty.

Act III, Scene 1: Olivias Declaration of Love The scene (Act III, Scene 1) ends with another dialogue between Olivia and Cesario (Viola). Olivia asks Cesario not to speak about Count Orsino anymore. Rather, the Countess desires that Cesario undertake another suit (100). She is asking Cesario to be a suitor for himself. The Countess will gladly listen if Cesario wants to speak words of love to her. The Countess Olivia is very direct and open here: there is no maiden modesty. She is now a victim of Cupids arrow: she herself has become an unrequited lover; and now she is as irrational as Duke Orsino. Olivia apologizes for the deception (or trick) of the ring. She knows that it was improper for a lady, an aristocrat, to resort to such subterfuge (tricks). Olivia also realizes that it was dishonorable for a lady to do this, and she worries that Cesario will think of her as completely lacking in honor. But she could not help herself: her mind was defeated by her tyrannous heart (112). Again Shakespeare asserts

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

the Reason vs. Emotion (or Mind vs. Heart) conflict. Emotion is not only stronger than reason, but it is a tyrant that can force reason to bend to its will. Olivia is explaining that she cannot control herself. She is a victim of her emotions. Before Cesario responds, Olivia adds that a cypress hides my heart (113-14). The word cypress has a double meaning. First, it is a long silken veil that would be covering not only her face but also hanging down low enough to cover her bosom. Second, the cypress tree was a symbol of mourning. Olivia is explaining that her state of mourning is only on the outside. Inside are her feelings of love. Cesario declares that he pities Olivia but that he definitely does not love her. Olivia is hurt by Cesarios response, and she unsuccessfully attempts to accept his words:

Why then, methinks tis time to smile again. (118)

Olivia is declaring that she can easily cast aside the melancholy sadness of the unrequited lover and smile once more. Of course, she cannot really do so; and her next lines reveal the pain that she is experiencing:


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

O world, how apt the poor are to be proud! If one should be a prey, how much the better To fall before the lion than the wolf! (119-21)

Olivia is, of course, upset. She declares to the world (or to the heavens) that Cesario is foolishly proud (because he is poor) to deny the love of a lady who has wealth, beauty, and position. The reader should also note that Olivia is suggesting the same fault that Cesario had earlier applied to her. Cesario had stated (in Act I, Scene 5: 219) that Olivia rejected Orsino because of her pride. However, in neither case is pride the true reason for the rejection. Olivia also uses the double metaphor of the lion and the wolf to express her feelings. The lion represents Count Orsino, and the wolf represents Cesario. A lion is connotatively a proud and noble animal, but the wolf is vicious and savage. Olivia is declaring that she wishes she had fallen in love with Orsino because Ceaarios words are cruel and savage to her. Cesarios words are tearing Olivia apart. Olivia tries again to accept the situation. She tries to accept Cesarios rejection calmly and honorably (lines 122-26). But, in an aside (words that reveal her thoughts and thus are not heard by Cesario), Olivia thinks that the angry and scornful frown on Cesarios face makes him look even more beautiful (line 136). She cannot resist her desire. In the aside Olivia also asserts
Loves night is noon. (139)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Although nighttime is dark and usually hides objects and people, the Countess cannot hide her feelings of love. For someone in love, it is always daytime. She (or he) cannot hide her feelings. Thus, unable to control her passion any longer, Olivia boldly declares her love to Cesario:
I love thee so that maugre all thy pride, Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide. (142-43)

The word maugre means despite; and the first time nor is used, it means neither. Reason vs. Passion (or Emotion): emotion wins once again. However, Cesario, who is really the female Viola, cannot love the Countess. Viola realizes that she cannot convince the irrational Countess to be reasonable; and so she decides to leave, informing Olivia that she will never return again. The scene ends with the Countess still begging for Cesario to return.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act III, Scene 2: Put Fire in Your Heart Sir Andrew is once again realizing that the Countess Olivia has no feelings for him, and so he once again thinks about leaving the estate. When Sir Toby asks his companion why he is leaving, Sir Andrew responds that he had seen the Countess with Cesario in the orchard and that the Countess appears to be more enamored of him than of Sir Andrew. Of course, Sir Andrew, despite his lack of cleverness, is correct. He should trust his instincts. But his leaving would upset Sir Tobys plans; and so, once again, Sir Toby convinces him to stay. Sir Toby argues that the Countess was only paying attention to Cesario because she wanted to make Sir Andrew jealous. With Sir Andrew is the servant Fabian, who agrees with Sir Toby. Fabian adds that the Countess was only trying to give Sir Andrew an opportunity to show his valor and manhood and that Sir Andrew should have challenged Cesario. However, as Fabian explains, Sir Andrew has missed a golden opportunity:
You are now sailed into the north of my ladys opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchmans beard unless you do redeem it by some laudable attempt either of valour or policy. (21-24)

In the far north the weather is extremely cold. Fabian is metaphorically indicating that because Sir Andrew missed the opportunity of showing his manhood, the

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Countess will now be very cold towards him she will no longer care for him. The reference to the Dutchmans beard is a topical (contemporary) reference to the Dutch explorers who investigated the Arctic regions in 1596. Fabian suggests that the only way Sir Andrew can win the Countess now is to perform some extremely brave or clever act. Of course, this will be difficult for Sir Andrew, who is neither brave nor clever. Sir Toby then suggests that the best course of action is for Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel and that Sir Andrew should immediately write a letter of challenge in an eloquent and inventive manner to provoke the youth into accepting that challenge (lines 35-42). After Sir Andrew leaves to go and write his letter, Sir Toby and Fabian exchange the following dialogue:
FABIAN SIR TOBY This is a dear manikin to you, Sir Toby. I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong or so. (45-47)

Fabian recognizes that Sir Andrew is a fop or a fool, and he describes Sir Andrew with the metaphor of a manikin (or puppet). He is suggesting that Sir Andrew is empty inside and incapable of anything. Fabian is hinting that Sir Toby should have a more worthy companion. The dialogue contains a pun on the word dear. Fabian uses the word sarcastically or ironically to mean cherished or esteemed. Sir Toby uses the word to mean expensive. Sir Toby blatantly

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

admits that he has taken over two thousand pounds (an extremely large sum of money) from Sir Andrew. Sir Toby can endure the company of Sir Andrew because Sir Andrew provides for his needs (especially his need for drink). Sir Toby does admit to Fabian that he has no intention of delivering the letter of challenge to Cesario and that he does not believe anyone could get the cowardly Sir Andrew to ever actually fight a duel. Sir Toby strongly believes there will never be a duel. Sir Toby and Fabian are just simply playing a joke on Sir Andrew. The second scene ends with Maria entering the stage and informing Sir Toby about the success of her love letter to Malvolio. Maria reveals that the foolish Malvolio is behaving exactly in all of the dreadful manners that she had written in the letter. Sir Toby is excited by this and wants to see Malvolio for himself. Earlier, in the dialogue between Viola and Feste, there was the suggestion that words often do not mean what they appear to mean on the surface (part of the language theme). This scene indicates two examples of that idea. Marias love letter to Malvolio was a set of lies written to fool the proud Puritan, and Sir Toby and Fabians comments to Sir Andrew were also mistruths spoken to fool the gullible Sir Andrew. Playing tricks and fooling people contributes to the carnivalesque atmosphere of the play [noted earlier in the Introduction, pages


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

14-15]. Everybody in the play is either mad or ready to engage in fun and frolicsome behavior.

Act III, Scene 3: A Tourist in the City Sebastian, the brother of Viola, is now in the city of Illyria with his companion Antonio. Sebastian wants to go sight-seeing. He wants to see what is novel or interesting in the town. Antonio, however, explains that he cannot join them because of the recent wars between his own country and Illyria. Antonio was a fierce soldier; and, because of that, he is well known to the soldiers of Illyria. If they should see him, they would immediately take him prisoner. So, Antonio decides to keep himself hidden while Sebastian explores the town. And, because Sebastian has no money of his own, Antonio lends him his money bag (purse). Antonio tells Sebastian to meet up with him later at an inn (a tavern and lodging house) called The Elephant. The scene sets up a difficulty for Antonio later in the play. Antonio does not think he will need any money during the time that he is away from Sebastian. Antonio, though, is very much mistaken.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act III, Scene 4: Yellow Stockings In order to proceed with her plan, Maria warns the Countess that Malvolio has been acting strangely and even madly in recent days. When the Countess meets up with the steward, he is wearing yellow stockings and cross-garters. Moreover, he continually wears a large and foolish grin on his face. In explanation, Malvolio subtly alludes to the love letter (line 25). Of course, the Countess has no idea what he is talking about. Olivia believes that Malvolio is acting a little crazy and needs some rest:
OLIVIA MALVOLIO Wilt though go to bed, Malvolio? [kissing his hand] To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and Ill come to thee. (27-29)

Olivia wants her steward to get some sleep. However, Malvolio pounces on the word bed, thinking that Olivia wants to sleep with him. Malvolio continues to act in an inexplicable and irrational manner, and the Countess has no idea what has happened to him. Thus, she exclaims
Why, this is very midsummer madness. (52)

In England, Midsummer Eve occurs on June 23. Twelfth Night, on the other hand, occurs on January 6. However, neither date is really important. Shakespeare uses Twelfth Night and Midsummer Eve as symbols to indicate times of holiday and carnival times when people celebrate and engage in

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

foolish and even mad behavior. Olivia is simply declaring Malvolio to be acting madly. So, the Countess asks Maria to take good care of him. After the Countess and Maria exit, Malvolio presents a soliloquy in prose. In his foolishness and pride, he believes that he is being successful in his suit of love for the Countess. And he thanks Jove for that success (line 76). Jove is another name for Jupiter (the Roman king of the gods and the equivalent to the Greek god Zeus). Malvolio is using Jove as a substitute for fate. Malvolio believes that fate has chosen to make him prosperous and successful. Malvolio has gone mad because of his foolish hopes and desires. Sir Toby, Maria, and Fabian come to attend to him; but Malvolio acts wildly and crazily. In fact, they even think that Malvolio possibly is bewitched (93). They also think that possibly the devil is affecting the steward. So, Sir Toby warns Malvolio:
What man, tis not for gravity to play at the cherry pit with Satan. Hang him, foul collier! (105-06)

The reference to cherry-pit refers to a childrens game in which cherry pits were thrown into a hole. Of course, if the devil is at the bottom of that hole, such a game would be dangerous. Sir Toby is warning Malvolio that he should stay away from Satan. Sir Toby also curses the devil. The word collier literally refers to a workman who digs coal or delivers coal. Such workmen usually became

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

covered in black coal dust. In Renaissance imagery, Satan was usually depicted to be black and living in the fiery pits of hell. Thus, calling Satan a collier is a way of disgracing him. Sir Toby and the others agree to lock Malvolio up in a dark room (121). Since the Countess already believes Malvolio to be mad, they can tell her that they are locking up Malvolio for his own safety and that of others. Of course, they really wish to get revenge against Malvolio for all of the mean-spirited words that he had spoken against them.

Act III, Scene 4: The Challenge to the Duel Sir Andrew returns to the stage at this point with his letter challenging Cesario to a duel. Sir Toby reads the letter out loud and commends Sir Andrew for writing such a fine challenge. Sir Toby then tells Sir Andrew to go out to the orchard and watch for Cesario. After Sir Andrew exits, Sir Toby states a much different opinion of the letter:
Therefore this letter, being so excellently ignorant, will breed no terror in the youth. He will find it comes from a clodpoll. (166-68)

In other words, Cesario will think the letter was written by a fool. The word clodpoll means blockhead or idiot (clod means oaf or fool, and poll means the back or top of the head). Even when he is


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

drunk, Sir Toby is well aware that Sir Andrew is a twit (an idiot). Sir Toby also recognizes that the gentle Cesario appears to be a man of breeding and good manners and that Cesario is clever enough to see that the letter is nonsense. So, Sir Toby decides to throw away the letter and to present Sir Andrews challenge verbally. Sir Toby will tell Cesario that Sir Andrew is a brave and cunning fighter. He will also tell Sir Andrew the same sort of lies about Cesario. Sir Toby believes that both men will become so frightened that no duel will actually take place. Sir Toby and the others exit on one side of the stage at the same time that Olivia and Viola (still disguised as Cesario) enter from the other side. Olivia is still attempting to win the love of Cesario, and Cesario is still rejecting her. After the Countess Olivia exits, Sir Toby and Fabian approach Cesario. Sir Toby tells Cesario that he is in danger because he has wronged a very dangerous and vicious man. Cesario decides to go to the Countess and ask her for the protection of some of her men; but Sir Toby warns Cesario that the offended man, who is angry and violent, cannot be avoided and that Cesario must accept his challenge. Naturally, Cesario (Viola) does not wish to fight this angry enemy; so, she asks Sir Toby to go to him and ask why is offended by her (line 226). Sir Toby then approaches Sir Andrew and describes Cesario as a very devil and as a master in sword fighting (lines 243-44). These words scare Sir

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Andrew, and he states that he will not fight against Cesario. Sir Toby, who is greatly enjoying his trick or prank on Sir Andrew, tells the cowardly knight that Cesario is too incensed and angry now and demands to fight. The frightened Sir Andrew then says that he will give Cesario his horse, grey Capulet to avoid the fight (255). Sir Toby says that he will ask Cesario if that is acceptable, but actually Sir Toby intends to keep the horse for himself (probably to sell so that he will have more money to buy liquor). Sir Toby then returns to Cesario and tells him that Sir Andrew must, because his honor is at stake, at least exchange a few passes with their swords. Sir Toby explains that this is the code of dueling, but he adds that Sir Andrew will not hurt you (267). Therefore, Cesario must draw his sword and go through the motions of fighting. Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew the same thing and that Cesario will not harm him (line 274). Thus, both Cesario and Sir Andrew draw their swords, but both are also shaking in their boots because they are both so scared.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act III, Scene 4: Enter Antonio Before Cesario and Sir Andrew begin to fight, Antonio enters. He has been looking for Sebastian. When Antonio sees Cesario (Viola), he thinks that she is her twin brother Sebastian. So, before Sir Andrew can approach Cesario with his sword, Antonio interferes. Antonio draws his own sword and defends Cesario, and then Sir Toby draws his sword to attack Antonio. However, no fighting occurs; for at this point two of Duke Orsinos officers come and recognize Antonio as their enemy. They arrest him. Antonio, still thinking that Viola is Sebastian, asks him to return the money bag (purse at line 301) that he had given him. Antonio needs the money to pay the officers for his release. Viola has no idea what Antonio is talking about. She is grateful that Antonio interfered in the duel, and she offers him a few coins as a way of thanking him. But the money is not enough. Antonio needs all of his money at this point, and he accuses Viola of ingratitude. After all, Antonio had rescued Sebastian, treated him like a brother, and shared his money with him. Of course, Viola does not know any of this. Antonio tells the officers that he had rescued Sebastian, but the officers do not care about that. So, Antonio cries out against Cesario:


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

But O, how vile an idol proves this god! Thou hast, Sebastian, done good feature shame. In nature theres no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind. Virtue is beauty, but the beauteous evil Are empty trunks oer-flourished by the devil. (330-35)

The words this god refer to Sebastian. Antonio had treated Sebastian like a god, he respected Sebastian and gave him all that he could. But now that he needs help from Sebastian, he does not get it. So, he refers to Sebastian as a false god or vile idol (evil god). Antonio adds that despite his good and kindly looks (good feature), Sebastian is acting in a shameful manner. Thus, Sebastian launches into a diatribe (criticism) about true beauty and ugliness. Physical beauty and physical ugliness are not true. True beauty is goodness and virtue. True beauty is a quality that resides within a person. However, a physically beautiful person (the beauteous) could actually be evil inside. Antonio uses the metaphor of the empty trunk to describe such people. The trunk might be brightly decorated and beautifully painted on the outside, but there is nothing on the inside. So, it is worthless. Antonio is suggesting that the beautiful Sebastian, then, is evil and worthless. The officers then lead Antonio away. Viola is, of course, confused by his words. However, when Antonio mentions Sebastian by name, Viola starts to hope that her brother is still


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

alive. She hopes he is alive, but she is uncertain. Viola then exits at this time. Sir Toby is angry with Cesario because he has acted so dishonorably: Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew that Cesario acted disgracefully because he denied knowing his friend (Antonio) and did not help him in his need. Sir Toby adds that Cesario behaved most cowardly. Sir Toby then tells Sir Andrew that Cesario should be beaten because of his bad behavior. But he also warns Sir Andrew never to draw thy sword (356). He is stating that Sir Andrew should punish Cesario, but not kill him. Sir Andrew now believes that Cesario is a coward and is ready to fight him. Sir Toby, however, still thinks that no actual fighting will ever occur between Sir Andrew and Cesario.


Act IV, Scene 1: More Mistaken Identity Feste encounters Sebastian at the beginning of the fourth act. The fool thinks that Sebastian is Cesario and tells him that the Countess Olivia wishes to speak with him. Of course, Sebastian has no idea what Feste is talking about and tells him to go vent thy folly somewhere else (8). Sebastian is telling Feste to go speak his nonsense elsewhere. Feste, however, thinks that Sebastian is deliberately being stubborn or willful. One of the problematic lines in the dialogue that is open to interpretation occurs when Feste responds
Vent my folly I am afraid this great lubber the world will prove a cockney. (11-12)

The word lubber (coming from Middle English lob) means a clod, a lout, or an oaf. Although today the word cockney means a lower-class native of the East End of London (or the dialect they speak), during the Renaissance the word meant a pampered child or a city dweller. Literally, the word is derived from the Middle English cokenei (cock's egg): coken is a blend of cock (cok) and chicken. And ei is another medieval term for egg. Thus, a cocks egg not only suggests someone who is immature but someone who is strange or unnatural. After all, cocks do not lay eggs: chickens do. So, Feste is implying that the world will someday reveal that Cesario (Sebastian) is a very strange oaf. This interpretation makes sense

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

given the line that follows. Feste tells Sebastian to ungird thy strangeness (13). Feste is asking Sebastian to stop pretending that he does not know him. The case of mistaken identity continues when Sir Andrew and Sir Toby appear. They also think that Sebastian is the timid Cesario and attack him. Sebastian has no idea why he is being attacked and he cannot help but ask himself this: Are all the people mad? (24). Of course, Sebastian is a man who is capable of fighting, and he defends himself. Both Sir Toby and Sebastian have drawn their swords when the Countess Olivia appears. She stops the fight and orders Sir Toby to go away. Like the others, Olivia also thinks that Sebastian is Cesario and speaks affectionately to him. Although Sebastian had never seen Olivia before, this madness is most pleasing to him. He believes that either I am mad, or else this is a dream (57). And if it is a dream, then he does not wish to awaken because he is immediately attracted to Olivia.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act IV, Scene 2: Feste Taunts the Steward Maria and the others have locked Malvolio in a dark room or closet which is off stage. Maria encourages Feste to pretend to be Sir Topas the Curate and speak with the steward. A curate is a clergyman or minister. The name of Topas is also symbolic. Geoffrey Chaucer created a comical hero in his poem The Rime of Sir Topas. Thus, Renaissance audiences would associate the name with any comical minister. The topaz is a gemstone that comes in a variety of colors (and some are even colorless). During the Renaissance there was a superstitious belief that a topaz could cure insanity. Since Malvolio is supposedly mad, he thus requires the services of a topaz, or Topas. Feste puts on a false beard and curates outfit in order to become Sir Topas. However, the costume is really unnecessary because Malvolio is in a dark room without any windows. Malvolio cannot see Feste. On the other hand, amusing costumes do contribute to the carnival-like atmosphere of the play. Putting on his costume, Feste makes the following statement:
I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown. (5)

Feste, although he is about to play a light-hearted trick on Malvolio, makes a serious criticism about life. The word would means wish, and the word dissemble means both (1) conceal and (2) deceive.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Feste is commenting that many real curates and ministers are dishonest and deceive and cheat the people that they are supposed to minister to. Feste teases and taunts Malvolio by referring to the steward as a madman. Malvolio protests that he is sane and asks Sir Topas to test his sanity. The following dialogue then takes place:
FESTE MALVOLIO FESTE MALVOLIO FESTE What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl? That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird. What thinkest thou of his opinion? I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion. Thou shalt hold thopinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandma. (44-53)

Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher and mathematician (during the 6th century BC) who believed in reincarnation. Malvolios response is thus a correct one: according to Pythagoras, the soul of his grandmother could inhabit the body of a bird in a later life. Of course, Malvolio is a Christian (as should be Sir Topas) who believes that a soul rises to heaven or descends into hell in the afterlife. Christians do not believe in reincarnation. However, Feste simply wants to taunt Malvolio. So the fool tells the steward that unless he

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

accepts the opinion of Pythagoras regarding reincarnation, he (Feste as Sir Topas) will not believe that Malvolio is sane. The word woodcock refers to a bird that was frequently hunted in England. But the word wood meant both (1) of the woods or forest and (2) crazy or mad. Thus, Feste is suggesting that Malvolio is a crazy bird who is possessed of the soul of his grandmother. To put it simply, Sir Topas refuses to believe Malvolio when he declares that he is not mad. Feste continues to tease Malvolio further. Feste, using his own voice rather than the fake voice of Sir Topas, then speaks to Malvolio. Feste enjoys hearing Malvolio beg him for help. Feste then once again speaks in the fake voice of Sir Topas, who warns Feste not to speak any further with the steward. Although Feste taunts Malvolio, the clown does promise to bring the steward a candle, some paper, and some ink so that Malvolio can write a letter requesting help.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act IV, Scene 3: Soul and Sense Sebastian still cannot believe his amazing but mad luck in having the Countess desire him so strongly even though he had never seen her before. He wonders if perhaps there is some elaborate deception being played upon him. In an opening soliloquy, Sebastian does worry about the missing Antonio. However, the wild and crazy situation involving the Countess Olivia takes up most of his thoughts. He wonders if he is mad:
For though my soul disputes well with my sense That this may be some error but no madness, Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune So far exceed all instance, all discourse, That I am ready to distrust mine eyes And wrangle with my reason that persuades me To any other trust but that I am mad. (9-15)

The soul, a gift from God, is the seat or source of reason, according the Christian belief. The word sense refers to the physical senses, especially hearing and seeing. The expression disputes well in this instance means to be in agreement or accord. Essentially, Sebastian is saying that his thoughts, his reason, suggest that what he is seeing (Olivia) and hearing (her words of love to him) is not a delusion. It is not madness. His reason is telling him that it is an error, a mistake. And Sebastian is right. Olivia mistakenly believes Sebastian to be Cesario.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

However, the mistake or accident is just too fortunate. Sebastian describes it as a flood of fortune, an immense amount of good luck, that exceeds anything he had ever heard about before. An expression or maxim that became popular during the nineteenth century applies to Sebastians situation: too good to be true. Sebastian cannot accept that what is happening can possibly be true. So, he cannot accept what his reason indicates. Therefore, he thinks that he must be mad. After the speech, Olivia enters with a priest. She asks Sebastian to announce formally his engagement to her (suggested by full assurance of your faith at line 26). She also promises to keep the engagement a secret until Sebastian is ready to reveal the news, and they will get married. Sebastian readily submits to the madness and promises to be a true and faithful husband. If it is madness, Sebastian is ready to be mad.



Act V, Scene 1: Two Negatives Make a Positive? The theme on language and the idea that words often do not mean what they seem to mean continues at the opening of the fifth act. Feste offers some witticism regarding friends and foes to Duke Orsino. Feste argues that his enemies or foes are more helpful to him than his friends. In his nonsensical manner, Feste explains that his friends praise him and thereby deceive him. However
My foes tell me plainly I am an ass, so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself. (16-17)

Feste is saying that kind lies are unhelpful but true criticisms can help him to improve himself. Feste is criticizing lies told out of kindness as being yet another example when words are used falsely. Feste concludes his comment on friends and foes in a witty yet complicated manner:
So that, conclusion to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why then the worse for my friends and the better for my foes. (18-20)

In grammar, two negatives makes a positive, more or less (I am not unhappy could mean I am happy). However, the Renaissance joke on this idea occurs when a man asks a shy girl if he can kiss her: her four

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

negatives (no, no, no, no) therefore must mean two affirmatives (yes, yes). Again, Festes example actually reveals the opposite of what it intends. His remark is witty and ironic. A girl may not mean yes, yes when she says no, no, no, no. And, so the Duke, as well as everybody in the audience, has to rethink what Feste is saying. Feste is joking. He says one thing and then proves it to be untrue with his conclusion. Language is deceptive, and so is the witty Feste.

Act V, Scene 1: A Man of Fame and Honor After Feste exits, the Dukes officers enter the stage. They are leading Antonio as their prisoner. Viola (still in her disguise as Cesario) points to Antonio and tells the Duke that he was the one who had rescued her from Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. The Duke recognizes Antonio as his enemy but also notes that Antonio fought valiantly and earned himself fame and honour during the war (line 53). The officers tell their duke that they caught Antonio brawling or fighting in the streets (at line 59). Viola adds that although Antonio helped her, he also spoke some strange words to her which she did not understand. The Duke asks Antonio why he was so foolish to return to return to the country of his enemy. Antonio explains that he is in Illyria because he wished to help that most ingrateful boy there by

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

your side (71). Antonio, of course, still believes that Cesario is Sebastian. Antonio then complains that Cesario, the ungrateful boy, denied knowing Antonio because he (Cesario) was afraid of getting into trouble when the officers arrived. Viola is shocked by Antonios explanation, and the Duke asks Antonio about his relationship with Cesario. When Antonio claims that he has been in the company of Cesario for the past three months, the Duke asserts that his words are madness (93). The Duke himself, of course, has been in the company of Cesario for the past three months. Before Duke Orsino can decide about what to do with Antonio, the Countess Olivia arrives.

Act V, Scene 1: Savage Jealousy When the Countess Olivia sees Cesario (Viola) standing nearby, she asks him why he did not return to her as he had promised (line 98). Cesario is understandably confused by this since it was Sebastian who had made the promise. Cesario remains quiet before the Duke, who asks the Countess if she is going to continue to reject him. The Duke asks her what is it that he needs to do to win her affection. She unemotionally responds that he can do whatever he likes (line 112). Orsino then becomes angry and compares himself to a character in a popular Greek romance story. In that

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

tale an Egyptian thief attempts to kill the woman that he loves. Duke Orsino is so passionate that he could almost kill the Countess rather than live without her almost. The Duke has at least enough control to prevent the savage jealousy from overpowering him. However, the Duke realizes that the Countess has fallen in love with Cesario. So, Orsino threatens Cesario even though he has strong feelings for the boy:
Him will I tear out of that cruel eye Where he sits crownd in his masters spite. (123-24)

Orsino is declaring that he will permanently remove Cesario from Olivias sight (presumably by killing the boy). In Olivias eyes, Cesario is her king and ruler. He sits on the throne of her affection. And, this, naturally, makes Cesarios master, the Duke, spiteful and angry. Thus, the intensely emotional Duke is ready to sacrifice and slaughter Cesario (referred to as the lamb in line 126). The Duke will do this out of spite (malice or ill-will):
To spite a ravens heart within a dove. (127)

To the Duke, the Countess looks like a dove (pure and sweet and innocent). But on the inside she has a ravens heart (dark and cruel and mean-spirited). Despite the threats, Cesario goes over to the Duke when he calls him. Cesario (Viola) is madly in love

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

with the Duke and she would willingly die for the Duke if that will bring him rest and comfort (lines 128-29). As Cesario moves toward the Duke, Olivia asks him where he is going. The Countess cannot understand why Cesario, after vowing to become her husband, now is deserting her. Viola tells the Countess that she is going
After him I love More than I love these eyes, more than my life, More by all mores than eer I shall love wife. If I do feign, you witnesses above, Punish my life for tainting of my love. (130-34)

Shakespeare is always most eloquent when he writes about constant or true love. Especially creative is the expression more by all mores by which Shakespeare poetically means more than anything else or more than words can express. Viola calls upon God and all the angels as witnesses of her sincerity. Of course, the humor in this is that Viola is still disguised as Cesario. Both the Countess and the Duke are shocked by Cesarios strange words and would look at him as if he were the crazy one. Olivia cannot believe it. She cannot understand how a man who has just recently married her could reverse his position so suddenly. She thinks that she has been tricked or beguiled (135). So, the Countess orders one of her servants to go bring in the priest who performed the ceremony between herself and Sebastian.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Olivia also thinks that perhaps Cesario is afraid of the Duke, and that is why he will not admit that he has become the husband of the Countess (lines 142-43). A moment later the priest arrives and confirms that Olivia is speaking the truth. He informs the Duke that the ceremony occurred just two hours previously. Duke Orsino becomes extremely angry that Cesario has betrayed him. Orsino tells Cesario to leave him and never again bring himself in his presence. Viola, quite understandably, is utterly confused. She cannot understand how the priest can declare that she has married Olivia when she knows that she has not. The pace of Act V, which is fast already, begins to move even more quickly at this point. Before Viola and the others can sort out their mess and come to any understanding about what is happening, Sir Andrew appears. The cowardly knight is ragged and wounded and out of breath. He comes before the Countess without realizing that Cesario is standing just a few feet away. Sir Andrew tells the Countess to fetch a surgeon, a doctor, for Sir Toby because Cesario has given him a grievous head wound. Regarding Cesario, Sir Andrew tells the Countess that
We took him for a coward, but hes the very devil incardinate. (175-76)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

In a typical Sir Andrew blunder, he uses the wrong word. He should have said incarnate, which means in physical form or in a human body. But the Countess overlooks the blunder because of the shock. Neither she nor the Duke can believe that the gentle Cesario is capable of such prowess and fighting skill. Viola was confused earlier, but she becomes doubly so at this point. The confusion continues when the bloody Sir Toby comes on stage. Feste is with him. Sir Toby is angry and demands to see a doctor. Sir Toby also is angry at Sir Andrew (who was not much help in the fighting) and curses him (at lines 198-99). Olivia orders Feste and Fabian to take Sir Toby away so that he can get some medical attention. Sir Andrew exits with them.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Act V, Scene 1: The Reunion and the Revelation Before the Duke, the Countess, and Viola can deal with their current confusion and state of shock, another even greater shock arrives: Sebastian. The twin brother immediately goes up to the Countess he does not see Cesario right away. Sebastian starts to apologize to the Countess for fighting against her kinsman, Sir Toby. But before he gets too far in his apology, he notices the odd look on Olivias face: You throw a strange regard upon me (204). Sebastian thinks that his fight with Sir Toby has offended her. Of course, the Countess is shocked beyond words because she is seeing two Cesarios. Sebastian then sees his friend Antonio standing nearby and is delighted that Antonio appears to be all right. Antonio is just as shocked as everyone else. He asks Sebastian, How have you made division of yourself? (215). And, then, Sebastian sees Viola (still disguised as Cesario). Sebastian feels like he is looking at his own reflection. Viola feels like she is looking at a ghost or a devil in disguise. Their emotions numbed and uncertain, they quickly ask each other by their parentage and lives. Viola, still very much in a state of wonder and surprise, soon reveals herself: I am Viola (246). Viola then explains how she has been serving the Duke, and Sebastian then understands that the


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Countess made a mistake in thinking that he was Cesario:

So comes it, lady, you have been mistook. But nature in her bias drew in that. You would have been contracted to a maid, Now are you therein, by my life, deceived, You are betrothed both to a maid and a man. (252-56)

Sebastian is exclaiming that Nature (and the power of Fate) took advantage of Olivias mistake. Nature is biased in the sense that nature prefers women to mate with men (and not other women). Thus, Sebastian is declaring that his marriage to Olivia is natural. Shakespeare also includes a pun in these lines with the word maid. The first time it appears, the word means girl or young woman. The second time it appears, it means virgin. Although the Countess was deceived in thinking that Sebastian was Cesario, the deception worked in her favor: for she is now contracted (married) to a man instead of a girl. Although Duke Orsino realizes that he can now never marry the Countess, he is not unhappy about the situation. In fact, he finds a new love to take the place of the old:
I shall have share in this most happy wreck. (259)

The word wreck here does mean ruin or destruction. The Dukes plans to marry the Countess have been wrecked or destroyed, yet he finds happiness in it not

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

because the Countess is happily married to Sebastian. Rather, for him the happiness is in discovering that the boy Cesario is really the girl Viola. The Duke had always enjoyed the company of the clever Cesario, and he is delighted in learning that Cesario is a noble young lady whom he can now marry. The Renaissance audience would not have been bothered by the fickleness of either the Duke or the Countess; and the modern audience should not be bothered by it as well. Everything happens so quickly in the final act that the audience does not really have much time to ponder over the sudden changes in affection in these two characters. This is, after all, a crazy madcap comedy intended to delight the audience, who should laugh at the results rather than criticize them. Moreover, the Dukes sudden switch of affection from the Countess to Viola and the Countess sudden switch of affection from Cesario to Sebastian suggest a different message by the playwright. Shakespeare is not presenting a theme on the constancy of love. Rather, he is presenting a theme on the incorrect and foolish choices that men and women sometimes (or often) make when it comes to matters of love. Fortunately for the Duke and the Countess, this is a pleasant comedy; and fate interferes so that the Duke and the Countess each end up with the right partners so that they can and will live happily ever after. After all, it was just a matter of fate that Viola and Sebastian washed up on the shores of Illyria in the first place. Fate, at least in

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

this play, is a benevolent force that corrects human error and brings happiness to all. Well, not quite all! There is still the matter of Malvolio.

Act V, Scene 1: Malvolios Letter Before wedding bells can sound, Feste arrives on the scene bearing a letter from the steward Malvolio. In the letter Malvolio complains about being locked in a dark room and about being accused of being mad. He tells the Countess that he has a letter written in her own hand that caused him to act the way that he had (wearing yellow stockings and cross-garters and always smiling). Because the letter is soundly and logically written, the Countess orders her servants to bring Malvolio before her. A few moments later the scruffy and bedraggled Malvolio appears and produces the letter that Maria had written to trick him. The Countess looks over the letter and quickly realizes that Maria is indeed the author of it. The attendant Fabian then confesses the matter and explains that Maria did indeed write the letter at Sir Tobys insistence. However, Sir Toby was so pleased with her and the way in which they played a joke on Malvolio, that Sir Toby married Maria (line 353). Thus, the drunken Sir Toby, despite all of his faults, does have merit in him after all: he does not allow the prejudices of social class


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

prevent him from marrying a commoner and finding happiness for himself because of it. Fabian adds that injuries occurred on both sides. Malvolio had been haughty and scornful to Sir Toby and the others, and so the trick they had played was in recompense (repayment) for that. The situation is now even. The Countess cannot help but agree. Feste also admits to playing Sir Topas; but, as he also indicates, he was not a part of the actual scheme from the start. Malvolio is speechless at this point, so Feste now finds occasion to throw the words back at him that Malvolio had spoken at the beginning of the play (Act I, Scene 5: 74-75):
Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal, an you smile not, hes gagged. (362-63)

In the first act Malvolio had asked the Countess why would anyone laugh at a fool, whose words are barren or meaningless. The word an means if. If you do not laugh at the fool, then he is gagged or speechless. And now Malvolio has become the gagged fool. Feste sums up his comment with this clever conclusion:
The whirligig of time brings in his revenges. (364)

Time or Fate is a whirligig, a spinning toy. It turns full circle. And, thus, the circle has turned: Act V

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

turns back to Act I. But this time it has turned against Malvolio instead of in favor for him. Feste is suggesting that there is poetic justice regarding what has happened to the haughty steward. Malvolio, quite naturally, does not see the matter in the same way that Feste does. He is angry and unsatisfied, and he leaves the stage with the vow that he promises to get revenge against everyone. Duke Orsino orders some of his men to go after Malvolio and attempt to bring him to terms of peace.

Act V, Scene 1: Festes Song The play ends with a promise of Duke Orsino to marry Viola after she leaves her disguise and becomes a woman once again. And following that promise is a song sung by Feste. The song is light and lyrical and suggests the pattern of life, with a movement from boyhood to manhood and from bachelorhood to that of the married man. Adversity in life is indicated by the line that closes the first four verses:
For the rain it raineth everyday. (379)

But in life, the song suggests, one becomes successful (thrive) not by being forceful and bullying (swaggering at line 386), but by gently giving in to the forces of nature and fate.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Life goes by quickly, just like the song and just like the play:
Our play is done. (394)

Festes final message, and perhaps Shakespeares own message or theme, thus seems to be that a person should not struggle against the forces of nature or fate to be successful or happy in life. Life is too short: find pleasure in it. Shakespeare ends the play with his fools message. And, just perhaps, the fool is right.


PLOT The central character or protagonist of this comedy is Viola. However, several other characters are, at times in the play, protagonists of minor conflicts. Duke Orsino is (1) in conflict with himself over his unrequited love, and he is also (2) in conflict with Olivia in his attempts to win her. Perhaps more importantly, though, the Duke is (3) in conflict with fate. He has fallen in love with someone who cannot love him back, and the force of fate is too powerful for man to win in such a conflict. Similarly, the Countess Olivia becomes (1) in conflict with herself over her emotions and her unrequited love for Cesario, and she is also (2) in direct conflict with Cesario as she attempts to convince him to return that love. And she is also (3) in conflict with fate because she too has fallen in love with someone who cannot love her back. Thus, the characters of Orsino and Olivia are parallel figures in terms of plot and also theme the themes concerning unrequited love and fate. The most amusing conflict of the comedy involves Sir Toby and Maria against the proud Malvolio. Malvolio is an obvious antagonist who threatens not only the protagonists of this minor conflict but also the sheer fun and madness of the play. Other minor conflicts are also apparent in the play: Feste vs. Malvolio, Sir Andrew vs. Cesario,

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Antonio vs. Toby and Andrew, and Sebastian vs. Toby and Andrew. All of the numerous conflicts contribute to making the play quick-paced. The audience never has time to think about one conflict because another follows so quickly upon its heels. Yet, at the heart of the play is Viola. She serves as the connection between the two major locales of the play: the palace of Duke Orsino and the estate of the Countess Olivia. More importantly, she is involved in similar conflicts. She is (1) in conflict with herself because of her unrequited love for the Duke. She is (2a) in conflict with the Duke when she argues with him about the difference between men and women and the levels of their constancy in love. She is (2b) in direct conflict with the Countess as she attempts to argue against the Countess love for her. And, most importantly, Viola is (3) in conflict with fate. Fate is responsible for the shipwreck. Fate is responsible for separating her from her brother. And fate is responsible for causing her to fall in love with a man who is deeply and madly in love with someone else. In both her conflict regarding her unrequited love and her conflict with fate, Viola is a passive heroine. She does not actively set out to solve her problems. Rather, she just lets time and fate solve her problems for her. And because this play is a comedy, fate does just that. The climax the highest point of tension in the play occurs just before Sebastians arrival in Act V. Orsino is angry at Cesario (Viola) for stealing Olivia away from him, and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

accuse Cesario of beating them violently. A state of massive confusion presides until, as fate would have it, Sebastian arrives (line 200). Then the resolution of the play quickly occurs along with the revelation that Cesario is actually Viola. All of the other problems and conflicts of the play become quickly disentangled (the denouement) after that point, and the play ends with a cheerful comic song to provide a fitting conclusion to the madcap comedy.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

CHARACTERIZATION A number of critics find the character of Viola to be lacking because she is so passive. Critics often contrast her to the character of Rosalind in As You Like It. Like Viola, Rosalind disguises herself as a young man when circumstances force her to do so. But Rosalind is an active heroine who uses her disguise to resolve her difficulties and the difficulties of others. Many critics view Rosalind as one of Shakespeares greatest characters. However, perhaps critics should not be so quick to pounce on the character of Viola. She is precisely what is needed for this type of play. This is a play of plot more than of character. Despite that, the character of Viola still shines. She is witty and clever although she is passive. She cleverly trounces Orsino in the debate regarding constancy and the differences between men and women; she is able to keep up with Feste in the exchange of witticisms; and she expresses her emotions and feelings toward the Duke in lines of exquisite poetry. In addition, she is the vehicle by which Shakespeare can express his ideas regarding the overwhelming force of fate. Shakespeare well knew that fate can defeat anyone, high or low. Sometimes action can produce changes (as the character of Rosalind reveals), but there are other occasions when no amount of action can alter the destiny of an individual.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia are somewhat static (unchanging) and flat (twodimensional) throughout most of the play. They need to be so, for they underscore the theme regarding fate. Fate solves their problems just as it does so for Viola. However, both characters do have some lines of fine poetry in the comedy. Toward the beginning of the play, Orsino expresses the state of the unrequited lover in quite eloquent terms; and Orsinos exchange with Cesario regarding constancy (in Act II) makes for a sparkling debate. Olivia gets some even finer lines, for she does go through a change (dynamic quality). Olivia breaks her promise regarding her position to mourn for seven years for the death of her brother, and her doing so surprises herself most of all. Her reaction to this change within herself and her confusion provides some splendid yet comical lines. The character who receives the most attention by critics in this play is Feste. He is certainly one of the best fools in Renaissance drama. He is not only wise, witty, clever, and funny, but he is also philosophical. He subtly provides a running commentary on the major characters of the play. Perhaps readers could even view him as the mouthpiece for Shakespeare. In a play where most of the characters are running amok like mad, drunken revelers, Shakespeares clown is the only one who acts sanely and rationally. Shakespeare wants the members of his audience to ask themselves just what

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

is a fool and why do they laugh at him. Of course, we laugh at fools because we see ourselves in them. Perhaps the one negative with Feste is the complexity of his language. The clever Feste creates his own philosophy and expresses himself occasionally with the most convoluted or difficult expressions (for example, the line about calamity and the cuckold in Act I, Scene 5). Although these expressions are not mere nonsense (as some critics suggest), members of an audience hearing them for the first time will not catch the subtlety of meaning not even members of the Renaissance audience. Hearing them spoken quickly in this fast-placed play, the lines do come across as nonsense. However, such difficulty is not really a concern for any audience. The play moves so rapidly that nonsense in dialogue serves as a fitting complement to the nonsense of the actions. Every comedy needs a good villain that the audience can laugh at as well as jeer. Malvolio fits perfectly in that role. He is an anti-comic force. He is the spirit of ill-will. His Puritanical qualities make him not only a splendid villain, but also an enemy of the theater and drama. Malvolio, like all genuine Puritans (who wanted to close down the theaters in London), does not believe in fun and recreation. He is too serious in this often unserious play. Even the Countess, in the midst of her mourning, finds Malvolio to be overly harsh and severe. Standing in front of an audience who has come for funny, foolish drama, Malvolio will not find any sympathy when he

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

makes his harsh comments about fools. Thus, when Malvolio is accused of madness and, as punishment, is locked in a dark room, the audience will not shed a tear for him. They will see the poetic justice of it. The audience, like Sir Toby, wants to revel and enjoy themselves. They do not want a somber spirit dampening their good cheer. Malvolio, then, is a symbol of sobriety and excessive gravity and Puritanical fanaticism. The audience thus applauds the suppression of these negative attributes more so than the punishment of an actual person. Malvolio is a symbol more than a character. Sir Toby has often been compared, severely and unjustly, to Falstaff, the anti-heroic companion to Prince Hal in the Henry IV history plays. Many critics regard Falstaff as one of Shakespeare greatest characters. Indeed, Sir Toby and Falstaff do share several qualities; and such a similarity invites the comparison. Both are impoverished knights who take advantage of others and freeload off of everyone they can. Both men are fat and enjoy drinking and eating excessively. Both men display a clever wit on occasion. However, there are also differences between the characters. Sir Toby is not as clever as Falstaff: his wit is purposely set to be inferior of that of Feste and even that of Maria. There is also more goodness and less of the rascal in Sir Toby. Moreover, Sir Toby also has a definite symbolic role in the play. He is the drunken spirit of carnival. He represents god cheer and merriment. He is, in a

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

sense, the topsy-turvy king of fools. His role is purposely set to be in direct contrast to that represented by Malvolio. Thus, Sir Tobys role in drama is quite different from that of Falstaff. Falstaff is the clown or comic relief in what are otherwise serious history plays. Sir Tobys purpose is not to dominate the comedy but rather to stand as an iconic symbol and to set the background for all of the irrationally comic behavior in which all of the other characters participate. Feste is the witty clown of this play; but Sir Toby is the Carnival King, the emblem of the carnivalesque atmosphere.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

SOURCES GlIngannati (1537) This Italian comedy involved the use of disguises and mistaken identity. A brother and sister are parted by accident (and eventually reunited), and the sister disguises herself as a boy. In her disguise as a male, the sister serves a master and has to act as a gobetween between that master and the woman he loves. However, the Italian comedy is similar to Shakespeares comedy in only a superficial way. Shakespeare adds far greater depth and dimension and meaning than that contained in his source. Apolonius and Silla (1581) Barnabe Rich wrote this prose tale in English. GlIngannati was its major source. Feast of Fools This medieval celebration occurring on Twelfth Night (January 6: the twelfth day after Christmas) became too riotous and outlandish as far as the Church was concerned. Rules and order were turned upside down. A King of Fools was elected: he was the Anarch (representing the anarchy of the day) while the King or Monarch of the land quietly found a place to keep out of harms way. The holiday gave the industrious commoners a day of psychological release from the hardships of day-to-living. Although far less blasphemous and orgiastic in Shakespeares time, the people of Renaissance

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

England still enjoyed the opportunity of releasing their pent-up emotions and acting irrationally on the holiday. Midsummer Eve Festival During the late Middle Ages in England, a holiday was celebrated on Midsummer Eve (St. John's Eve, June 23). The lighting of bonfires, feasting, and merrymaking were common parts of the celebration. It was also a time for lust and love. In the late 15th C., John Mirk of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, gives the following description: "At first, men and women came to church with candles and other lights and prayed all night long. In the process of time, however, men left such devotion and used songs and dances and fell into lechery and gluttony turning the good, holy devotion into sin." Shakespeares Countess alludes to this holiday when she refers to Malvolios behavior as midsummer madness (Act III, Scene 4). Historical Visit of Don Virginio Orsino (1601) Don Virginio Orsino, the Duke of Bracciano (Italy), came to the court of Queen Elizabeth I in January of 1601. According to one critic, Shakespeare possibly wrote the play in honor of that visit. The same critic (Leslie Hotson) contends that the Countess Olivia symbolizes Queen Elizabeth and that Malvolio symbolizes the pompous Comptroller of the Royal Household. The comptroller was usually in charge of the financial affairs of running the palace. The

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

critics theory is plausible. Although Olivia and Orsino act foolishly and are quite unlike the historical figures in many ways, both the Queen and the real Duke may have been pleased with Shakespeares jest.


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

THEMES As with any of Shakespeares comedies, a number of concepts, ideas, and motifs run throughout the play: fate or destiny love family love misplaced love unrequited love foolish love true love foolishness foolish behavior reason vs. emotion madness melancholy brother-sister relationships mourning friendship identity disguise deception men vs. women constancy faithfulness class distinctions nobility pride humor fun language carnival celebration marriage

All of these terms suggest motifs and, possibly, themes in the play. The reader should pay particular attention to the theme regarding fate in this play. Plot, circumstances, luck, and chance play significant roles in this fast-paced play; and because of that, the characterization of the central character, Viola, is

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

emphasized less than some of Shakespeares other heroes or heroines (notably Rosalind of As You Like It). Viola is a passive character who allows fate to bring her what she desires instead of actively chasing after it (chasing after her love for Orsino). Fortunately, fate is a benevolent force in this comedy and allows Viola to achieve her desires despite her lack of deliberate action in this regard. The critic Anne Barton refers to this same idea as the theme of time, and highlights the qualities of patience, grief, and the transitory nature of time (that is, the brevity of life). The theme of madness is also prominent throughout this play. Madness and foolish behavior go hand-in-hand, and nearly all of the characters act foolishly or madly or both. Oddly, the one sane character is the fool, Feste. The complete title of the comedy is Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The word will is a triple pun: (1) wish or desire, (2) passion or irrational desire, and (3) a nickname for the author, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare probably intended all three meanings for the title. However, with any title of a comedy especially a subtitle a reader should not become obsessive about connecting the theme to it. After all, the purpose of the title is to arouse the curiosity of the audience and get them to come to the theater. The title may or may not describe the exact nature of the comedy itself.

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

In several Shakespeare comedies (such as A Midsummer Nights Dream and As You Like It), the playwright establishes a Two Worlds Theme. The characters escape from the world of the city and civilization to the world of the country and nature. In nature the characters undergo a transformation, becoming more natural and more accepting of their emotions and how to deal with them. Twelfth Night indirectly has a Two Worlds Theme. Viola and Sebastaian come from a civilized and sane world to the wild and mad world of Illyria. Moreover, the locale of Illyria functions as both worlds. The characters at the beginning of the play are mad and act foolishly. However, as events unfold, the characters come to an understanding of themselves; and their emotions and their problems are put in order. The personal and emotional transformation of the characters is symbolized by the physical transformation of Cesario into Viola. Cesario is the false identity that needs to be restored to the true identity of Viola before that character can find happiness.



Anne Barton Introduction to Twelfth Night in the Riverside Shakespeare:

Shakespeare could easily have made it clear, had he wished, that Sir Tobys disorderly revel in the third scene of Act II was a Twelfth Night celebration, but he did not. Probably, he avoided any such pinpointing of the time of year because he wished to draw the attention of the audience to the Twelfth Night theme in ways that were more pervasive and subtle. (page 404)

The words Twelfth Night not only suggest a carnival world; they warn the audience that it is not to ask too many awkward questions about the miraculous resemblance of boy and girl twins who, on the stage, will almost invariably look less than identical. Nor are we to question love at first sight, a duke who accepts as his wife a servant he thought, only five minutes before, was a boy. (page 404)

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Stephen Greenblatt Introduction to Twelfth Night in The Norton Shakespeare:

Twelfth Night, or What You Will, written for Shakespeares all-male company, plays brilliantly with these conventions. The comedy depends on an actors ability to transform himself, through costume, voice, and gesture, into a young noblewoman, Viola, who transforms herself, through costume, voice, and gesture, into a young man, Cesario. (page 1761)

Malvolio (mal volio, ill will) is explicitly linked to those among Shakespeares contemporaries most hostile to the theater and to such holidays as Twelfth Night. More dangerously, he is a man in a socially dependent position with a gift for acquiring enemies, as he does when he tries to silence the noisy revelry of that classic carnivalesque threesome a drunkard, a blockhead, and a professional fool. (pages 1763-64)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Joseph Rosenblum A Readers Guide to Shakespeare:

It is a brilliant irony that Shakespeares most joyous play should be compounded out of the sadness of his principal characters. Yet the sadnesses are, for the most part, those mannered sadnesses that the Elizabethans savored. (page 299)

The glittering plot is reinforced by some of Shakespeares best and most delicate dramatic poetry. Moreover, the drama is suffused with bittersweet music, and the idyllic setting in Illyria blends with language and imagery to create a most delightful atmosphere wholly appropriate to the celebration of love and the enjoyment of this world. (page 300)


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Harold Bloom Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

The genius of Twelfth Night is Feste, the most charming of all Shakespeares fools, and the only sane character in a wild play. Olivia has inherited this court jester from her father, and we sense throughout that Feste, an accomplished professional, has grown weary of his role. He carries his exhaustion with verve and wit, and always with the air of knowing all there is to know, not in a superior way but with a sweet melancholy. His truancy is forgiven by Olivia, and in recompense he attempts to charm her out of her prolonged mourning for her brother. Feste is benign throughout the play, and does not participate in the gulling of Malvolio until he enters the dark house as Sir Topas. Even there, he is instrumental in bringing about the stewards release. A superb singer (his part was written for Robert Armin, who had an excellent voice), Feste keeps to a minor key. (page 244)



Francis Wheatley 1771 Cesario vs. Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

William Powell Frith 1843 Cesario vs. Sir Andrew


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Daniel Maclise 1840 Malvolio and the Countess


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Frederick Richard Pickersgill 1859 Viola and the Countess


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Frederick Richard Pickersgill 1859 Orsino and Viola


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Walter Howell Deverell c 1850 The Duke, Cesario, and Feste


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Johann Heinrich Ramberg 1794 Malvolio and the Countess


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Artist Unidentified Malvolio


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

William Hamilton c 1789 Maria, Olivia, and Viola


Understanding Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

Edmund Blair Leighton 1888 Olivia


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