Viola - A young woman of aristocratic birth, and the play’s protagonist. Washed up on the shore of
Illyria when her ship is wrecked in a storm, Viola decides to make her own way in the world. She
disguises herself as a young man, calling herself "Cesario," and becomes a page to Duke Orsino. She
ends up falling in love with Orsino—even as Olivia, the woman Orsino is courting, falls in love with
Cesario. Thus, Viola finds that her clever disguise has entrapped her: she cannot tell Orsino that she
loves him, and she cannot tell Olivia why she, as Cesario, cannot love her. Her poignant plight is the
central conflict in the play.
Orsino - A powerful nobleman in the country of Illyria. Orsino is lovesick for the beautiful Lady Olivia,
but becomes more and more fond of his handsome new page boy, Cesario, who is actually a woman—
Viola. Orsino is a vehicle through which the play explores the absurdity of love: a supreme egotist,
Orsino mopes around complaining how heartsick he is over Olivia, when it is clear that he is chiefly in
love with the idea of being in love and enjoys making a spectacle of himself. His attraction to the
ostensibly male Cesario injects sexual ambiguity into his character.
Olivia - A wealthy, beautiful, and noble Illyrian lady, Olivia is courted by Orsino and Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, but to each of them she insists that she is in mourning for her brother, who has recently
died, and will not marry for seven years. She and Orsino are similar characters in that each seems to
enjoy wallowing in his or her own misery. Viola’s arrival in the masculine guise of Cesario enables Olivia
to break free of her self-indulgent melancholy. Olivia seems to have no difficulty transferring her
affections from one love interest to the next, however, suggesting that her romantic feelings—like most
emotions in the play—do not run deep.
Sebastian - Viola’s lost twin brother. When he arrives in Illyria, traveling with Antonio, his close friend
and protector, Sebastian discovers that many people think that they know him. Furthermore, the
beautiful Lady Olivia, whom he has never met, wants to marry him. Sebastian is not as well rounded a
character as his sister. He seems to exist to take on the role that Viola fills while disguised as Cesario—
namely, the mate for Olivia.
Malvolio - The straitlaced steward—or head servant—in the household of L