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Reference Guide

Twelfth Night - Reference Guides

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Twelfth Night
Act I Introduction • Main characters and actions are introduced • The Duke, Olivia,
and Viola are knotted in a love triangle
Act II Development/rising action • Complications in the love plots are further
developed • Olivia loves Viola • Malvolio is fooled • Duel is arranged
• Sebastian is introduced
Act III Climax • Further love complications occur • Duel is interrupted • Confusion of
Act IV Denouement/falling action • Olivia marries Sebastian • Malvolio is in the cell
Mistaken identities with the twins
Act V Conclusion • Untangling of the love knots • Discovery of the twins • Viola and
Orsino marry • Maria and Sir Toby marry • Malvolio does not forgive
• Comic ending
The Romantic Plot involves Orsino, Olivia, and Viola • Orsino loves Olivia, who loves
Viola/Cesario, who loves Orsino
The Low Comic Plot involves the servants (Maria, Fabian, Malvolio) and the drunken
knights (Sir Toby, Sir Andrew) • Malvolio is humiliated in front of Olivia through the use
of a practical joke, as suggested by Maria and initiated by the forging of a letter in
Olivias handwriting (e.g., Malvolio is asked to smile while wearing yellow stockings and
cross-garters when he sees her)
Confinement of Malvolio in a dark room as a madman, brought about by Sir Toby,
Maria, and Fabian • Appearance of Sir Topas, the curate
Duel between Viola/Cesario and Sir Andrew, who is egged on by Sir Toby and Fabian to
win the love of Olivia • Antonio interrupts the duel • Sebastian is mistaken for Cesario
and attacked
Viola and Olivia Olivia loves Viola/Cesario; Viola considers Olivia to be a
rival to Orsino’s love, although she agrees to court
Olivia on Orsino’s behalf • Olivia feels romantic love;
Viola feels mature love • They are both independent,
active women • Both women are entangled in the love
triangle • Both women marry at the play’s end
Sir Toby and Cohorts and companions • Sir Toby is outgoing and
Sir Andrew vivacious; Sir Andrew is somewhat passive
• Sir Andrew follows Sir Toby (e.g., he copies and
mimics him) • Both men are drinkers and full of life
They both make practical jokes; Sir Andrew is also
good at taking a joke • Sir Toby marries Maria;
Sir Andrew does not win the love of Olivia
Malvolio and Maria Both characters are in Olivia’s service • Malvolio allows
his love for Olivia to deceive him; Maria dupes Malvolio
into believing that Olivia loves him • Maria is shrewd,
cunning, and can join in revelry; Malvolio is a Puritan
(he does not enjoy singing, drinking or jokes) and he
does not respond well to practical jokes
Orsino and Olivia Orsino is the Duke of Illyria; Olivia is the Countess of
Illyria • Both nobles love the idea of love • They fall in
love with surfaces • They are both somewhat
inconstant and inconsistent • Olivia does not mourn
long for her dead brother; the Duke changes his
theories on how men and women love • Both Orsino
and Olivia are tied to Viola in the love triangle
• Both characters are deceived by appearances
Viola and Sebastian Twin brother and sister • Separated from each other by
a sea-wreck • They demonstrate strong filial love for
each other • There is a strong resemblance between
them physically and in their individual mannerisms
They create confusion of identities (e.g., one is
mistaken for the other) • Both come from noble birth
• Both characters are making their way in a strange
land • They are joyfully reunited in the final scene
• A foil is a character who can be compared and contrasted to another
• Used to clarify character traits and issues in the play
• Orsino sends Viola to woo Olivia; he does not know that
Viola loves him
• Olivia does not know that Cesario is Viola in disguise
when she/he proposes to her
• Antonio berates Cesario for stealing his purse, thinking
that he is Sebastian
• Feste may be the wisest character in the comedy;
he wears a fool’s clothing
Love blinds the characters and obscures their
perceptions of their own limitations
• Malvolio believes that he is the object of Olivia’s love;
he is fooled by the letter
• Orsino and Olivia deceive themselves into believing that
persistence wins love
Sir Andrew follows Sir Toby’s lead and believes
everything that he is told, as he loves Olivia
• Malvolio is called mad when he acts in a bizarre manner
• Sebastian wants to find wonder in Olivia’s behavior,
not madness
• Confusion of identities seems to drive characters
somewhat mad
• Comic relief is alternated with dramatic scenes
Puns, word-play, and fabricated words lead to humor
• Visual humor is created through Malvolio’s appearance
during the prank
• Pride and deception are eventually laughed about
(except Malvolio, who cannot laugh at himself)
• Imagery (“If music be the food of love, play on …” )
• Feste sings songs
• Creates melancholy and romantic atmospheres
• Can be used to mock (e.g., Malvolio is rendered
helpless while Sirs Toby, Andrew, and Fabian sing)
• Romantic love of Orsino for Olivia and Olivia for Cesario
(e.g., obstacles exist; beloved is out of reach; lover pines
for his/her source of affection; sudden and inexplicable)
Mature love of Viola for Orsino (e.g., feelings are
genuine; subject’s feelings come first)
• Brotherly love of Sebastian and Antonio (e.g., deep,
non-sexual feelings; similar to friendship; trust and
concern for other person’s well-being)
Familial love of Viola and Sebastian (e.g., sadness when
they think that the other has drowned)
• Disguise of Cesario yields Viola freedoms and
limitations; access and inaccessibility
• Disguise of Sir Topas (the curate) is worn for the prank
involving Malvolio
• Sebastian is mistaken for Cesario
Viola must disguise her true feelings for Orsino
• Feste, the fool, wears a disguise; other fools (i.e., silly
characters) in the play are disguised
• Viola assumes the guise of Cesario to work as Orsino’s
eunuch (a girl is disguised as a boy)
Twins Viola and Sebastian are mistaken for one another
• Maria forges Olivia’s handwriting; the promising letter
brings about a downfall, not fortune
The coward is actually brave (and vice-versa)
Love is often based on appearances (i.e., surfaces only,
no inner appreciation)
• Olivia and Sebastian fall in love on the surface
Viola and Sebastian are rescued from the sea
• Malvolio drowns in self-love
• Orsino and Olivia drown themselves in sentimental love
• Much of the action takes place in the palace of Duke
Orsino and in Olivias palace in Illyria, on the shores of
the Adriatic Sea
• Acts I and II open on the wild sea-coast where Viola
and Sebastian are rescued
• Locations include gardens and a dark cell
• The play spans 3 days (on stage) with an interval of
3 days between Scenes 3 and 4 of Act I
Day 1 Act I, Scenes 1-3
Interval About 3 days
Day 2 Act I, Scenes 4-5; Act II, Scenes 1-3
Day 3 Act II, Scene 4; Act III; Act IV; Act V
• Born 1564; died 1616
• Playwright, actor, author, and poet
• Usually credited with writing 37 plays
• Plays are divided into early plays (e.g., The Taming of
the Shrew ), comedies (e.g., Twelfth Night ),
histories (e.g., Henry V ), tragedies (e.g., Hamlet ),
problem plays (e.g., Measure for Measure ), and
romance plays (e.g., The Winter’s Tale)
Written around 1601
Shakespeare drew on his own early comedies for
characters (e.g., Feste resembles the Fool in King Lear
and Touchstone in As You Like It )
• Similar story-line to Secchi’s 1531 Italian drama
Inganni (The Deceived )
• Based on exaggeration of human nature (as well as
mistaken identities, disguise, and confusion of events)
Possibility of tragic end; an important character might
die or confusion may not be resolved, but something
(usually not hoped for) occurs to ensure a happy ending
Just the Facts
Viola/Cesario Noble heroine; Sebastian’s sister • Shipwrecked and separated from Sebastian • Focus of the play • Disguised as Cesario for the majority of the
play • Loves Orsino (e.g., she is required to plead the Duke’s love suit to Olivia) • Capable of making swift decisions • Youthful and attractive to
both men and women • Often mistaken for her twin brother • Model lover; constant and true • Shows grief for the believed loss of her brother
• Resourceful and practical (e.g., she enters Orsino’s service dressed as a man) • Intelligent enough to keep up the jest of her dual identity
• Loyal, steadfast, and less sentimental than Orsino and Olivia • Integral to the love triangle
Olivia Countess; wealthy, high-ranking, and beautiful • Sir Toby’s niece • Dignified even when she professes her love to the page • Announces seven
years of solitude to mourn for a deceased brother, and promptly forgets her vow • Seems immune to the rhetoric of flattery • Love object of Duke
Orsino • Rejects Orsinos suit • Actively pursues and proposes to Cesario • Inspires devotion and respect among her servants • Falls in love at
first sight • Rushes into marriage with Sebastian, mistaking him for Viola/Cesario • Involved in the love triangle; she is the first to untangle the
knot and fall out of the triangle
Orsino Duke of Illyria • Royal blood; wealthy, noble, and high-ranking • Sentimental • Seems to be more in love with the idea of love than any person
• Infatuated with Olivia • Persistent; he does not want to take rejection • Spins elegant poetry on love • Marries Viola at the plays end
• Loves music • Inconsistent in talking about how men and women love differently • Dreamy and unbalanced • Entertained easily by his fool
• Participant in the love triangle (e.g., he loves Olivia and he is loved by Viola)
Maria Gentlewoman of Olivia • Shrewd, intelligent, and cunning • Comic function in the play • Exposes the vanities and faults of other characters
• Intimate relationship with Olivia (she is her confidante) • Appears well-educated (e.g., she writes a love letter to Malvolio as though it were from
Olivia) • Sharp wit and small stature • Taunts Malvolio • Marries Sir Toby Belch at the play’s end
Sebastian Twin brother of Viola; cause of identity confusion • Minor role in the comedy • Appears first in Act II • Violas double in face, dress, nature, and
behavior • Loves his sister; he carries on with his life when he believes that she is lost • Adventurous • Quick to respond to threats and
emergency situations • Falls for Olivia when she proposes to him • Loyal to Antonio; a very good friend • Quick to fight • Passive lover
• Loves and is loved at first sight without looking beneath the surface
Malvolio Steward to Olivia • Efficient, officious, and critical • Puritan (e.g., he does not like revelry and buffoonery) • Disliked by other servants and
Sirs Toby and Andrew • Mistakes Olivia’s confidence in him for true love • Falls susceptible to the practical joke because of his vain nature
• His name hints at his malevolent nature • Unforgiving • Ambitious (e.g., he secretly aspires to be a Count) • Feels superior to others; affects
pompous airs
Sir Toby Belch Olivia’s uncle • Bullying, impudent, and a humorous drunk • Often ready to fight • Full of vitality • Weighs characters in terms of the quantity of
drinks they consume • Used to effect comic relief • Close friends with Sir Andrew • Uses low language and insults others • Loves pranks
• Marries Maria for her quick humor
Sir Andrew Cohort knight; Sir Toby’s companion • Cowardly, shallow, and dim-witted • Referred to as feeble-minded • Poorly educated • Emulates Sir Toby
Aguecheek Easily fooled by practical jokes • Takes the lead from others • Hopes to win the love of Olivia
Feste Clown; court jester of Olivia • Dressed in a distinctive costume • Given license to parlay his frank opinions through word play • Uses witty turns of
phrases • Intelligent (“… This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool …” ) • Appreciated by most of the other characters, except Malvolio
• Musical fool; he sings and carries a drum • Speaks Latin; invents phrases • Greedy (e.g., he often focuses on wheedling money)
Fabian Companion of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew; minor character • Holds a grudge against Malvolio • Conspires in the prank against Malvolio and in the
arrangement of the duel • Defends Maria and displays some sense of responsibility for his actions
Antonio Sea captain • Rescues Sebastian • Loyal (e.g., he follows Sebastian into Illyria) • Tries to escape his notoriety with Orsino’s court • Used as a plot
device to bring about the recognition of the twins • Generous and trusting (e.g., he gives his purse to Sebastian) • Honest friend to Sebastian
(e.g., he jumps into battle to defend his friend)
Name Description
Characters Relationship
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