Walter H. Deverell's painting "Twelfth Night" (1850):

Synopsis / Charracters
Study Questions
Critical Essays


  • E-text of Twelfth Night:
  • "The title refers to the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the holiday season."

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    Synopsis / Charracters 

  • Characters
  • Notes about characters in the play
  • Summary
  • A summary and description of the play from Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare:
  • Synopsis
  • from

    1/1  A city in Illyria. The Duke's palace. Enter the duke, lords, Curio, and musicians; the duke  speaks of love. Valentino enters; he says that Olivia is in mourning. 

    1/2  The sea-coast. Viola, the captain, and sailers enter; the captain and Viola speak, first about Sebastian, than about Illyria and  the duke. Viola plans to disguise herself as a boy and seek service with the duke.

    1/3  A city in Illyria. Olivia's house. Sir Toby Belch and Maria enter; they speak; Sir Andrew 
    Aguecheek enters; they all speak; Maria exits.  Sir Andrew Aguecheek says he wishes to leave, since he has no hope of winning Olivia; Sir Toby Belch persuades him to stay.

    1/4  The Duke's palace. Valetine and Viola in disguise enter; they speak.  The duke, Curio, and attendants enter; the duke commissions Viola to woo Olivia for him; Viola accepts, 
    although she herself has fallen in love with the duke. 

    1/5  Olivia's house. Maria and the clown enter and quip; Maria exits.  Olivia and Malvolio enter; the clown amuses Olivia, but annoys Malvolio. Maria enters, announces a messenger from the duke, and exits; Malvolio exits. Sir Toby Belch enters, is reproved by Olivia, then  exits; the clown exits. Malvolio enters; he describes the messenger, then exits; Maria enters, followed by Viola. Viola wittily woos Olivia; Maria exits; Viola and Olivia speak; Viola exits. Olivia summons Malvolio, and sends him after Viola with a ring.

    2/1  Illyria. The sea-coast. Antonio and Sebastian enter; Sebastian mourns the drowned Viola, then exits; Antonio follows Sebastian, despite the danger he faces in Illyria.

    2/2  A city in Illyria. A street. Viola enters, followed by Malvolio; he forcibly gives  her the ring, then exits. Viola, realizing it is a love-token from Olivia,  ponders on the dangers of disguise.

    2/3  Olivia's house. Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek enter; they speak drunkenly; the clown enters; he speaks and sings;  Maria enters to quiet them. Malvolio enters; he threatens the others, and in return is mocked; Malvolio blames Maria, and exits. Maria plans to trick Malvolio into believing that Olivia loves him.

    2/4  The duke's palace.The duke, Viola, Curio, and others enter; they speak;  Curio exits. Viola describes her anonymous love. Curio and the clown enter; the clown sings, is paid,  and exits, followed by Curio and attendants. The duke asks Viola to win Olivia for him; Viola warns the duke that some love must remain unrequited; the duke rejects that possibility.

    2/5  Olivia's garden. Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Fabian enter, anticipating Malvolio's downfall. Maria enters; she ushers the others into hiding, throws a letter on the path, and exits. Malvolio enters, fantasizing; he finds the letter, assumes it is from Olivia to himself, and exits to prepare himself for greatness. Maria enters; she says the letter will induce Malvolio to do things which Olivia detests.

    3/1  Illyria. Olivia's garden. Viola and the clown enter; they speak; the clown exits. Sir Toby Bekch and Sir Aandrew Aguecheek enter; they speak to Viola; Olivia and Maria enter; Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Maria exit. Viola pleads the duke's suit, but Olivia proclaims her love for Viola; Viola swears she will never love Olivia or  any other woman.

    3/2  Olivia's house. Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Fabian enter. Sir Andrew Aguecheek wants to leave, since Olivia favors Viola; instead, he is talked into challenging Viola; he exits. Sir Toby Belch and Fabian anticipate a farcical duel;  Maria enters and describes Malvolio's antics. 

    3/3  A street. Sebastian and Antonio enter; Antonio explains that he is in danger; he gives Sebastian money and arranges to meet him later.

    3/4  Olivia's garden. Olivia and Maria enter; they speak; Maria exits; she re-enters with Malvolio. Malvolio seems insane to Olivia.  A servant enters, announces Viola's arrival, and exits; Olivia and Maria exit; Malvolio soliloquizes on his success. Maria enters with Sir Toby Belch and Fabian; Malvolio spurns them, and exits; Sir Toby Belch and Fabian plan to have Malvolio locked up.SIR Andrew Aguecheek enters with his challenge to Viola, which Sir Toby Belch offers to deliver; Sir Andrew Aguecheek exits, followed by Sir Toby Belch, Fabian and  Maria. Olivia and Viola enter; Olivia gives Viola a miniature, then exits. Sir Toby Belch and Fabian enter and deliver Sir Andrew Aguecheek's challenge; Viola attempts to avoid the duel; Sir Toby Belch exits; Viola and Fabian speak, then they exit. Sir Toby Belch and SIR Andrew Aguecheek enter; Sir Toby Belch tells Sir Andrew Aguecheek that Viola is a superb fencer; Sir Andrew Aguecheek attempts to avoid the duel.  Fabian and Viola enter; after some urging, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Viola timidly draw their swords.  Antonio enters; he defends Viola; Sir Toby Belch attacks Antonio; officers enter and arrest Antonio; Antonio asks Viola for his money, believing she is Sebastian;  Antonio accuses Viola of ingratitude, then exits with  officers. Viola expresses hope that Sebastian may be alive; she exits. Sir Andrew Aguecheek decides to fight Viola. 

    4/1  A city in Illyria. Before Olivia's house.  The clown mistakes Sebastian for Viola, and summons him to Olivia. Sir Andrew Aguecheek enters; he strikes Senastian and  is beaten in return. Sir Toby Belch and Fabian enter; the clown exits;  Sebastian and Sir Toby Belch prepare to fight. Olivia enters; she dismisses Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Fabian, who exit; Olivia woos and wins Sebastian.

    4/2  Olivia's house. Maria disguises the clown as a curate, then exits; she re-enters with Sir Toby Belch.  The fake curate catechises Malvolio, who is imprisoned within; Malvolio protests his sanity.  Sir Toby Belch tells the clown to end the charade; Sir Toby Belch and Maria exit.  The clown promises to take a letter from Malvolio to Olivia.

    4/3  Olivia's garden. Sebastian soliloquizes on his good fortune. Olivia and a priest enter; she proposes to marry Sebastian at once; Sebastian agrees.

    5/1  A city in Illyria. Before Olivia's house.  The clown and Fabian enter and speak; the duke, Viola, Curio, and attendants enter; the duke and the clown speak;  the clown exits.  officers enter with Antonio, whom the duke recognizes; Antonio again berates Viola.  Olivia enters, with her attendants; she spurns the duke; the duke, jealous, threatens to kill Viola; Viola, out of love for the duke, says she is willing.  An attendants exits; Olivia says that Viola is her husband; the attendants re-enters with the priest, who confirms the marriage; the duke is furious.  Sir Andrew Aguecheekenters; he says that Viola has wounded both him and Sir Toby Belch; SIR Toby Belch and the clown enter and speak; the clown, Fabian, Sir Toby Belch, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek exit. Sebastian enters; he apologizes to Olivia for injuring Sir Toby Belch; Sebastian greets Antonio with relief, and Viola with curiosity; Viola reveals her identity. Fabian and the clown enter with Malvolio's letter; Olivia orders Malvolio released; Fabian exits. The duke decides to marry Viola.   Fabian nd Malvolio enter; the practical joke is disclosed; Fabian reveals that Sir Toby Belch and Maria have been married; Malvolio exits anrgily. All exit, except the clown; he sings.

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    Study Questions
    J.M. Massi's study questions for the play:
    1. Disguises are common in this play, even occurring where they are not necessary--consider Feste disguise when Malvolio cannot even see him (Act IV). Who wears disguises and when? What purposes do these disguises serve? How do they relate to each other?

    2. Malvolio humiliates himself publicly long before he assumes his disguise as allegedly requested by Olivia. What personality trait(s) are the source of his vulnerability to this kind of joke? How do the other characters see themselves? How well do they understand their own motives? 

    3. What is the purpose of the clown Feste in this play? Why does Shakespeare use a fool? What does folly represent in this world? What is foolish about each character and how do we respond as audience members to these different types of foolishness?

    4. How does Sir Toby differ from Feste? How does Sir Andrew differ from them both?

    5. What does Orsino opening speech have to do with the play?

    6. This play has several elements in common with other plays which we will read in this course--disguising, a fool, a disguised woman, madness, self-absorption, among many others. Keep track of these traits and watch for them as we progress through this course. How do they appear here in a comedy, as opposed to their representations in tragedy or in romance?

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    Critical Essays

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    Review of  a performance by the Illinois Shakespeare Festival:

    Review of a performance of the play done by Columbia College Chicago:

    Joseph Lockett's review of a BBC production:


    Educational activities to accompany the play:

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