Home: Shakespeare Index
Shakespeare Study Guides in Kindle Format
With Complete Annotated Texts
Table of Contents
Type of Work
and Full Title Composition
and First Performance Publication
Climax and Conclusion
Ingredients Figures of Speech
Questions and Essay Topics
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J.
2010, 2011, 2013, 2016
Type of Work and
Night is a romantic comedy written for the
Elizabethan stage. The full title is Twelfth Night, or What You
Will. Shakespeare wrote the play in the festive
spirit of the Twelfth Night of the Christmas season,
January 6, as part of events celebrating the holiday
season. The play uses mix-ups, pranks, and comic
dialogue to achieve its effect.
wrote Twelfth Night
between 1600 and 1602. Its first documented performance
was on February 2, 1602, at the hall of London's Middle
Temple, a facility that housed and educated aspiring
lawyers. February 2 was considered the last day of the
Christmas season, Candlemas Day, which celebrated the
presentation of the child Jesus in the temple of
Jerusalem and the purification of the Virgin Mary. It
was also a day set aside for the blessing of candles.
Shakespeare published Twelfth
Night in 1623, seven years after the author's
death, in a collection that included thirty-five other
Shakespeare plays. This collection was carefully edited
and proofread, then printed in folio format. A folio was
a large sheet of paper folded to create four pages.
Because the folio book was the first publication
containing a collection of Shakespeare's plays, it came
to be known as the First Folio after other folio
editions were published in 1632, 1663, and 1685.
main source of plot material for Twelfth Night is
"Apolonious and Silla," a story included in Barnabe
Riche's Farewell to the Military Profession, published
in 1581. Riche (circa 1540-1617) based his work on a
story in Novelle, by Matteo Bandello (circa
1480-1562).The latter work was based on an anonymous
Sienese comedy, Gl'Ingannati (The Deceived), published
The action of
the play is set in Illyria, in the northwestern Balkans
along the Adriatic Coast. Illyrians were ancestors of
modern-day Albanians. However, Shakespeare intended
Illyria as an imaginary country free of time or borders,
like Shangri-La, Oz, Avalon, or Prospero's island in
The tone of
the play is lighthearted and comic. There are no tragic
developments and no deaths.
of Illyria, who is also referred to as a count. He
thinks he is in love with his neighbor, Olivia, but has
trouble gaining her attention. His so-called love for
her is fickle and frivolous, however. Later, he realizes
that he loves Viola, who has been working as a page for
him in the disguise of a male.
Viola: Shipwreck survivor who disguises herself as a
male to get work as a page to Duke Orsino. She calls
herself Cesario. Viola is the main character, or
protagonist. She is smart, resourceful, kind, and
Olivia: Neighbor of Duke Orsino who ignores his
proposals of marriage and who continues to mourn the
death of a brother long after he goes to his grave.
However, she becomes enamored of the disguised Viola,
thinking he is a man, and begins to emerge from her
shell of sadness and sorrow.
Sebastian: Twin brother of Viola who also survives the
shipwreck, although Viola thinks he has drowned.
Valentine, Curio: Gentlemen attending Duke Orsino.
Sir Toby Belch: Merrymaking uncle of Olivia.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: (pronounced uh GUE cheek):
Bumbling knight who hopes to marry Olivia.
Malvolio: Pompous steward of Olivia who is led to
believe that she loves him. He wears yellow stockings to
Feste: Fool (jester) and servant of Olivia. He is highly
intelligent and given to clever wordplay that often
centers on the folly of human beings.
Fabian: Servant of Olivia.
Maria: Olivia's handmaiden and author of a letter that
ensnares Malvolio in a prank that pokes fun at his
Antonio: Sea captain and friend of Sebastian.
Another Sea Captain: Friend of Viola.
Minor Characters: Lords, priests, sailors, officers,
Duke Orsino of Illyria
rules all that he sees except his beautiful neighbor,
Olivia. He will not rest until he wins her heart and her
hand. Early in the first scene of Act 1, at his palace
in a locale on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Orsino is
pining for Olivia as musicians play for him and other
lords of his realm. When the sweet sound of the music
evokes in him the bittersweet longings of love, he
orders the musicians to stop playing. Curio, a gentleman
in his service, asks him whether he plans to join a
deer-hunting party. Orsino answers with a pun in which
he compares himself to a hart (male deer with antlers)
and his feelings of love to the hunting dogs that pursue
mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Olivia, however, busy
mourning a recently deceased brother, cannot bother her
pretty head with the duke’s importunities. Consequently,
the duke needs help to press his suit. Help arrives in
the form of a gentlewoman named Viola, who washed onto
the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck. She assumes
that her twin brother, Sebastian, drowned in the
shipwreck. To make her way in a world of men, she dons
male clothing, calls herself Cesario, and gains
employment as the duke’s page. Her first job, the duke
tells her, is to persuade Olivia to pay attention to
Methought she purged
the air of pestilence!
That instant was I
turn’d into a hart;
And my desires, like
fell and cruel hounds,
E’er since pursue me.
Residing with Olivia in her household are her
quick-witted jester, Feste, and her uncle, Sir Toby
Belch, a merry tub of lard. Belch promotes Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, a bumbling knight, as Olivia’s rightful
suitor, claiming that Sir Andrew has an income of three
thousand ducats a year, plays the viol da gamba (a
stringed instrument), and can speak three or four
languages. In reality Belch just wants Aguecheeck around
so that he can freeload on him. The steward of the
household is the conceited Malvolio, who has a talent
for irritating people with his haughty demeanor. He,
too, has an eye for Olivia even though he is only her
When Viola presents herself as Cesario at the door of
Olivia’s house, Malvolio attempts to turn her away. He
is under orders from Olivia to refuse to receive the
visitor, for Olivia suspects the “gentleman” is a
messenger charged with pressing the cause of Orsino.
However, Malvolio says the gentleman—whom he describes
as “Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a
boy” (1.5.75)—refuses to leave. Olivia gives in and
receives the visitor. Viola/Cesario then makes her pitch
on Orsino’s behalf, praising Olivia’s beauty.
Olivia asks, “How does he love me?” (1.5.126) “With
adorations, fertile tears / With groans that thunder
love, with sighs of fire?” (1.5.127-128).
Olivia says she does not love Orsino even though he may
be “virtuous” and “noble” (1.5.130), “valiant” (1.5.132)
and “gracious” (1.5.134). When Viola heaps further
praise on Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, Olivia begins to
warm to the idea of love. But it is not Orsino who has
stirred her; it is his messenger, the young gentleman
Cesario (Viola). Suddenly, Olivia realizes Cesario is
the man of her dreams, come to rescue her from her
doldrums. She tells Cesario that even though she does
not love Orsino, he (Cesario/Viola) may be admitted to
her house whenever he has other messages to deliver.
Viola then returns to Orsino’s estate without
accomplishing her mission. However, Orsino does have an
admirer—Viola. She reveals her love for him, without
directly saying so, when he asks her whether she loves
ORSINO: Thine eye
Sebastian, meanwhile, is quite alive and well, having
been rescued during the shipwreck by a sea captain,
Antonio. But Sebastian is sad, for he believes his twin
sister has drowned. The kindly Antonio gives him money
to get along in Illyria but remains behind for the time
being because the Illyrians think he is a pirate. He
says he will meet up with Sebastian later.
Hath stay’d upon some
favour that it loves:
Hath it not, boy?
little, by your favour.
What kind of woman is’t?
She is not worth thee, then. What years, i’ faith?
your years, my lord. (2.4.23-30)
After nightfall at Olivia’s home, Belch, Aguecheek and
the jester, Feste, are drinking and singing, as they are
wont to do. As the evening wears on, they become drunker
and noisier. Feste sings a song that is a testament to
love? ’tis not hereafter;
Maria, attempts to quiet the caterwauling revelers, to
no avail. Then the self-righteous Malvolio comes
a-scolding. He says, “Do ye make an alehouse of my
lady’s house, that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches
[stupid cobblers' songs] without any mitigation or
remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons,
nor time in you?” (2.3.44).
Present mirth hath
What’s to come is
In delay there lies
Then come kiss me,
sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will
not endure. (2.3.23)
Malvolio then upbraids Maria for failing to end the
raucous merrymaking. Fed up with Malvolio’s bossy
arrogance, Maria and the revelers decide to play a prank
to bruise his ego. Maria, who can imitate Olivia’s
handwriting, is to pen a letter in which Olivia
professes her love for Malvolio. Upon reading it,
Malvolio will no doubt puff with pride to think himself
the object of Olivia’s affection, then proceed to make
an ass of himself in front of Olivia.
When Cesario (Viola) returns to Olivia’s house to renew
her pleas on Orsino’s behalf, Olivia declares her love
for him. Aguecheek, jealous, then challenges Cesario to
a duel. Out on a walkway on Olivia’s property, Malvolio
happens upon the forged letter, which Maria placed on
the walkway earlier. Though it does not mention Malvolio
by name, he realizes it is clearly meant for him and
vows to follow its instructions: to smile constantly,
act surly to servants and house guests, and wear yellow
stockings with crossed garters. When Malvolio next sees
Olivia, he beams broadly and prances about as he
displays his wonderful yellow stockings. Then he calls
her “sweetheart” (3.4.25) and quotes phrases from the
forged letter. Olivia thinks him mad and commits him to
the care of Belch, who promptly locks Malvolio in a dark
Antonio the sea captain now ventures onto the scene.
Thinking Viola (Cesario) is her lookalike brother
Sebastian, he tries to fight on her behalf as the duel
commences, but the duke’s officers arrest him for
piracy. When Antonio asks Viola for the money he gave
her (still believing she is Sebastian), she appears
dumbfounded and says she does not know him. Before the
officers lead him away, Antonio addresses Viola as
Sebastian. Viola then realizes this stranger may have
seen her brother. Could Sebastian have survived the
Shortly after Viola leaves, Sebastian arrives and
Aguecheek—unable to tell Sebastian from his twin sister,
who remains in the guise of a male—takes him for Viola
(Cesario) and strikes him. Sebastian strikes back.
Shocked, Aguecheek threatens to sue him. Sebastian then
challenges him to draw his sword. Happily for Aguecheek,
Olivia hears the commotion and intervenes, chasing
everyone away except Sebastian. Like Aguecheek, she
mistakes him for Cesario (Viola). When she invites him
to her house, the glow of love evident in her eyes,
Sebastian trails along. In an instant he is in love.
While he is in the garden, Olivia enters with a priest
and proposes to him:
this haste of mine. If you mean well,
Sebastian swears he
will always be true to her.
Now go with me and
with this holy man
Into the chantry by:
there, before him,
And underneath that
Plight me the full
assurance of your faith. (4.3.25-29)
Later Orsino and Viola (still disguised as Cesario) come
to Olivia’s house just as the duke’s officers arrive
with Antonio. Poor Viola. First, the sea captain who
believes she is Sebastian accuses her of ingratitude for
refusing to return his purse. Then Olivia, who arrives
on the scene with attendants, announces that she has
pledged to marry Sebastian (still believing that he is
Viola/Cesario). When Sebastian enters, he is amazed that
Viola resembles him, but notes that he never had a
brother. How could this “man” look so much like him? Is
he a relative? Viola tells him her father had a mole on
his brow. Sebastian says his father also had such a
mole. Then they realize to their great joy that they
both survived the shipwreck, and the confusion ends.
Meanwhile, the duke becomes aware that he has loved
Viola all along. When he begs her hand, she agrees to
marry him in the same ceremony that will unite Sebastian
and Olivia. Sir Toby Belch and Maria also decide to tie
the knot. Everyone is happy. Everyone except Malvolio.
Though he has gained his freedom, he remains a slave to
his ego and declares, “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole
pack of you” (5.1.339). He storms out and the duke sends
an attendant to “pursue him and entreat him to a peace”
(5.1.341). Feste sings a song to end the play.
The main character,
Viola, suffers an internal conflict during most of the
play. After disguising herself as a male and calling
herself Cesario, she accepts employment as a servant
of Duke Orsino and falls in love with him. However,
because of her assumed identity, she cannot reveal her
love for Orsino. Orsino, meanwhile, has a conflict of
his own. He thinks he is in love with Olivia, but she
continually rejects his attempts to woo her. Olivia,
in turn, thinks she is in love Cesario (Viola), but
Cesario rejects all of her overtures. Sir Andrew
Aguecheek further complicates matters. He wants to
marry Olivia but becomes jealous of Cesario/Viola when
he mistakenly believes that Cesario's frequent visits
to Olivia's indicate that the youth is a rival for
Olivia's affections. Aguecheek challenges Cesario to a
duel. Into this mix is thrown the conflict between
stodgy Malvolio and Olivia's other employees—Maria,
Feste, and Fabian—as well as Sir Toby Belch and Sir
Andrew Aguecheek. They join forces to play an
elaborate trick on the haughty steward that makes him
Climax and Conclusion
The climax of Twelfth
Night occurs when Viola and Sebastian reunite
and their true identities become known to everyone.
Their reunion sets up the conclusion (or denouement),
in which preparations are made for the marriage of
Viola to Orsino and Sebastian to Olivia. The
conclusion also explains how the plotters against
Malvolio carried out the prank that caused him to
True Love Perceives the
True love requires recognition of the noble inner
qualities of the beloved as well as the outward
qualities. Duke Orsino thinks he loves Olivia. But it
soon becomes apparent that he loves her primarily for
her beauty, not her nobility of soul. In other words,
he is infatuated with her looks and charm. However, he
gradually falls in love with Viola after her inner
qualities emerge while she is disguised as a man. His
love for her will become complete when she doffs her
disguise and reveals that she is a beautiful woman.
Olivia's love for Sebastian evolves in a similar way.
She begins by admiring Sebastian's noble qualities as
mirrored by his twin sister Viola, disguised as the
male messenger Cesario. But her love is incomplete
until Sebastian arrives with the same noble qualities
of Viola—but in a male body.
Carpe Diem (Seize
Feste chides his employer, Olivia, for continuing to
mourn for her brother long after he is dead. He
realizes that one of the main purposes of life is to
live. One should seize the day and make the most of
it. In a song he sings for Sir Toby Belch and Sir
Andrew Aguecheek, he sums up his philosophy:
What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure. (2.3.23)
The Somber Spirit of
Priggish Malvolio becomes the brunt of a practical
joke after he attempts to interdict the merriment of
Feste, Aguecheek, and Sir Toby Belch. It appears that
Shakespeare intended to use Malvolio to satirize the
somber spirit of Puritanism during the Elizabethan
era. In fact, the characters in the play openly refer
to him as a Puritan, as in this dialogue:
MARIA: Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of
SIR ANDREW: O, if I thought that I'ld beat
him like a dog!
SIR TOBY BELCH: What, for being a Puritan? thy
exquisite reason, dear knight?
SIR ANDREW: I have no exquisite reason for't,
but I have reason good enough.
MARIA: The devil a Puritan that he is, or any
thing constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned
ass, that cons state without book and utters it by
great swarths [swaths]: the best persuaded of himself,
so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it
is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love
him; and on that vice in him will my revenge find
notable cause to work. (2.3.151-160)
Olivia's servant Fabian also bemoans Malvolio as a
killjoy. After Sir Toby Belch asks Fabian whether he
would enjoy shaming Malvolio in some way, Fabian
replies, "I would exult, man: you know, he brought me
out o'/ favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here"
(2.5.6-7). (Bear-baiting—in which dogs attacked a bear
tethered to a post—was a popular bloodsport in
Shakespeare's London.) Aguecheek denounces Puritanism
in general when he says, "I had as lief be a Brownist
as a politician" (3.2.28). A Brownist was a follower
of Robert Browne (1550-1633), a Puritan leader.
Deceit drives the plot of Twelfth Night, causing many
mix-ups and much mischief before the curtain falls on
the final act. Ironically, the most likable and
upright character in the play, Viola, is also the
chief dissembler. She foreshadows her own deceitful
behavior when she tells a ship captain,
There is a fair behaviour in thee,
And though that nature with a beauteous
Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee
I will believe thou hast a mind that suits
With this thy fair and outward character.
The key words here are "that nature with a beauteous
wall / Doth oft close in pollution." In other words, a
person with a beautiful face and body often harbors
unvirtuous thoughts and intentions. Not long after
making this observation, she decides to wear men's
clothes to get a job and make her way in a man's
world. When she accepts work as a page for Duke
Orsino, she sets in motion a chain of events that
mislead and confuse other characters. She is a good
person at heart, of course, and does no serious harm
to anyone. Nevertheless, she does wrong when
continuing her deception and, to her credit, admits
her wrongdoing--at least to herself--when she says,
"Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness" (2.2.18).
Fortunately for the play's audience and readers, her
deceit sets up a delightful play with twists and turns
that continue all the way into the final act.
Other characters are also deceitful in one way or
another as the play progresses. The duke, for example,
deceives himself into believing that he loves Olivia
just because she is beautiful. We learn at the end of
the play that he loved Viola all along, not only
because of her beauty but also because of her
appealing inner qualities.
Malvolio deceives himself into believing that he is
superior to others in intelligence, manners, and
importance. His haughtiness prompts Maria and other
servants, as well as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, to hatch a plot designed to expose his
faults and embarrass him. Their snare is a deceitful
letter that Maria writes. In it, she imitates the
handwriting of Olivia, making it appear as if Olivia
herself wrote it. Sir Toby tells her to pack the
letter with "as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of
paper." The co-conspirators place the letter on a
walkway where Malvolio will find it. After he finds
and reads it, it leads the proud steward to believe
that Olivia is in love with him and urges him to take
certain actions that will enable him to win her. These
actions turn Malvolio into a laughingstock and brand
him as a madman. Feste pretends to be a priest, Sir
Topas, who has come to rid him of demons possessing
In another episode, Olivia sends Cesario/Viola a ring,
pretending that the page left it behind after a visit.
Olivia, smitten with love for Cesario, uses this
little deception to make sure that Cesario will visit
her again to return the ring.
Comic Ingredients of the
Twelfth Night with a potpourri of ingredients to
achieve his comic effect—a set of twins, some
situation comedy, a dash of dramatic irony, a goodly
dollop of romance, three boisterous merrymakers, and a
puritanical sourpuss. Following is an explanation of
how Shakespeare uses these ingredients:
Viola and her brother, Sebastian, are twins—born about
an hour apart—who survive a shipwreck. When they
cannot find each other, each thinks the other may be
dead. Then they go their separate ways, establishing
two story lines that undergird plot surprises later
involving mistaken identities.
Viola complicates the plot after she disguises herself
as a young man, calling herself Cesario, and obtains
employment as a page with Duke Orsino. When she acts
as a go-between to help the duke woo Olivia, Viola
begins to fall in love with the duke while Olivia
begins to fall in love with Viola, thinking “him” a
handsome young fellow. Thus, the play takes on the
characteristics of a modern situation comedy.
Realizing her predicament, Viola says that
My master loves her [Olivia] 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 master's 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 to untie! (2.2.24-32)
Dramatic irony occurs when a character in a play,
novel, film, or any other work is unaware of plot
developments or background information known to the
audience. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses dramatic
irony numerous times. A memorable example of it begins
with line 23 in the second scene of Act 1, when Duke
Orsino notices that Viola (disguised as Cesario) seems
preoccupied. It is, of course, budding love for the
duke that preoccupies her. Although she comes close to
giving away her feelings, Orsino remains dumb to the
cause of her distraction. Here is the dialogue in
which they engage:
DUKE ORSINO: My life upon't, young though thou
art, thine eye
Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves:
Hath it not, boy?
VIOLA: A little, by your favour.
DUKE ORSINO: What kind of woman is't?
VIOLA: Of your complexion.
DUKE ORSINO: She is not worth thee, then. What years,
VIOLA: About your years, my lord. (2.4.23-30)
Another example of dramatic irony occurs when Olivia
declares her love for the disguised Viola:
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood, honour, truth and every thing,
I love thee so, that, maugre [despite] all thy pride.
The love bug bites not only Viola, Orsino, and Olivia
but also Viola’s brother, Sebastian, along with Sir
Toby Belch and Maria—and even priggish Malvolio.
However, Malvolio is more in love with himself than
The Merrymakers and
The adventures of Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew
Aguecheek, and Feste the Fool provide rousing comic
interludes between the other parts of the play.
Especially delightful is the trick the threesome play
on dour Malvolio—with the help of Maria—in which they
convince him that Viola loves him. Malvolio helps make
the play work; he is the gray cloud that blocks the
sunlight and evokes cheers when he passes.
Figures of Speech
examples of figures of speech in the play.
Repetition of the same consonant sound at the
beginning of words or syllables
She that hath a heart of that fine
While one would
(Note that one
alliterates with while,
would, and wink because it
begins with a w
More matter for a May morning. (3.4.80)
It is something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose. (3.4.255-256)
Repetition of a word or group of words at the
beginning of a phrase, clause, or sentence
I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth. (3.1.124)
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em. (5.1.144-145)
One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
A natural perspective, that is and is not!
He does smile his face into more lines than are in the
new map with the augmentation of the Indies. (3.2.30)
Saying the opposite of what is meant
Good night, Penthesilea. (2.3.177)
(Sir Toby Belch addresses Maria as Penthesilea, the
queen of the Amazons in Greek mythology. Penthesilea
was a tall, muscular woman. Maria is small in
Comparison of unlike things without the use of like,
as, or than
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die. (1.1.1-3)
(Comparison of music to food)
You are now sailed into the north of my lady’s
Comparison of the lady's opinion to a sea
Souls and bodies hath he divorced three. (3.4.128)
(Comparison of killing to divorcing bodies and souls)
I my brother know
Yet living in my glass (3.4.222-223)
(Viola compares her brother to the image she sees when
she looks at herself in a mirror.)
of words side by side that are contrary or opposite in
This letter, being so excellently ignorant, will breed
no terror in the youth. (3.4.99).
of words that are contrary or opposite in meaning but
not placed side by side
'Tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have
the gift of a grave. (1.3.15)
Love’s night is noon. (3.1.114-115)
Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than
More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth
(Comparison of the sharpness of desire or motivation
to the sharpness of "filed steel")
You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman's beard
(Comparison of a person to an icicle)
This house is as dark as ignorance. (4.2.45)
(Comparison of the darkness of the house to the
darkness of ignorance)
Imagery of Love
Because the plot of Twelfth Night
centers on the theme of love, so does much of its
imagery. But, of course, as Shakespeare has demonstrated
in other plays—tragedies and histories as well as
comedies—it is not always easy to discover whom one
truly loves, let alone woo him or her successfully.
Moreover, although love is pleasurable, it is often
painfully pleasurable. In addition, although the object
of one’s affection may be within earshot, he or she may
be a world away emotionally. In Twelfth Night,
Shakespeare’s imagery chronicles the blissful anguish of
love, the ways which love conceals or reveals itself,
and the giddy joy of capturing it heart and soul.
Following are examples of imagery on the theme of love:
The Painful Pleasure of Love
If music be the food of
love, play on;
Give me excess of it,
The appetite may
sicken, and so die. (1.1 3-5)
(Duke Orsino speaks a
paradox in saying that the sustainer of love, music, may
become the destroyer of love.)
Come away, come away,
And in sad cypress let
me be laid;
Fly away, fly away
I am slain by a fair
cruel maid. (2.4 55)
(Feste speaks a
personification and an apostrophe when he addresses
death, an alliteration with sad cypress, and an oxymoron
with fair cruel maid.)
If ever thou shalt
In the sweet pangs of
it remember me;
For such as I am all
true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in
all motions else,
Save in the constant
image of the creature
That is beloved.
(Duke Orsino uses an
oxymoron—sweet pangs—when speaking of love.
The Transparency of the Emotions
A murderous guilt shows
not itself more soon
Than love that would
seem hid: love’s night is noon. (3.1.114-115)
(Olivia speaks a
paradox, saying that trying to hide feelings of love
succeeds only in revealing them.)
She never told her
But let concealment,
like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask
cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and
She sat like patience
on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was
not this love indeed? (2.4.96-101)
(In a paradox, Viola
says concealment of love reveals it. In similes, she
compares concealment to a worm and patience to a
monument. In a metaphor, she compares melancholy to an
object that is green and yellow.)
Love Poem Foreshadowing a Happy Ending
O mistress mine! where
are you roaming?
O! stay and hear; your
true love’s coming,
That can sing both high
Trip no further, pretty
Journeys end in lovers
Every wise man’s son
doth know. (2.3.20)
(Feste sings this poem,
which has a rhyme scheme of aabccb. Note: roaming and
coming constitute eye rhyme but not true rhyme.)
As in his other
plays, Shakespeare uses allusions (indirect references
to mythical, biblical, or historical persons, events,
things, or ideas) in Twelfth Night. Following are
examples of allusions in the play, as well as direct
references to persons, places, things, or ideas.
(1.2.17-19): Greek musician rescued by a dolphin after
sailors stole his money and ordered him to jump
(5.1.55): Corruption of Candia, the official name of
Crete in Shakespeare's time.
Saint Benedict, a church in London.
(3.2.14): Follower of Robert Browne, a Puritan
extremist who advocated separation from the Church of
England and demanded freedom from government
interference. He was jailed more than thirty times for
(3.4.99): Serpent that could kill with the glare of
(1.4.31): Roman name for Artemis, virgin goddess of
the moon and the hunt in Greek mythology.
(2.3.2) First two words of a Latin proverb: Diluculo
surgere saluberrimum est (Rising at dawn makes a man
(5.1.121): Character in Aethiopica, by the ancient
Greek writer Heliodorus. Thyamis, a robber, fell in
love with an Ethiopian princess. When other robbers
pursued him, he placed Chariclea in a dark cave where
he kept treasure. The other robbers attacked.
Believing he was about to die, Thyamis entered the
cave to kill Chariclea so that no one else could have
her. In the darkness, he killed the wrong woman.
(1.2.3): Paradise in classical mythology.
(1.1.14): Arrow shot by the god of love in classical
mythology. His Roman name was Cupid; his Greek name
(4.2.7): A legendary king of Britain.
(2.4.36): In the Old Testament, the wife of Ahab, king
(1.5.113): In Roman mythology, an alternate name for
Jupiter, the king of the gods. His Greek name was
(3.4.85): Name of devils possessing a man in the New
Testament (Mark 5:1-19).
(4.1.62): In classical mythology, the river of
forgetfulness in Hades.
(1.5.83): In classical mythology, the Roman name for
the messenger god. His Greek name was Hermes. He was
associated with lying and deception.
metal of India
(1.3.127): Possibly a reference to a prostitute or
another name for Mary.
classical mythology, warriors led in battle in the
Trojan War by the Greek hero Achilles.
(3.2.12): Biblical patriarch who constructed an ark to
save himself and his family (Genesis 5:28 and 10:32).
(3.1.51): In Greek mythology, a Lycian who takes part
in the Trojan War. He acts as a go-between in a love
affair between Trojans Troilus and Cressida. The
English word panderer (procurer, pimp) is derived from
the name Pandarus.
(5.1.193): Slow dance popular at the court of
(2.4.156): In Greek mythology, the queen of the
Amazons, a race of tall, warlike women. Sir Toby uses
this name ironically to call attention to Maria's
(4.2.50): Greek mathematician and philosopher who
believed in the transmigration of souls.
(3.2.70): Christian who becomes a heathen.
(4.2.2): Comic protagonist in Geoffrey Chaucer's Rime of Sir Topas.
(2.5.181): A title of the king of Persia.
(2.5.92): Tartarus. In classical mythology, Tartarus
was part of Hades (hell).
(2.5.190): Dice game.
(5.1.53): In classical mythology, the Roman name for
the blacksmith god. His Greek name was Hephaestus.
(3.1.134): Cry of Thames River boatmen calling for
passengers to Westminster.
Meanings of Characters'
The names of several
characters appear to be metaphors or symbols. For
example, Malvolio means bad desires or bad intentions.
(The prefix Mal means bad or evil, as in malicious;
volio means I wish or I desire, from the Latin volo.)
Sir Toby Belch is a mug of beer given to burping. (A
toby is a jug or mug resembling a fat man; a belch is
an expulsion of gas from the mouth.) Feste is jolly,
festive, celebrating the joy of the moment. Viola, who
disguises herself as a man, is the name of a musical
instrument with a deeper tone than a violin's—in other
words, a more masculine tone.
One may fairly speculate that Sebastian is named after
Saint Sebastian, who was ordered killed because he was
Christian. However, after archers shot him with arrows
and abandoned him, he remained alive and was nursed
back to health. In Twelfth Night, Sebastian is
presumed dead after a shipwreck but, like Saint
Sebastian, survives. The name Aguecheek is a
combination of ague, meaning fever, and cheek, meaning
the fleshy side of the face. Thus, Sir Andrew
Aguecheek is a wine-drinking, red-cheeked fellow.
Olivia may represent the olive tree, famous for its
Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night
partly in prose, partly in unrhyming verse, and partly
in rhyming verse.
Prose is the language of everyday conversation. It
contains short and long lines and no intentional
patterns of rhyme or rhythm. Verse consists of a
series of lines of limited length (usually about ten
syllables in Shakespeare's plays) and an intentional
rhythmic pattern. Rhyming verse consists of a series
of lines of limited length in which the last word or
syllable of one line rhymes with the last word or
syllable of another line. Sometimes rhyming verse
often appears in the form of a poem. Following are
examples of passages in prose, unrhyming verse, and
MALVOLIO: 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 lady’s house, that ye squeak out
your coziers’ catches without any mitigation or
remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place,
persons, nor time, in you?
SIR TOBY: We did keep time, sir, in our catches.
MALVOLIO: Sir Toby, I must be round with you. My
lady bade me tell you, that, though she harbours you
as her kinsman, she’s nothing allied to your
disorders. If you can separate yourself and your
misdemeanours, you are welcome to the house; if not,
SIR TOBY: Farewell, dear heart, since I must
needs be gone.
MARIA: Nay, good Sir Toby.
FESTE: His eyes do show his days are almost
MALVOLIO: Is ’t even so? (2.3.44-50)
Comment: Notice that the lines are casual, like an
everyday conversation, and that the line length varies
considerably. For example, the first line of the
passage has sixty words; the last line has four.
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall
O! it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets.
Comment: Notice that the lines are of limited length.
They contain a rhythmic pattern in which an unstressed
syllable precedes a stressed syllable. Here is a
graphic illustration of the pattern:
If MU sic BE the FOOD of LOVE, play ON;
Give ME ex CESS of IT, that SUR feit ING
the AP pe TITE may SICK en AND so DIE
that STRAIN a GAIN! it HAD a DY ing FALL
Cesario, by the roses of the
By maidhood, honour, truth, and every
I love thee so, that, maugre [in spite of] all thy
Nor [neither] wit nor reason can my passion
Do not extort thy reasons from this
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no
But rather reason thus with reason
Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.
Vio. By innocence I swear, and by my
I have one heart, one bosom, and one
And that no woman has; nor never
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone. (3.1.115-126)
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Comment: Notice the rhyming lines: 1 and 2, 3 and 6,
and 4 and 5. Notice too that these lines, recited by
Feste, constitute a unit that can stand alone as a
Prose was used to present everyday conversation. In
some instances, it suggested that the characters
speaking it were of lesser rank than the characters
speaking verse. However, occasionally, high-ranking
characters also spoke in prose. Verse was an elegant,
measured mode of communication usually used to express
the thoughts of educated, high-ranking characters.
Sometimes, though, low-ranking characters also spoke
in verse. Poetry and rhyming verse were used to convey
a profound truth or to enliven the dialogue, whether
recited by a person of low or high rank.
Study Questions and Essay
1. Viola dons a male
disguise to get a job. Do people today sometimes
disguise themselves—figuratively or literally—to gain
employment? What other extra measures do women
sometimes take to succeed in male-dominated
2. Who is the most practical, level-headed character
in the play? Explain your answer.
3. Shakespeare pokes fun at the Puritans, represented
by the character Malvolio. Who were the Puritans? What
were their beliefs and their goals? When a person uses
the word puritanical today, what does he or she
4. In what ways does Twelfth Night resemble a modern
TV situation comedy?
5. Write an essay describing how dramatic irony
enhances the comic situations in Twelfth Night.
Dramatic irony occurs when a character does not see or
understand what is obvious to the audience.
|Example of an
MLA Citation for This Study Guide
Cummings, Michael J. “Twelfth Night, or What You
Will: a Study Guide.” Shake Sphere: a Guide to the Complete
Works of William Shakespeare. N.p.,
.......5 Feb. 2016. <http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/Twelfth.html#Twelfth>.
Note: "5 Feb. 2016" is the date that the essay
writer accessed the site. Be sure to insert the
date you accessed the site instead of "5 Feb.
2016." Note also that the second line of an MLA
works-cited entry is indented.
Example of an APA
Citation for This Study Guide
Cummings, M. (2013).
"Twelfth Night, or What You Will: a Study
Guide." Retrieved from