Twelfth Night, or What You Will
A Study Guide
Type of Work
Key Dates
Plot Summary
Satirizing Puritanism
Ingredients of the Comedy
Imagery of Love
Other Figures of Speech
Meanings of Names
Use of Disguises
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Biography of Shakespeare
Manuscript Preparation
Complete Free Text
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003, 2010, 2011, 2013

Type of Work

.......Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a stage play in the form of a comedy. It was written in the festive spirit of the Twelfth Night of the Christmas season, January 6, as part of events celebrating the holiday season. 

Key Dates

Date Written: 1601. 
Publication: 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first auhorized collection of Shakespeare's play.
First Performance: Probably January or February of 1602. It is possible that the play was staged on January 6, the Twelfth Night of the Christmas season, as part of events celebrating the holiday season. This debut date would explain the title. 


.......The probable main source of Twelfth Night is Apolonious and Silla, by Barnabie Riche. The story was included in Riche's Farewell to the Military Profession, published in 1581. Riche based his work on a story in Matteo Bandello's Novelle. The latter was based on an anonymous Sienese comedy, Gl'Ingannati (The Deceived), published in 1537.


.......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 may have intended Illyria as an imaginary country free of time or borders, like Shangri-La, Oz, Avalon, or Prospero's island in The Tempest

Protagonist: Viola 
Antagonist: Mix-ups and Mistaken Identities
Orsino: Duke of Illyria. 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 falls in love with Viola, who is disguised as a male.
Viola: Shipwreck survivor who disguises herself as a male to get work as a page to Duke Orsino. She calls herself Cesario.
Olivia: Neighbor of Duke Orsino who ignores his attentions but becomes enamored of the disguised Viola, thinking he is a man. 
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: Bumbling knight. 
Malvolio: Pompous steward of Olivia who thinks she loves him. He wears yellow stockings to impress her. 
Feste: Clown and servant of Olivia.
Fabian: Servant of Olivia.
Maria: Olivia's handmaiden. 
Antonio: A sea captain and friend of Sebastian.
Another Sea Captain: Friend of Viola.
Minor Characters: Lords, priests, sailors, officers, musicians, attendants.

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003

 .......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 I, at his palace in a city 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 it: 
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
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. (1. 1. 22-26)
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. Her twin brother, Sebastian, drowned in the shipwreck—or so Viola thinks. 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, who lives nearby, to pay attention to him. 
.......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 servant. 
.......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 loves me?” (1.5.126)
.......“With adorations, fertile tears / With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” (1. 5. 127-128), answers Viola.
.......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 having accomplished 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 someone:
ORSINO:   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thine eye 
Hath stay’d upon some favour that it loves: 
Hath it not, boy? 
VIOLA   A little, by your favour. 
ORSINO   What kind of woman is’t? 
VIOLA   Of your complexion. 
ORSINO   She is not worth thee, then. What years, i’ faith? 
VIOLA   About your years, my lord. (2.4.23-30) 
 .......Sebastian, meanwhile, is quite alive and well, having been rescued 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 him a pirate. He says he will meet up with Sebastian later. 
.......Meanwhile, 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 carpe diem: 
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) 
.......Olivia’s handmaiden, 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’ catches1 without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?” (2.3.44).
.......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, placed in his path by Maria. 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 and to 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 room. 
.......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 dumfounded 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 shipwreck? 
.......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:
Blame not this haste of mine. If you mean well,
Now go with me and with this holy man
Into the chantry2 by: there, before him, 
And underneath that consecrated roof,
Plight me the full assurance of your faith. (4.3.25-29)
Sebastian swears he will always be true to her, and they marry. 
.......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 just married 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 Viola doffs her disguise and the confusion ends. 
.......The duke realizes he has loved Viola all along. When he begs her hand, she agrees to marry him. 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.


True love sees the soul. 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 is not complete until she doffs her disguise and reveals that she is a beautiful woman. Orsino then loves her heart, soul, and body—that is, spiritually and physically. 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. 
Love (brotherly and romantic) is foolish at times. For example, Olivia goes to ridiculous lengths to mourn her dead brother, then falls in love with Viola disguised as a man. Pompous Malvolio, meanwhile, wears yellow stockings with crossed garters to woo Olivia. 
Love vexes and presents pitfalls. Orsino, Viola, and Olivia, undergo distress and suffer setbacks of one kind or another before being united with his or her beloved. Malvolio, of course, falls into a pitfall and never gets out.
Love ultimately triumphs. Despite all the obstacles they face, people in love eventually unite through persistence.
Appearances and first impressions can be deceiving. Outward appearances and first impressions mislead the main characters in one way or another—until the truth surfaces in Act V. 
Carpe diem (seize the day). 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. 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)
Satirizing Puritanism

.......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 Puritan. 
    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: 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 was a popular bloodsport in Shakespeare's London. In Act III, Scene II, 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. 

Ingredients of the Comedy

.......Shakespeare mixes Twelfth Night with a potpourri of ingredients to achieve his comic effecta set of twins, some situation comedy, a dash of dramatic irony, a dollop of romance, three boisterous merrymakers, and a puritanical sourpuss. Following is an explanation of how Shakespeare uses these ingredients:

The Twins

Viola and her brother, Sebastian, are twinsborn about an hour apartwho 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. 

Situation Comedy

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

.......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 it begins with Line 22 in Act I, Scene II, 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, i' faith? 
    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, maugre3 all thy pride, .
    Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide. 
    Do not extort thy reasons from this clause, 
    For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause, 
    But rather reason thus with reason fetter, 
    Love sought is good, but given unsought better. (3.1.115-122)

.......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 with Olivia. 

The Merrymakers and Malvolio

.......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.


.......As in most of his plays, Shakespeare frequently uses allusions (indirect references to mythical, biblical, or historical persons, events, things, or ideas). Twelfth Night provides an excellent opportunity for instructors to teach allusions, for the play abounds in them. Following are examples of allusions in the play, as well as direct references to persons, places, things, or ideas. 

Arion (1.2.17-19): Greek musician rescued by a dolphin after sailors stole his money and ordered him to jump overboard.
Candy  (5.1.55): Corruption of Candia, the former name of the capital of Crete, Iráklion.
Bennet, Saint: Saint Benedict, a church in London.
Brownist (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 his activities. In this line, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who has designs on Viola, is responding to a suggestion that he use either valor or political skill to win Viola. His sarcastic remark, a form of verbal irony with the allusion to Puritan extremism, makes it clear he prefers being valorous to being political.
cockatrice (3.4.99): Serpent that could kill with the glare of its eyes.
Diana (1.4.31): Roman name for Artemis, virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt in Greek mythology.
diliculo surgere: (2.3.2) First two words of a Latin proverb: 'Diluculo surgere saluberrimum est (Rising at dawn makes a man healthy).
Egyptian thief (5.1.121): Thyamis, an Egyptian robber who stood ready to kill his captive, Chariclea, to prevent enemies from taking her. In Shakespeare's play, Duke Orsino compares himself with Thyamis and Olivia with Chariclea when Olivia rejects him.
Elysium (1.2.3): Paradise.
golden shaft (1.1.14): Arrow shot by the god of love. His Roman name is Cupid; his Greek name is Eros.
Gorboduc (4.2.7): A legendary king of Britain.
Jezebel (2.4.36): Wife of Ahab, king of Israel. 
Jove (1.5.113): Roman name for the Greek king of the gods, Zeus. The Romans also called him Jupiter.
Legion (3.4.85) Name of devils possessing a man in the New Testament ( Mark 5:1-19).
Lethe (4.1.62): In Greek mythology, the river of forgetfulness in Hades.
Mercury (1.5.83) Messenger god in Greek mythology. He was also associated with lying and deception. In this line ("Now Mercury indue you with leasing"), Feste asks that Mercury give Olivia the ability to lie convincingly.
metal of India (2.5.14): Gold.
Mall (1.3.127): Possibly a reference to a prostitute or another name for Mary.
Noah (3.2.12): Biblical patriarch who constructed an ark to save himself and his family (Genesis 5:28 and 10:32).
Pandarus (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 Troilus and Cressida. The English word panderer (procurer, pimp) is derived from the name Pandarus.
pavan (5.1.193): Pavan, a slow dance popular at the court of sovereigns.
Penthesilea (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 smallness. 
Pythagoras (4.2.50): Greek mathematician and philosopher who believed in the transmigration of souls.
renegado (3.2.70): Christian who becomes a heathen.
Sir Topas (4.2.2): Comic protagonist in Geoffrey Chaucer's Rime of Sir Topas.
Sophy (2.5.181): Name applied to a Persian shah (ruler).
tray-trip (2.5.190): Dice game.
Vulcan (5.1.53): Roman name for the Greek blacksmith god, Hephaestus. 
westward ho (3.1.134): Cry of Thames River boatmen calling for passengers to Westminster.
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 playstragedies and histories as well as comediesit 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, that, surfeiting, 
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, death, 
And in sad cypress let me be laid; 
Fly away, fly away breath; 
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 love, 
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. (2.4.14-19)
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 love, 
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, 
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought, 
And with a green and yellow melancholy 
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 and low: 
Trip no further, pretty sweeting; 
Journeys end in lovers meeting, 
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. 

Other Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of other figures of speech in the play. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms


she that hath a heart of that fine frame (1.1.32)

While one would wink (5.1.90)

More matter for a May morning. (3.4.80) 

It is something of my
negligence, nothing of my purpose. (3.4.255-256)

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!  (5.1.216-217)

He does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies. (3.2.30)
Irony (Dramatic)
See Ingredients of the Comedy, Dramatic Irony
Irony (Verbal)
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 of stature.
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 opinion. (3.2.13)
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.

This letter, being so excellently ignorant, will breed no terror in the youth. (3.4.99). 
Love’s night is noon. (3.1.114-115)
                                            [M]y desire,
More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth (3.3.4-5)
Comparison of the sharpness of desire to the sharpness of "filed steel"

      [Y]ou will hang like an icicle
on a Dutchman's beard (3.2.28)
Comparison of a person to an icicle

[T]his house is as dark as ignorance. (4.2.45)
Comparison of the darkness of the house to the darkness of ignorance

Meaning of Character Names

.......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 pincushioned 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 wine-drinking, red-cheeked fellow. Olivia may represent the olive tree, famous for its exquisite beauty.


.......The climax of a play or another narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Twelfth Night occurs, according to the first definition, when Olivia claims to love Cesario (Olivia). According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act when twins Viola and Sebastian establish their true identities.

Shakespeare's Use of Disguises 

.......Time and again, Shakespeare disguises women as men to further a plot. For example, In All's Well That Ends Well, Helena wears the attire of a pilgrim to get close to Bertram. In Cymbeline, Imogen becomes a page boy to win back Posthumous. Julia also becomes a page boy in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as does Viola in Twelfth Night. In The Merchant of Venice, Portia disguises herself as a male judge to save the friend of her lover in a court of law. Rosalind, in As You Like It, dons the garb of a man to become a shepherd as she seeks out her love, Orlando. In each of these plays, the women disguised as men eventually reveal their true female identities All of this could have been quite confusing to playgoers in Shakespeare's day, for only men played women's roles. Thus, in the above-mentioned plays, men played women disguised as men who at some point doffed their male identities to reveal themselves as females.
Study Questions and Essay Topics

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 workplaces? 
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 usually mean? 
4. In what ways does Twelfth Night resemble a modern TV situation comedy? In what ways is it unlike a TV 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.


1. coziers’ catches: Alcohol-induced singing.
2. chantry: Chapel.
3. maugre: Malgré, French for in spite of.

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., 2013. Web.

.......5 Feb. 2013. <http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/Twelfth.html#Twelfth>.

Note: "5 Feb. 2013" is the date that the essay writer accessed the site. Be sure to insert the date you accessed the site instead of "5 Feb. 2013." 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 http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/Twelfth.html#Twelfth