Twelfth Night Commentary provides a comprehensive
description of every act with explanations and translations
for all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - A Room in the Duke's Palace.
Orsino: "If music be the food of love, play
The play opens with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria
revealing his great love for the fair Olivia whom we
learn has decided to veil herself from others for seven
years to honor her recently deceased brother's
memory. Profoundly impressed by this, the Duke continues
his pursuit of Olivia undeterred...
The play begins amid the sounds of Musicians, attended
by Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. Famously, he opens the
play with the lines, "If music be the food of love,
play on; / Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, /
The appetite may sicken, and so die" (Line 1).
The Duke is hopelessly in love, specifically with Lady
Olivia. He remarks upon the nature of love, "O! spirit
of love! how quick and fresh art thou, / That, notwithstanding
thy capacity / Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,"
(Line 9) and remarks on its fleeting, fantastic nature
When Curio, a Gentleman, asks Orsino on whether he
will hunt, the Duke replies by describing his first
meeting with Olivia:
"O! when mine eyes did see Olivia first, / Methought
she purg'd the air of pestilence. That instant I was
turn'd into a hart, / And my desires, like fell and
cruel hounds, / E'er since pursue me" (Lines 18-22).
(When I first saw her, I thought she had purged the
air of its pestilence or smell. That instant I was turned
into a hart and my desires like cruel and lowly hounds
have chased me ever since).
Valentine, Orsino's messenger now arrives. He has news
from Lady Olivia. Eager to learn of it, Orsino asks
"what news from her?" (Line 23).
We learn that Lady Olivia, "The element herself," will
not reveal her face for seven years, but will rather
"like a cloistress," walk veiled to mourn her dead brother's
love whose memory she intends to keep.
The Duke is shattered. Impressed that Olivia is a woman
who has "a heart of that fine frame [virtue]" to honor
her brother in this way, the Duke decides that he will
continue to pursue her (Lines 32-41).
Act I. Scene II. - The Sea-coast.
Viola is introduced to us as a survivor of a shipwreck.
We discover that her brother was lost at sea but may
not be dead. Viola learns from the Captain of their
doomed ship that they are now in Illyria, which is ruled
by Orsino. This Duke is pursuing the fair Olivia, a
woman who like Viola has lost a brother. Identifying
with Olivia's grief, Viola wishes to serve Olivia
but when she learns that this will be impossible, Viola
instead has the Captain disguise her as a boy so she
can serve Orsino, The Duke of Illyria.
Viola, the Captain and several Sailors enter our view.
Viola asks the Captain where she is (Line 1). We learn
from the Captain that they are now in Illyria. Viola
asks of her brother, fearing for his safety.
The Captain replies that Viola is lucky to have survived
herself and informs us that when their ship broke up
(Line 8), he saw Viola's brother who was "Most provident
in peril," (resourceful in disaster), tie himself to
a strong mast "that liv'd upon the sea;" (was floating
in the wreckage, flotsam), (Lines 10-14).
Because of this, Viola's brother (Sebastian) was able
to "hold acquaintance [stay afloat] with the waves"
for as long as the Captain could see (Lines 8-15).
Viola rewards the Captain with gold for delivering
her this good news (Line 16) and wonders what she will
do next. She asks the Captain about this country and
learns that the Captain himself was born "Not three
hours' travel from this very place" (Line 21).
Viola also learns that "A noble duke, in nature as
in name" (Line 23), named Orsino rules this land.
Viola remembers this name; her father spoke it many
years before. She also remembers that "He [Orsino] was
a bachelor then" (Line 27) and the Captain confirms
this to still to be the case.
However it was rumored very recently according to the
Captain, that the Duke was seeking "the love of fair
Olivia" (Lines 28-32).
Described by the Captain as "A virtuous maid," (Line
34), Olivia lost her father twelve months earlier, her
care to be entrusted to her brother, "Who shortly also
died:" (who soon died as well), (Line 37).
They say now that Olivia "hath [has] abjur'd [forsworn
/ sworn off] the company / And sight of men" altogether
says the Captain (Lines 36-38).
Viola, fearing her own brother lost, identifies with
Olivia and resolves to serve her. We learn from the
Captain however, that this will be impossible; she "will
admit no kind of suit," not even the Duke's (Line 44).
Viola now thanks the Captain for his troubles and decides
to serve this Duke instead. The Captain will be richly
rewarded for his pains and he will present Viola, now
disguised as a man, as a eunuch to the Duke.
Viola is confident of success for she can "sing / And
speak to him [the Duke] in many sorts of music" that
should earn her the Duke's favor. The plan agreed, the
Captain and Viola set off on their separate ways (Lines
Act I. Scene III. - A Room in Olivia's House.
Sir Toby to Sir Andrew Aguecheek: "Tut, there's life
in 't, man."
Sir Toby, Lady Olivia's cousin is introduced.
We quickly discover that he drinks a good deal, keeps
late hours and is generally rowdy by nature. Maria,
Lady Olivia's maid makes this clear to us in her
unsuccessful attempts to quieten Sir Toby down. Maria
also reveals Lady Olivia's annoyance that Sir Toby
has encouraged Sir Andrew Aguecheek to court her.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek is now introduced, quickly
revealing himself to be rich but rather unintelligent.
Sir Toby has manipulated Sir Andrew into pursuing Olivia
so Sir Toby can continue benefiting from Sir Andrew's
great wealth. Finally realizing Olivia will not be courted
by him, Sir Andrew makes preparations to leave but Sir
Toby convinces Sir Andrew to stay a month longer, no
doubt so Sir Toby can use Sir Andrew's wealth further...
Sir Toby Belch, Lady Olivia's cousin is staying at
Olivia's house. He wonders aloud why Olivia is taking
the death of her brother so badly (Line 1). Maria, Lady
Olivia's waiting women is now introduced.
Maria asks Sir Toby to cease keeping such "ill hours"
(late hours), (Line 5), asking him to keep earlier nights.
When Maria suggests that Sir Toby "confine" himself
"within the modest limits of order" (behave himself),
Sir Toby explains that since his clothes and boots are
good enough for drinking, why should he not drink?
Maria now explains that she has learnt from Olivia
of her displeasure of Sir Toby's behavior and of Sir
Toby presenting "a foolish knight" Sir Andrew Aguecheek
to woo (court) her (Lines 15-20).
This "foolish knight" is Sir Andrew Aguecheek,
who as well as being "as tall a man as any's in Illyria"
(as tall a man as any in Illyria), (Line 21), happens
to also possess "three thousand ducats a year" and is
therefore a man of useful wealth.
Maria, clearly quite unimpressed, now goes on to describe
him as "a very fool and a prodigal" (Line 25), to which
Sir Toby disagrees, explaining that Sir Andrew "plays
o' the viol-de-gamboys," a musical instrument,
"speaks three or four languages word for word without
book," (Line 27) and "hath [has] all the good gifts
of nature" (is handsome), (Line 30).
Maria still isn't impressed.
Yes, he is natural Maria replies, adding that besides
being a fool, Sir Andrew is also a great quarreller
and a coward adding that were it not for his cowardice,
Sir Andrew would, in many people's opinion, already
be dead as a result of his quarrelsome nature (Lines
When Sir Toby asks who Sir Andrew's detractors
(critics) are, Maria's reply is simple; all those "that
add," or everyone of intelligence (Lines 37-40).
Sir Toby is now criticized by Maria for his drinking.
He will not however, stop: "I'll drink to her [Olivia]
as long as there is a passage in my throat and a drink
in Illyria" (I'll drink as long as I can and there's
a drink in Illyria) he defiantly vows (Lines 41-44).
Sir Andrew arrives and both he and Sir Toby are glad
to see each other once again. Sir Andrew has not meet
Maria, and is soon introduced.
Now we learn of Sir Andrew's less than stellar intellect.
He mistakenly calls Maria "Good Mistress Mary Accost,"
not realizing the word "accost" means Sir Toby would
want to "front her, board her, woo her, assail
her" or in other words court Mary which Sir Toby
has to explain to Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Embarrassed, Sir Andrew attempts to regain face only
to lose it again to a now very unimpressed Maria (Lines
When Sir Andrew does not understand the French word
"pourquoi?" (Why), Sir Andrew laments that he never
studied the arts (Lines 98-101).
Sir Andrew now announces that he will soon be heading
home (Line 113); after all Sir Toby's niece (Olivia)
will not see him, let alone be courted by him. Even
the "count himself [Orsino] here hard by woos her" (even
The Duke of Orsino is unsuccessful), (Line 116).
Worried that his rich friend and gravy train (source
of easy income) may leave, Sir Toby convinces his friend
to stay a little longer, telling him not to give up
on his niece Olivia, after all "there's life in 't,
man" (there's still a chance), to woo Olivia successfully
Sir Andrew is convinced. He will stay "a month longer"
and will not give up on the fair Olivia (Line 121).
Sir Andrew enjoys masques (masked parties) and revels
(lively festivities) "sometimes altogether [sometimes
combined]" and Sir Toby now builds up his friend's
confidence by reminding him of his prowess at "kickchawses,"
(acrobatic maneuvers) and his "excellence in a
galliard," (a type of dance), telling his friend not
to hide his many virtues.
Newly confident, Sir Andrew decides to continue his
pursuit of Olivia, much to the delight of the already
suspiciously manipulative Sir Toby.
Act I. Scene IV. - A Room in the Duke's Palace.
Cesario (Viola in disguise as a man): "I'll do my best
/ To woo your lady: [Aside] yet, a barful strife! Whoe'er
I woo, myself would be his wife."
Viola has successfully disguised herself as a man
named Cesario. Her success with Orsino has been so great
that she or rather "He" is now a favorite
with Orsino who believes Viola to be the man named Cesario.
As such, Orsino entrusts Cesario (Viola) to convey his
love for Olivia. Cesario, deeply divided by her own
love for Orsino, nonetheless dutifully represents Orsino.
Meanwhile, at the Duke's palace, Valentine, one of
Orsino's servants remarks to Cesario (referred to as
Viola in the text but appearing to all as the man named
Cesario), on his amazing rise through Orsino's ranks
into his affections. He points out that the Duke has
only known him (Cesario disguised as Viola) for three
days and already "you are no stranger" (Line 4).
Viola now asks Valentine of the consistency of Orsino's
affections. Cesario (Viola) learns from Valentine that
the Duke's affections are constant.
Orsino now arrives. Cesario has indeed made quite an
impression on the Duke, since he now honors and trusts
him to "address thy gait" (make your appearance known),
to Olivia, so that the Duke's affections may be known
He instructs Cesario not to be easily discouraged and
to "leap all civil bounds" (break the normal rules of
society if necessary) rather than return to the Duke
empty-handed (Line 21).
When Cesario asks what he should say if he gets Olivia's
attention, The Duke replies to Cesario (Viola) that
he should express the Duke's feelings to her.
Cesario's pleasing appearance should help his cause,
Orsino believes. (Lines 24-28).
Cesario (Viola) disagrees but Orsino is convinced that
Cesario's good looks will help him (Lines 30-39).
We now learn of the strength of Cesario's (Viola's)
love for Orsino.
Viola: "I'll do my best / To woo your lady:" then
speaking her private thoughts to the audience in an
aside says "yet, a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo,
myself would be his wife" (I'll do my best to woo your
lady: yet, a terrible strife, whoever I woo, I would
rather be Orsino's wife), (Line 40).
Act I. Scene V. - A Room in Olivia's house.
Cesario (Viola) complimenting Olivia: "Excellently
done, if God did all."
Olivia's maid is angry with Feste, Olivia's
Clown. Feste redeems himself with Lady Olivia by telling
her she should not mourn her brother since he is in
a better place, namely heaven. Olivia is pleased, but
Olivia's uptight steward, Malvolio is not, regarding
Feste as old and lacking in wit.
Olivia gives us an insight into Malvolio's character
by saying that he suffers from self-love or is arrogant
and vain. Cesario petitions Lady Olivia, eventually
gaining her audience. Lady Olivia is quite taken by
Cesario but tells him, she cannot return Orsino's
affections for her. Lady Olivia would, however like
to see Cesario again, asking him to come back to report
to her how Orsino took the news. Intrigued by Cesario,
Lady Olivia sends Malvolio after him to give back a
ring Cesario left behind as an excuse to express her
affection for him...
In Olivia's house, Maria is angry. She wants to know
where Olivia's Clown (Feste) has been (Lines 1-4). A
war of words between the two follows, and when Maria
threatens to hang the Clown, he replies that "Many a
good hanging prevents a bad marriage;" (Line 22).
Olivia now arrives and Maria warns the Clown that he
better have a good excuse for her lady (Olivia), (Lines
Olivia enters with her steward Malvolio. Olivia orders
the Clown away, but Feste refuses, standing his ground.
He now begins a speech of contradiction (Lines 45-58).
The Clown (Feste) now dangerously explains to Olivia
that he will prove her a fool. Intrigued, she lets the
Clown proceed (Lines 58-70).
The Clown now asks Olivia, "why mournest thou?" (Why
do you mourn?), (Line 71).
Olivia responds that it is "Good fool, for my brother's
death" (Line 72).
The "fool," (Feste the Clown) now says that
he thinks Olivia's dead brother's soul must therefore
be in hell. Olivia answers that she is certain it is
The Clown then replies that Olivia must then be a fool
to mourn for a brother whose soul is in heaven (Lines
Malvolio now reluctantly agrees with Olivia that the
Clown has indeed redeemed himself. The serious, uptight
and humorless Malvolio does not however especially like
Feste, considering him old, weak and lacking in wit
Olivia is more patient and chides Malvolio for lacking
patience, adding that Malvolio is too sick with "self-love,"
(Line 96) and that a fool (Feste) does no harm by his
actions (Lines 87-105).
Maria now announces the arrival of a young man at the
gate (Cesario), who wishes to speak with Olivia. Olivia
finds out that Sir Toby has held this man in delay and
now curses him. She tells Malvolio that if the person
speaks for the Duke, that he should make an excuse,
tell him Olivia is sick (Lines 108-123).
Sit Toby now enters half drunk. The Clown comments
on this and Malvolio reenters, telling Olivia that the
young man will not be turned away, in fact he is quite
insistent on speaking with Olivia.
We learn that this young man is "Of very ill manner:
[rude]" and yet "He is very well-favoured, and
he speaks very shrewishly [cleverly]" and of an age
which is neither man nor boy (Lines 164-174).
Olivia decides to let this man approach, drawing a
veil on her face. Cesario (Viola) initially offers little
explanation of "his" background, but does
get the private audience "he" wanted (Lines
Cesario also sees Olivia's face unveiled, and Cesario
comments that her face is most "Excellently done, if
God did all" (Line 256).
Cesario now continues to flatter Olivia, pointing out
that Olivia must be "the cruell'st she [woman] alive,
/ If you will lead these graces to the grave / And leave
the world no copy" (Olivia must be the cruelest women
alive to go to her grave without leaving the world a
copy), (Line 261).
Olivia responds my playfully cataloging her face as
two lips, two eyes and so forth (Lines 263-270).
Cesario now professes the Duke's love for Olivia.
Olivia however, already knows this and is not interested.
Cesario (Viola) explains that if he loved Olivia, he
would not accept rejection easily and would cry out
her name (Lines 288-296).
Olivia now asks Cesario's parentage.
Cesario cryptically answers "Above my fortune, yet
my state is well: / I am a gentleman" (Line 299).
Olivia tells Cesario "I cannot love him" (The
Duke), (Line 301).
She now hints at her affection for Cesario, when she
tells Cesario to tell the Duke to no longer woo (court)
her "Unless, perchance, you [Cesario] come to me
again, / To tell me how he [Orsino] takes it" (Line
Olivia also offers Cesario money which Cesario (Viola)
refuses, telling her that "I am no fee'd post, lady;"
adding that Olivia should keep her "purse:"
(money), (Line 305).
Cesario (Viola) now leaves, leaving Olivia to recall
her questioning of Cesario's parentage. Olivia is smitten
and commands Malvolio to enter her chamber (Lines 310-319).
Olivia tells Malvolio to run after Cesario; he left
his ring behind at Olivia's house. Additionally Malvolio
is to convince Cesario to return tomorrow so she can
explain to him why she cannot love Orsino (Lines 320-331).