Twelfth Night Characters guide studies each character's
role and motivation in this play.
Orsino, Duke of Illyria: The ruler of Illyria.
Powerful and a gentleman, he is obsessed with gaining
the hand in marriage of the fair Lady Olivia, unaware
that he himself has a secret admirer.
Viola and disguised as a man, Cesario: The secret
admirer of Orsino, Viola comes to work for Orsino when
having been shipwrecked, she disguises herself as a
man, and works for the Duke. Much favored by the Duke,
Viola is entrusted to convey the Duke's love to Countess
Olivia. This later causes problems for Viola, who serves
her master faithfully, despite desiring Orsino for herself
and being the unwitting (and unwilling!) target of Countess
Olivia's affections. Viola has a brother, called Sebastian
who is identical to her male appearance as Cesario;
she fears that he died when their ship broke up at the
beginning of the play.
(Note: Cesario will be described in the third person
as the man he appears to be to the other characters
in this play, though Cesario is of course a women in
A Sea Captain: A friend to Viola, he helps her
to disguise herself as Cesario. He initially reports
Lady Olivia: A countess of high social standing
and great beauty, her hand in marriage is desired by
Orsino. She has resigned herself to seven years solitude
following the loss of first her father and then her
much loved brother. Spurning love in all its forms,
she shuns Orsino's romantic overtures, but at the sight
of Cesario, falls deeply in love, causing many problems
for Cesario (really Viola). She later marries Sebastian,
who looking exactly like Cesario, also steals Lady Olivia's
Sebastian: Viola's twin brother. When the ship
he and Viola were traveling on sinks, he fears his sister
dead, as her sister does of him. Frequently mistaken
for Cesario, Sebastian eventually is reunited with his
sister, earlier taking the hand the willing Countess
Olivia as his wife.
Antonio: A Sea Captain by trade, Antonio is
a man with many enemies in the Duke Orsino's court.
Nonetheless he accompanies Sebastian in his travels.
Memorable for the expression, "That danger shall seem
sport...." (Act II, Scene I).
Sir Toby Belch, Uncle to Olivia: As Olivia's
uncle, Sir Toby passes away his time drinking in Olivia's
house with fellow drinker Sir Andrew Aguecheek, much
to the displeasure of Olivia, her servant Maria and
Olivia's uptight and humorless steward Malvolio. A great
schemer of practical jokes, Sir Toby enjoys playing
tricks on Malvolio, his friend Sir Andrew and anyone
else who captures his fleeting attention.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: The drinking partner of
Sir Toby, he too pushes Lady Olivia's patience and hospitality
with his continuously loud and lewd behavior. Described
by Sir Toby as being "as tall a man as any's in
Illyria", Sir Andrew is not overly intelligent,
Sir Andrew like Sir Toby having little love for the
annoying Malvolio and is party to a practical joke against
him. Sir Andrew however is greatly valued by Sir Toby
since he is rich, earning some "three thousand
ducats a year." Unwittingly, Sir Andrew is also
the pawn in Sir Toby's plot making. Naive by nature,
he is manipulated by Sir Toby into pursuing Lady Olivia
since this will maintain Sir Toby's drinking lifestyle.
Later Sir Andrew is manipulated into challenging Cesario,
who becomes a threat to Sir Toby's plans.
Malvolio: As Lady Olivia's steward, Malvolio
sees himself in a somewhat grandiose light, imagining
Olivia to love him and wishing to be more than his current
rank. This and his continuous disapproval of Sir Toby
and Sir Andrew's drinking, earn him their hatred and
he quickly becomes their pawn in a complex romantic
Maria: Lady Olivia's woman, she is patient and
tactful where Malvolio is brash and insulting. She too,
disapproves of Sir Toby and company's drinking but tries
tactfully to subdue their boisterous spirits. Her dislike
of Malvolio leads her to create an elaborate romantic
trick on Malvolio, which she also uses to calm down
Sir Toby and company, who are now enthusiastic conspirator's
in Malvolio's humiliation.
Feste: Referred to in the text as "The
Clown" and a servant to Olivia, Feste like so many
of Shakespeare's fools, speaks the truth from the source
of recognized foolishness. He is much appreciated by
Sir Toby, who spends many hours with him.
Fabian: A servant of Lady Olivia's, he too dislikes
Malvolio, and also participates enthusiastically in
Valentine and Curio: Gentlemen attending Orsino
at the start of the play.