Twelfth Night Summary provides a quick review of
the play's plot including every important action in
the play. Twelfth Night Summary is divided by the five
acts of the play and is an ideal introduction before
reading the original text.
Orsino, The Duke of Illyria reveals his great love
for the rich Countess Olivia who we learn has decided
to veil herself for seven years to honor her recently
deceased brother's memory. Profoundly impressed
by this, the Duke continues his pursuit of Olivia undeterred...
Viola is introduced to us as a survivor of a shipwreck.
Her brother was lost at sea but may not be dead. Viola
learns from the Sea Captain of their doomed ship that
they are now in Illyria, which is ruled by Orsino. The
Sea Captain explains to Viola that The Duke of Illyria
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 this will be impossible,
Viola instead has the Sea Captain disguise her as a
boy so she can serve Orsino, The Duke of Illyria.
Sir Toby, Olivia's cousin is introduced. We quickly
discover that he drinks a great 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 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 dim (unintelligent). Sir
Toby has manipulated Sir Andrew into pursuing Olivia
so Sir Toby can continue benefiting from Sir Andrew's
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 and his great wealth further...
Viola has successfully disguised herself as a man named
Cesario. Her success with Orsino has been so great that
she is now a favorite with Orsino who believes Viola
to be the man named Cesario. As such, Orsino entrusts
Cesario (Viola) to express his love for Olivia. Cesario,
(Viola) deeply divided by her own love for Orsino, nonetheless
dutifully represents Orsino.
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
Cesario (Viola) petitions Lady Olivia, eventually gaining
her audience. Olivia is quite taken by Cesario but tells
him, she cannot return Orsino's affections for
Olivia would however like to see Cesario (Viola) again,
asking him to come back to report to her how Orsino
took the news.
Intrigued by Cesario, Olivia sends Malvolio after
him to give back a ring Cesario left behind as an excuse
to express her affection for him...
Sebastian, the twin brother Viola feared had died at
sea, has also survived the shipwreck. Like Viola he
mourns the loss of his sibling, believing his sister
Viola to be dead.
Antonio, the man who saved Sebastian's life is
touched by Sebastian's loss and decides to follow
Sebastian to the Duke of Orsino's court even though
he has many enemies there. Sebastian nobly tries to
talk Antonio out of this, but Antonio is eventually
accepted by Sebastian to travel with him to the Duke's
Malvolio catches up with Cesario (Viola), rudely returning
Cesario's ring to him. Cesario is confused, he
left no such ring at Lady Olivia's house. Malvolio
also conveys Olivia's desire that Cesario return
to confirm that Orsino has accepted the fact that she
does not love him.
Cesario now realizes that the ring is a ploy by Olivia
to express her affections for him. Realizing she has
charmed Olivia, Cesario remarks that Olivia would do
better chasing a dream than a man who really is a woman
(Viola) in disguise. Cesario is distressed by this mess
and hopes time will undo this tangled web.
Late at night, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and later Feste
the Clown are enjoying some late night drinking and
singing. This gets Maria's attention who warns
all three men to quieten down lest Malvolio notices.
The three men ignore Maria. Malvolio arrives, warning
the men that he will speak to Olivia about this noise.
The three men ignore him as they did Maria and now Malvolio
threatens to make Maria look disrespectful in Olivia's
eyes if she does not quieten these three men down.
Maria, resenting Malvolio's heavy-handed arrogance
hatches a plan to write a letter, which will convince
Malvolio that Olivia loves him. This news quietens down
all three men, who each dislikes Malvolio but now are
all enthusiastic accomplices in his downfall. Sir Toby,
Sir Andrew and Feste will hide near where Malvolio will
discover the letter so they can all enjoy what in their
eyes is Malvolio's rightly deserved humiliation...
Orsino notices that Cesario (Viola) is in love. Cesario
describes this person in terms that precisely describe
Orsino but Orsino does not realize this. Cesario warns
the Duke that Lady Olivia may not love him but Orsino
refuses to even accept such a possibility.
Cesario (Viola) remarks on the unreliability of men
in relationships. Cesario starts to reveal "his"
own past but quickly becomes vague when Orsino becomes
Orsino sends Cesario once more to Lady Olivia with
a large jewel as a token of his love for her... Maria
tells Fabian, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, all of whom hate
Malvolio, that she has penned the letter that will convince
Malvolio that Lady Olivia loves him.
Malvolio, meanwhile having not yet found the letter,
starts entertaining the idea that Olivia could love
him and that he could marry her.
Malvolio picks up Maria's counterfeit letter with
its instructions that Malvolio be rude to kinsman like
Sir Toby. It also suggests that he wear yellow stockings
and be cross-gartered to win Olivia's love.
Maria explains to Sir Toby and company, that Lady Olivia
hates yellow stockings and cross-gartered fashion and
so Malvolio will be humiliated before Lady Olivia.
Cesario has another private meeting with Lady Olivia
on Duke Orsino's behalf.
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew meet Cesario (Viola) and Sir
Toby learns from Cesario that he will soon speak with
Lady Olivia. In private, Lady Olivia admits to Cesario
that she used the ring she sent after him to lure him
back to her.
Cesario (Viola) tries to put Olivia off him but she
is smitten, ignoring all Cesario's attempts to
diminish her enthusiasm for "him"...
Knowing Lady Olivia will never love him, Sir Andrew
prepares to head for home. The sight of Olivia showing
more affection to a youth (Cesario) than him was the
Fabian and Sir Toby don't deny the affectionate
display but argue Olivia did it to spur Sir Andrew to
woo her and regain her respect. Sir Toby and Fabian
manipulate Sir Andrew into writing a challenge to the
youth (Cesario) even though they know a fight between
two cowards (Cesario and Sir Andrew) is unlikely.
Maria enters, telling Sir Toby and Fabian to watch
the spectacle that is Malvolio wearing yellow stockings
and being cross-gartered.
Sebastian has now reluctantly accepted Antonio as his
companion in the streets of Illyria.
Antonio explains that his offence in Illyria, which
was theft, was one the rest of his city have repaid
but he has not and so he is still wanted in Illyria.
Sebastian decides to look around, but Antonio fearful
of his enemies, decides to head for lodging at a place
called "the Elephant." Antonio gives Sebastian
his purse (wallet) and directions to this lodging and
the two part their separate ways...
Olivia makes plans to once more woo Cesario (Viola).
Olivia sees Malvolio with yellow stockings and cross-gartered
and considers him mad since he continues to smile no
matter what the situation and makes crude, lustful interpretations
of Olivia's words.
Malvolio makes his famous "'Some are born great,'-"
Learning that Cesario has returned, Lady Olivia has
Malvolio put into the care of her servants since in
her eyes, Malvolio's behavior is some "midsummer
Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian plot to have Malvolio placed
in a "dark room," so they can have some fun with him.
Sir Andrew arrives with his completed letter challenging
Cesario. Sir Toby decides to verbally scare Cesario
and Sir Andrew about their opponents instead of sending
Alone with Cesario once more, Lady Olivia makes no
progress with Cesario who will not requit (return) her
love. Olivia is undaunted by this. Sir Toby scares both
Sir Andrew and Cesario into drawing their weapons on
Antonio arrives, pledging to fight Sir Andrew on Cesario's
(Viola's) behalf who he thinks is Sebastian since Viola
disguised as a man now looks like her twin brother Sebastian.
The fight is stopped but Officers recognizing Antonio,
capture him. Antonio asks Cesario (Viola) for his purse
back but Cesario not recognizing him does not oblige.
Antonio thinks Sebastian has betrayed him, not realizing
he has asked Cesario (Viola) for his purse, not Sebastian.
Confusion reigns as Sebastian is now mistaken for Cesario
when Feste insists Sebastian sent for him and Sebastian
is certain he did not (Cesario obviously did).
Sir Andrew finds Sebastian and thinking it is Cesario
from the earlier "fight" that did not happen, hits Sebastian.
Sebastian unlike Cesario is not afraid to return the
favor and a fight is only stopped by Sir Toby's
intervention. Sir Andrew decides to have Sebastian punished
by the law of Illyria despite the fact that he started
Sir Toby and Sebastian are just about to fight when
Olivia screams for her uncle, Sir Toby to stop. Olivia
now scolds Sir Toby, hoping Sebastian, whom she thinks
is Cesario (Viola), will forgive her uncle and not be
displeased with her.
Sebastian, amazed that this beautiful woman he does
not know, loves him, replies to Olivia that he will
be ruled by her and the two set off to marry immediately...
In Olivia's house, Malvolio in a darkened room
is teased mercilessly by Feste who tries unsuccessfully
to convince Malvolio that he is mad.
Sir Toby, fearing that his fight with Cesario (actually
Sebastian) has put him on thin ice with Olivia, wants
Feste's teasing of Malvolio to stop. Feste has
other ideas but eventually lets Malvolio write a letter
to Olivia proclaiming his sanity...
Sebastian can barely believe his luck, a beautiful
woman (Olivia) loves him and has given him a pearl.
Sebastian briefly wonders if he is dreaming before he
marries Olivia in a private chapel. Olivia explains
that their now secret marriage will be revealed later...
In the final scene, chaos ensues as the identical appearing
Cesario (Viola) and Sebastian are each blamed for the
other's actions. First Feste blames Sebastian for
beckoning him, not realizing it was Cesario who called
Cesario spots Antonio the man who saved him from fighting
Sir Andrew but was taken prisoner by Orsino's officers
in Act III. Antonio again asks Cesario for his wallet
back thinking he is Sebastian. Cesario (Viola), who
does not know Antonio, does not and so Antonio curses
him for his betrayal, not realizing he is talking to
Cesario not Sebastian whom he lent his wallet to.
We learn that Antonio is an enemy of Illyria and especially
of Orsino for plundering his ships as a pirate in the
Now a prisoner, Antonio baffles Orsino by telling him
that he and Cesario (Viola) have been together night
and day for three weeks when who Antonio is really thinking
of is Sebastian. Orsino cannot believe this; Cesario
has been with him for three weeks.
Olivia arrives and we see that Orsino still loves her.
The feeling is not mutual... Olivia scolds Cesario (Viola)
for neglecting her, revealing that "he" is
Cesario (Viola) amazed by this, pleads "his"
innocence to Orsino who "he" truly loves and
Orsino thinking his servant betrayed him by taking Olivia
for himself, prepares to punish Cesario.
Olivia meanwhile despairs that her husband Cesario
who really is Sebastian, would leave willingly with
Orsino to be punished rather than be with his wife and
she too claims betrayal by Cesario (Viola).
Sebastian arrives, apologizing for attacking Sir Toby
and Sir Andrew. Orsino seeing both Cesario and Sebastian
together is amazed that he sees two copies of the same
man. Olivia too is amazed.
Sebastian and Cesario compare notes on how they arrived
in Illyria each claiming that their sibling had drowned.
Eventually they realize that since they knew the same
father they are indeed brother and sister, Cesario revealing
"his" real identity as the woman named Viola.
Malvolio storms in and the cruel prank against him
is revealed by Fabian who confesses.
Orsino calls Olivia his sister, and Orsino takes Cesario
for his mistress and we presume later his wife with
Feste ending the play in song.