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Twelfth Night Commentary - Act I.

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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 on...."

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 (Lines 1-16).

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 55-56).

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 31-36).

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 64-88).

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 (Line 120).

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 (Line 15).

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 25-39).

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 in heaven.

The Clown then replies that Olivia must then be a fool to mourn for a brother whose soul is in heaven (Lines 72-77).

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 (Lines 79-105).

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 177-248).

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 302).

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).

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