Twelfth Night was written by William Shakespeare between 1601 and 1602. The character Viola disguises herself as a man named Cesario to serve Duke Orsino. Orsino intends to marry Countess Olivia, and sends Cesario/Viola to woo Olivia for him. Olivia rejects Orsino’s attentions but falls in love with Cesario/Viola, who has fallen in love with Orsino herself. This is further complicated when Viola’s identical twin brother, Sebastian, appears. Alongside this, Olivia’s butler, Malvolio, is manipulated by Olivia’s uncle, his friend and her maid into believing Olivia is in love with Malvolio, causing him to behave very uncharacteristically before all matters are resolved.
Viola is the main character in Twelfth Night. Shipwrecked on the shores of Ilyria and having lost her identical twin brother, Sebastian, she works in the service of Duke Orsino disguised as a man called Cesario. She is caught in a love triangle between Orsino and Olivia which is made worse by the fact she is seen by others as a man and must maintain her outward appearance to prevent being caught in her deceit. The timely arrival of Sebastian creates further confusion before all complications are finally resolved, where Viola weds Orsino, and Olivia weds Sebastian.
As a Countess with no father or brother, Olivia is an independently wealthy lady who can choose who she wants to marry. She has been in mourning for her father and brother a very long time, and continues to reject Orsino’s proposal to marry, but is quick to end her mourning when she takes a liking to Cesario. She allows her two uncles, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheeck, to reside in her home despite their constant boisterous behaviour. Olivia is also on good terms with her household staff, both Maria and Malvolio.
Duke Orsino is in pursuit of Olivia’s hand in marriage throughout the play, but sends Cesario to Olivia to do the wooing for him. He thinks himself a romantic, seeking music to be played and songs to be sung to help him express his feelings towards Olivia. As a powerful lord in Ilyria, there is a suggestion that he is more infatuated with the challenge of Olivia’s refusal than the Countess herself. He is quick to accept Olivia’s marriage to Sebastian and agrees to marry Viola when her disguise as Cesario is revealed.
As Butler in Olivia’s household, Malvolio displays a strict and sometimes arrogant attitude, which makes it easy for other characters, such as Maria, Toby and Andrew, to make fun of him. Malvolio falls victim to a trick which makes him believe that Olivia is in love with him. He is surprised but pleased to find this out and goes to extreme lengths, such as wearing ridiculous cross-gartered yellow stockings to return his affections for Olivia. When he realises he has been made a fool of, Malvolio declares that he will get revenge, bringing out a sinister side to the character not previously seen in the play.
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew
Sir Toby Belch is Olivia’s uncle and Sir Andrew Aguecheek is Sir Toby’s friend. They are both staying in Olivia’s home and are very fond of drinking and merriment, often getting into trouble with Malvolio who tells them off for their noisy behaviour late into the night. They like to mock Malvolio and conspire with Maria, Olivia’s maid, to plan a deceptive trick on Malvolio in an act of rebellion. It becomes apparent that Sir Toby values Sir Andrew’s wealth more than his friendship, whilst Sir Andrew is too dim-witted to realise this. Sir Toby marries Maria at the end of the play.
Feste and Maria
Feste works in Olivia’s household as her jester, which is a professional fool. He assists in the plot to trick Malvolio, and sings four different songs throughout the play, a common task for a jester. Feste wanders away from the house often throughout the play, even getting into trouble with Olivia for it. Maria is Olivia’s maid, shown to be quite witty as she develops the plan to trick Malvolio and forges Olivia’s handwriting to write a letter to Malvolio. Maria marries Sir Toby Belch at the end of the play.
Sebastian and Antonio
Sebastian is Viola’s identical twin brother, who is lost at sea when their ship is wrecked on the coast of Ilyria. He is largely absent from the play until it is revealed that Sebastian was rescued by Antonio, a sea Captain. When they both reach Ilyria, Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario and Sir Andrew challenges him to a duel. On Viola’s arrival, the confusion is resolved. Antonio is very loyal to Sebastian, displaying an unrequited love for the man he has rescued and courage in helping Sebastian find his twin sister.
- When was Twelfth Night written?
- Your answer should include: 1601-1602 / 1601 / 1602
- What does Viola call herself when in disguise as a man?
- How does Shakespeare present the character of Viola? (six sentences)
- Your answer should include: Strong / Independent / Articulate / Poetic / Charming / Boy / Girl / Clothes