On Candlemas in 1602 Shakespeare’s Troupe, “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” performed the “Twelth Night or, What You Will”. The next year brought on the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the reign of King James I when they became the King’s Men. It was included in the First Folio and published in 1623.
The play is a comedy of errors. Viola and Sebastian are twins and they are caught in a shipwreck. During the storm and tragedy,, they become separated. The play begins with Viola. She is in need of a job while she waits for the outcome of her brother’s fate. Viola would like to enter into a position with the Lady Olivia, but she is in deep mourning after the death of her brother and is not seeing anyone. So she decides to don boy’s clothes and enter into the service of Duke Orsino. This is where the comedy starts.
Duke Orsino is languishing in unrequited love of Lady Olivia. He sends Viola who is using the name of Cesario. When Lady Olivia sees him/her, she falls instantly in love. At the same time Viola has fallen in love with the Duke. When Sebastian finally shows up, he is swept up into marriage with Lady Olivia and Viola comes out to the Duke, who accepts her love and marries her, too.
This is a wonderful play with silly and ingenious characters. It has been rewritten and used in literature and movies in various forms since its first introduction even before Shakespeare’s rewriting. The play was originally based on a story written by Matteo Bandello who took elements from “Of Appollonius and Silla” by Barnabe Rich.
Act I, Scene I
In the apartment at the Duke’s Palace, the Duke and Curio enter speaking. The Duke suffers from an unrequited love of Lady Olivia. Instead of hunting, he orders the musicians to play for him while he agonizes over the woman.
When his servant, Valentine enters, he reminds him again that Olivia has turned away all his messages and didn’t return his love. Olivia is actually in mourning for her brother. She has donned a black veil and has vowed to cover her face for the next seven years so no one can see her. She also vows not to marry until her mourning time is over. This prompts Duke Orsino to want to do nothing but languish in a bed of flowers listening to music and dreaming of Olivia.
Act I, Scene II
This scene opens on the seacoast. Viola is speaking with the Captain of the ship that rescued her from the shipwreck. She is asking about her twin brother who vanished during the storm. Although the captain tries to assure her he may still be alive Viola is unsure whether to hold on to hope. The captain tells her that he saw Sebastian tie himself to the broken mast to stay afloat. But, while she waits for her brother, Viola knows she must find a way to support herself. The captain suggests she see Duke Orsino. She says that she remembers the Duke as being a bachelor. The captain affirms that but says that he is courting the Lady Olivia.
Viola says that she would like to find a job in the Lady’s household, but the captain says that Olivia won’t see anyone because of her deep mourning for her brother. So Viola decides to dress like a boy and try for a position in the Duke’s household. After she offers to pay him, the captain agrees to help her with her disguise.
Act I, Scene III
This scene opens in the home of Lady Olivia. Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch is talking with Maria, Olivia’s waiting woman. She is admonishing him for his inebriated state. Although he is usually drunk, Sir Toby is also usually cheerful. Maria is irritated that Sir Toby has brought a fellow partier with him to court his niece. She assumes Sir Andrew is a “fool; he’s a great quarreller.” She also thinks he is a drunk, too. Sir Toby tries to give Sir Andrew’s merits as accomplishments in music and language, and he is wealthy. He also assures her that they only drink to the health of his niece and to Illyria, their home town. Then he drunkenly tells her to hold her tongue since “Sir Andrew Ague-face” is coming.
Next Sir Andrew Ague-Cheeek arrives and greets Sir Toby. After being introduced to Maria Sir Andrew proceeds to remove any doubts Maria had for his intellegence by always getting her name wrong among other things. He is a bumbling idiot.
After Maria leaves the two men continue to enjoy themselves. Soon Sir Andrew tells Sir Toby that he doesn’t think Olivia likes him very much. He thinks he will leave the next day as she will probably choose Duke Orsino. Sir Toby urges him not to give up yet. He compliments him and persuades him that Olivia would never marry out of her station. Nor would she choose a mate that is close to her age and intelligence. Then he compliments Sir Andrew on his dancing skills which prompts the man to show off his dancing.
Act I, Scene IV
This scene opens at the house of Duke Orsino. Viola has taken on the persona of Cesario. a teenage boy. Viola/Cesario has been working for the Duke for three days. In a short time, she/he has become a favorite of the Duke’s. As a favorite, Cesario is given the task of carrying love notes to Olivia.
Cesario tries to tell the Duke that she probably won’t accept the notes because she hasn’t so far. But Orsino is sure that she won’t turn Cesario away because he is as pretty as a woman. He tells Cesario to accompany the love notes with action. He wants him to act as if he shares the Duke’s adoration for Olivia.
After agreeing to carry the notes, Viola lowers the fourth wall by adressing the audience. She tells them that she has fallen in love with Orsino herself, and would like to marry him.
Act I, Scene V
This scene opens back in the home of Lady Olivia. Maria is talking with Feste, Olivia’s clown. Maria is trying to warn him that Lady Olivia is angry with him for being gone so long. He refuses to tell her where he has been.
Soon Olivia enters with Malvolio, her steward. Olivia begins by ordering her sevants to remove Feste from the premises. But soon Feste manages to cheer her up. He admonishes her for still being in mourning. if she believes her brother is in heaven then she has nothing to mourn about. Malvolio doesn’t like Feste so he admonishes her for having someone around who only insults her and everyone else. She returns that his insults are only “birdbolts” and can do no damage.
Next Maria announces that a young man is at the gate asking to see Olivia. This is obviously Viola/Cesario. Although a drunken Sir Toby is talking to her/him, Olivia sends Malvolio to receive the message. Sir Toby comes in and Olivia admonishes him for being drunk so early in the morning. After he leaves the room, she sends Feste to keep an eye on him.
Malvolio returns to inform her that the young man refuses to leave without seeing her first. After Malvolio tells her the young man is very young and delicate she becomes interested and tells him she will speak with him.
Soon Viola/Cesario begins to deliver the speech given to her by Orsino. His delivery is so heartfelt that Olivia becomes interested in Cesario. She asks him all those questions about his background and learns that he is from an aristocratic family. She tells him to take the message back to Orsino that she doesn’t love him and never will, but she tells Cesario to come back for a visit. She agrees that can talk about Orsino and how he handles her rejection. After Cesario leaves she sends Marlvolio out to give him a ring as a token. She has fallen in love with Cesario.
Act II, Scene I
Act two opens at the seacoast. Antonio and Sebastion are discussing the end of Sebastion’s stay. Sebastion has been staying with him since he rescued the young man from the ocean. This scene is where the death of his and Viola’s father is revealed. Sebastian assumes that his sister is dead, too and therefore he has nothing to keep him at home. He plans to wander the world.
Although Antonio has many enemies in the court of Orsino, he offers to go with Sebastian. Sebastian tells him that he fears the trip will be dangerous and urges him to stay home. But, after Sebastian leaves, Antonio decides to follow and assure his friend’s safety.
Act II, Scene II
This scene opens outside of Olivia’s home. Malvolio has caught up with Cesario and tries to give him the ring from Olivia. Malvolio tries to tell him that he left the ring at her house accidently but Viola knows it wasn’t hers, so she tells the steward to return it to Olivia, but doesn’t reveal that the ring was not hers.
Malvolio throws the ring to the ground and leaves. Cesario picks up the ring and wonders if Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario. She wonders at the irony of Olivia falling in love with another woman. Since she is in love with Orsino and he is in love with Olivia, Viola hopes that the problems will untangle since she can’t find a way to solve the problems.
Act II, Scene III
This scene opens with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew cheerfully drinking into the late night. When Feste appears they urge him to sing a song for them. Soon Maria enters and admonishes them to keep the noise down before Olivia sends Malvolio to kick them all out.
When Malvolio enters he proceeds to admonish the men for their loud behavior. He warns Sir Toby that although he is her uncle she can still ask him to leave. Instead of calming down, the three men continue to make jokes, and insult Malvolio. He makes one last threat, directing it at Maria and leaves to tell Olivia about their behavior.
This angers Maria, so when Sir Andrew suggests challenging Malvolio to a duel she offers another suggestion. They should play a practical joke on Malvolio. Since her handwriting is a lot like Olivia’s she will write love notes and place them where Malvolio will find them. He will think the notes are for him and Olivia is in love with him. The men like the idea. So while Maria goes to bed and make plans on the letters she will write, the men decide it is too late to go to bed and they will drink some more wine.
Act II, Scene IV
This scene opens in Orsino’s house. Orsino is discussing his love of Olivia with Cesario. He tells the young man/girl that he can tell he/she is in love, too. Since she is in love with Orsinio Viola agrees that she is. When Orsino asks Cesario about the woman he loves, Cesario tells him that his love is a lot like Orsino in age and features. He tells Cesario that he would be better off falling in love with a much younger woman since men are fickle and can only be interested in a young woman for any length of time.
Orsino sends for Feste and asks him to sing a sad love song. Then he sends Cesario to Olivia with another plea for his love of her. Cesario tries to reason with Orsino. Olivia obviously doesn’t return his love. Just like if a woman was in love with Orsinio and he didn’t return her love he would expect her to accept the fact.
Orsino argues that women can’t experience the same level of passion as a man in love. But, Cesario disagrees and tells him the story of a woman who died because of unrequited love. Cesario hits that the girl was his father’s daughter, so Orsino thinks the girl was his sister. When he asks if the girl died of love, Viola’s answers are ambiguous. He then gives Cesario a jewell to take to Olivia with his love.
Act II, Scene V
This scene opens in the garden of Olivia’s house. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria and Fabian, another of Olivia’s servants, are waiting to play their joke on Malvolio. They hide in a bush while waiting for him to find the note Maria left.
Soon Malvolio enters. He is talking to himself about daydreams of becoming a husband to Olivia. He dreams about becoming the master of the house and controlling Sir Toby. When Malvolio sees the note that has been written by Maria and sealed with Olivia’s ring, he reads it aloud. The note is written as a riddle, but he assumes “the unknown beloved” is him. As he continues to read the letter, he sees there are requests to prove his love. He is asked to wear yellow stockings that are “cross-gartered.” He must also be sharp tempered to Sir Toby, be rude to all the servants while wearing a smile and acting cheerfully. Malvolio is thrilled and vows to do all these things to prove his love of Olivia.
After Malvolio leaves, the group laugh loudly. Sir Toby says he could marry Maria just for this jest. It seems Olivia hates the color yellow and men who wear cross-garters. Also, since she is in mourning she doesn’t want people to smile around her. They can’t wait to see what a fool he will make of himself.
Act III, Scene I
This scene opens in front of Lady Olivia’s house. Cesario is bantering with Feste. She/he is giving as good as he gets with Feste. She gives Feste a few coins and he goes inside to announce his arrival to Oliva since Cesario has a note from Orsino for her. While Cesario waits, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew enter. They try to carry on a conversation with him, but they are both too drunk to make much since. Soon Olivia and Maria arrive and Olivia sends everyone away so she can talk to Cesario.
When they are alone, she begs Cesario not to give her anymore messages of love from Orsino. Then she professes her love of Cesario. He/she politely turns down her love while assuring her that he would never fall in love with another woman. When Cesario is about to leave, Olivia begs him to stay. Maybe he can convince her to love Orsino.
Act III, Scene II
This scene opens in Olivia’s house. Sir Andrew is telling Sir Toby that he is planning on leaving. He realizes that Olivia is in love with Cesario. But, Sir Toby is busy spending Sir Andrew’s money and doesn’t want him to leave. He and Fabian urge Sir Andrew to stay and prove his manliness to Olivia since she is just trying to make him jealous. They suggest he challenge Cesario to a duel.
Soon Maria arrives and tells them that Malvolio is acting like a fool. He is doing all the things they told him to do in the letter. They all leave to get a look at him.
Act III, Scene III
In this scene, Sebastian and Antonio enter. Antonio reveals that he is not welcome in Illyria. Many years ago he had been involved in a fight at sea against Orsino. He inflicted a lot of damage on Orsino’s ship and will face the hostility of Orsino’s men. But, his love for Sebastian prompted him to face the dangers to help him.
Since Sebastian isn’t tired, they agree that Antonio will find them a room while he explores the area. Antonio gives him some money in case he finds a small trinket he wants to buy. They make plans to meet at the inn in an hour.
Act III, Scene IV
Olivia wants to find a way to make Cesario fall in love with her. She calls for Malvolio to help her since he is so serious. But, he acts silly and quotes lines from the letter he thinks came from her. She thinks Malvolio has gone mad and tells Maria and Sir Toby to take care of him.
Malvolio is still convinced that Olivia is in love with him. When Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian enter, they announce the devil possesses him. While he fulfills the instructions in the letter by being mean to Sir Toby and the rest of the servants, they make plans to lock him in a dark room to deal with his possession. Sir Toby points out that since Olivia thinks Malvolio is mad they can do whatever they want to him.
Meanwhile, Sir Andrew gives a letter to Sir Toby to challenge Cesario to a duel. But, Sir Toby thinks the duel will be more entertaining if he goes back and forth between the two combatants telling them about the prowess of each. Olivia gives Cesario a locket with a picture of her as a love token as they are leaving the house. She asks Cesario to return the next day before she goes back inside. Before Cesario can leave, Sir Toby gives him Sir Andrew’s challenge. Cesario refuses to fight and tries to leave. Then Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew that Cesario is a great swordsman and wants to fight. When Sir Toby tells each of the combatants that they have each sworn not to draw blood, they agree to fight, reluctantly.
But, Antonio enters and mistakes Cesario for Sebastian. He announces that he will fight in Cesario’s place. Suddenly, Illyrian officers enter and arrest Antonio. Since he knows he must pay his bail Antonio asks Cesario for his money, since he still thinks he is Sebastian. But, of course, it is Viola/ Cesario so she doesn’t have his money. Antonio is heartbroken that the boy he thinks is Sebastian denies him. When he is taken away, Cesario leaves looking for Sebastian who she hopes is her long lost brother.
Act IV, Scene I
This scene opens in front of Olivia’s house. Feste has come across Sebastian and thinking he is Cesario is leading him inside Olivia’s house. Sebastian is confused but comes along. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew arrive. When Sir Andrew attacks Sebastian he is surprised to be beaten back. Sir Andrew cries for mercy. Sebastian thinks they are all madmen and tries to leave, but Sir Toby tries to stop him. They two men insult each other and draw their swords. When Olivia enters and sees Sir Toby trying to fight with the boy she thinks is Cesario, she orders Sir Toby to put his sword away angrily. She then sends everyone away and asks Sebastian/Cesario to come inside. Since he thinks she is pretty, he follows her inside.
Act IV, Scene II
Later, Maria, Sir Toby and a few of the servants are ready to torture Malvolio a bit more. Maria asks Feste to dress as a curate called Sir Topas. She tells him to talk to Malvolio so they can listen in.
Malvolio begs the “curate” to let him out since he isn’t mad. He asks Sir Topas to quiz him so they can prove his sanity. But the silly questions make him seem mad, so he much remains locked in the room. Although they are enjoying the joke, they are also growing tired of it. Sir Toby is worried that if Olivia finds out he is playing the prank, it will be the last straw since she is already angry at his drunken behavior.
They send Feste back to talk to Malvolio. After some back and forth between the fictional Sir Topas and Feste, Malvolio asks for a paper and pen so he can prove his sanity and write a letter to Olivia.
Act IV, Scene III
Sebastian is trying to come to terms with all that is happening to him. A beautiful woman, Olivia is giving him gifts and wants to marry him. He wishes he could ask Antonio for advice, but couldn’t find him at the inn when he checked. Soon Olivia returns, the priest in tow and asks him if he is still willing to marry her. He readily agrees and they leave.
Act V, Scene I
This scene begins with Fabian and Feste outside Olivia’s house. They are discussing the letter Feste has that was written by Malvolio. Orsino enters with Viola/Cesario and his attendents. After a bit of banter between them, the Illyrian officers arrive dragging Antonio with them. Orsino recognizes him and asks why he took the chance to come back into his territory. Antonio explains that he came to help young Sebastian who he saved from drowning. Then Antonio accuses Cesario of stealing his money since he thinks he/she is Sebastian. Then Olivia enters, thinking Cesario is Sebastian, also.
Olivia and Sebastian are married, so Orsino thinks Cesario went behind his back to woo his lady love. In his anger, Orsino wants to take Cesario away and kill him. Because Viola thinks she is facing her death, she takes the opportunity to confess her love to Orsino. Now Olivia is angry, too. She thinks her new husband is betraying her and calls in the priest to prove Cesario is her husband. Orsino tells Cesario to take Olivia and leave never to come back. Before they can leave, an injured Sir Andrew appears. He says he and Sir Toby were just involved in a fight with Cesario, who denies it. Olivia orders the two men to leave and find a doctor.
Finally Sebastian enters. He apologizes to Olivia for beating her uncle and guest. Then he sees Antonio and is thrilled to see him. He is yet to see his sister, but everyone else is stunned. Finally, the two siblings see each other and compare family histories to prove they are brother and sister. Then she says she will put on her women’s clothing to prove it to him, and that is when everyone else realizes Cesario is female.
Orsino sees that Sebastian and Olivia are married. He asks Viola if she is still in love with him and wants to see her in her dress. She tells him the captain has her clothes, but he is now with Malvolio. This prompts Feste to bring out Malvolio’s letter. After reading it, Olivia is convinced Malvolio isn’t mad and orders him released. Fabian explains the joke they played on Malvolio and also that Sir Toby and Maria are married.
Malvolio is furious about the jest and storms off. Orsino sends someone after him to calm him and announces they would soon have two weddings to celebrate. All players exit leaving Feste who sings a sad song about growing old. The play ends.
Viola – a pretty young aristocratic girl who has washed up ashore on the coast of Illyria. She and her twin brother, Sebastian were involved in a shipwreck. She decides to find a job and stay around to await her brother, incase he made it through the storm, too. Although she wants to find a position in the household of Lady Olivia, the only available one is with Duke Orsino, so she decides to dress as a boy and take the position as a page.
The Duke quickly becomes close to his new page and sends him/her with love notes to Lady Olivia. Viola falls in love with the Duke, while he continues to yearn for Lady Olivia, who falls in love with Viola who she thinks is Cesario. In the end the Duke marries her after Olivia marries Sebastian.
Duke Orsino – Duke Orsino holds a lot of power over Illyria but is an incurable romantic at heart. He decides he is in love with Lady Olivia. Although she is beautiful, he is actually in love with the idea of her since he can’t be with her. He soon feels a pull towards his new page, Cesario, who he doesn’t know is Viola, a girl. In the end, he marries her after Lady Olivia marries Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian.
Lady Olivia – a wealthy beautiful young woman. She is courted by many young men, including Orsino, but she turns them all away because she is in mourning for her brother. Olivia has vowed not to speak to anyone or find any happiness for seven years. But, after a joke by her clown, Feste she begins to understand that she needs to leave her mourning because her actions make her seem to be saddened about her brother’s afterlife, instead of accepting he has gone to heaven.
Olivia’s first feelings of love are stirred by a pretty young page, Cesario, who she doesn’t know is a woman. But, when she mistakes Sebastian for Cesario she marries him and is fine with the substitution, which shows her ‘love’ was shallow.
Sebastian – Sebastian enters the play in Act II. He was saved from the ocean by a pirate known as Antonio. Sebastian thinks his twin sister is dead and he is all alone in the world. He sets out to find his way and heads for Illyria. Although he fears he will be arrested for past misdeeds, Antonio follows Sebastian so he can keep the young man safe.
As a character, Sebastian is a bit simple and finds himself married to the beautiful wealthy Lady Olivia although he thinks she might be mad.
Sir Toby – Lady Olivia’s uncle. He lives in his niece’s house and drinks almost continuously. He enjoys jokes, partying and playing tricks on people for his enjoyment. He brings one of his drunken friends to romance his niece. Sir Andrew is rich and easily manipulated. He finds his mate and cohort in tricks in his niece’s serving woman, Maria. They marry in the end.
William Shakespeare Biography
Born the son of a glove maker and a rich landowner in 1564, William Shakespeare did not grow up in poverty. He attended good schools and learned all the basics a well rounded young man of means required. But, studying all the great play wrights led to the stage. He was one of eight children, and the oldest surviving son, so turning to a career in the theater would not have been what was expected of a well brought up Englishmen, but, Shakespeare was a bit of a rebel.
At the age of 18 he suddenly married 26 year old Anne Hathaway. Six months later they became parents of their first daughter, Susanna. Later they had twins, Judith and Hamnet, but young Hamnet died at the age of 11.
Most scholars feel their marriage might not have been very happy. In his will, written days before his death, Shakespeare only left his wife his “second best bed”. Whether his marriage was ideal, or not, his career as a playwright, director, producer and actor of plays was auspicious.
By the age of 28, in 1592, Shakespeare had already advanced enough in his career to get billing at a London theater. Only two years later, 1594, his plays were only performed by “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, a troupe on the rise in London. Until her death in 1603 Queen Elizabeth I was his patron. She was a great fan of his work, and although she never visited his theater, he and his troupe gave private performances for her at the palace. After her death her heir King James I became his patron, and the troupe’s name was then changed to “The King’s Men”.
“Lord Chamberlain’s Men” and later, “The King’s Men” were very popular and successful. In 1599 they built the Globe Theater by the River Thames (which was destroyed by fire in 1613 and rebuilt in 1614) and in 1608 went on to take over the ‘Blackfriars Theater’. Both theaters were closed in 1642 due to the start of the English Civil War.
Although some scholars question the complete authenticity of Shakespeare’s plays, he is responsible for some of the greatest plays in history, including, but no where near limited to, “The Comedy of Errors”, “Richard III”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “As You Like It”, “Romeo and Juliet”, and “Julius Caesar” (rumored to be based on a “Plutarch’s Parallel Lives”, translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579).
As an actor Shakespeare often took to the stage to perform in his own plays. He is said to have played the ghost of Hamlet’s father and the part of Adam in “As You Like It”. In plays by Ben Johnson, he is also listed on the cast lists for “Every Man in His Humor” and “Sejanus His Fall”, among others.
The theater was Shakespeare’s life. He had a hand in every aspect of it, from designing the building to choosing props. Even during the years of frequent outbreaks of Bubonic Plague in London between 1603 and 1610, when the theaters were often closed, he kept writing and working. Then on the 23rd of April in 1603, purportedly after a drinking binge, the world lost one of the greatest playwrights of all time. He was only 52 years old and had signed his will only a month prior.
He was survived by two married daughters and a wife. Most of his estate was left to his oldest daughter, Susanna, with the stipulation that it be given to the “first son of her body”. She had three children who all died without marrying, and his daughter, Judith one child who never had children, either. So, Shakespeare’s (legitimate) line ended. But, not his legacy.
To this day, the plays of Shakespeare have been and are being performed all over the world. His plays are one of the most unifying forces throughout history. Dictators, saints, scholars and dunces can almost all recite at least one line from his plays. Admirers tour his grave sight in Holy Trinity Church to read his epitaph or curse, depending on how it’s viewed, “Good Friend, For Jesus’ sake Forbear/ To dig the dust enclosed here./ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And cursed be he that moves my bones”. When the restoration of the church was performed in 2008, his grave was not touched.