home contact

Twelfth Night: Plot Summary

From Stories of Shakespeare's Comedies by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.

Act I

The play opens in a palace in Illyria, where the Duke and his court are listening to a concert, of which one song particularly appeals to the august listener, who is in love. When the music ceases and the courtiers inquire whether their master will hunt, the Duke, still full of his own idea, sentimentally compares himself to Actason, who fell in love with Diana, saying his desires for the Countess Olivia pursue him as cruelly as the hounds did that mythical swain.

It is at this moment that his messenger returns, reporting his lady-love has decided to remain in seclusion for seven years, so as to mourn the death of her beloved brother. On hearing that Olivia intends not to appear unveiled during this period, the Duke exclaims that a woman displaying such affection for a brother would prove indeed a devoted wife.

We are next transported to the seashore, where shipwrecked Viola is questioning her rescuer in regard to the coast upon which she has been cast, and the likelihood of her twin brother's escape from the waves. To quiet her apprehensions, the seaman describes how Sebastian lashed himself to a mast and drifted safely out of sight, tidings so welcome that Viola gives him a reward.

In answer to further questions, she learns that Illyria is ruled by Duke Orsino, a friend of her father, still unmarried, although he has long wooed Countess Olivia, whose refusal to wed on account of a brother's loss touches Viola. At first the shipwrecked maiden expresses a desire to enter the Countess' service, but Olivia's vow making that impossible, she decides, instead, to assume the guise of a page and serve the Duke. She, therefore, bids the seaman procure her an outfit and introduction, sure that her many accomplishments will find favour. So thoroughly does the mariner approve of this plan, that he not only promises to guard Viola's secret, but leads her away to prepare for her venture.

We are now transferred to Olivia's house, where the Maid is taking to task this lady's uncle, Sir Toby, for coming home late at night and for drinking. Although Sir Toby vehemently protests, the Maid declares such courses will injure him, adding that the foolish knight he recently introduced to her mistress is worse than himself. This Sir Toby denies, claiming Sir Andrew is a musician and linguist as well as a man of means, and when the Maid tartly retorts that his advantages are more than counterbalanced by his dissipated habits, he painstakingly explains his friend is drunk because he too frequently toasts his lovely niece.

The suitor in question now appears and is rapturously greeted by Sir Toby, but his wits are so clouded that he fails to understand his hint to conciliate the Maid. She therefore pertly remarks, when he finally offers her his hand, that there is nothing in it; thereby showing a gratuity would have been far more acceptable than tardy condescension.

The Maid having gone, the men converse, Sir Andrew coming to the conclusion that his slow comprehension is due not to strong drink, but to a too great indulgence in meat. When he hears, therefore, that Olivia is withdrawing from the world, he wishes to return home immediately, but Sir Toby induces him to remain a little longer and exhibit his talents as a dancer, as he may thereby perchance win the Countess' affections.

The next scene is played in the Duke's palace, where the page Cesario, Viola in disguise, is talking to a courtier, who warns him that, although he has gained great influence at court in three days' time, he must not count upon the continuance of such favour. This warning has barely been acknowledged by Cesario, when the Duke appears, calling for his page. When Cesario steps forward, the rest are bidden retire, and the Duke proceeds to instruct the youth, who has already become his confidant, to visit Olivia, not returning until he has been admitted to plead his master's cause.

When Cesario timidly objects that the lady admits no one, the Duke urges him to make use of his almost womanly tact to further his master's suit, promising to make his fortune, should he succeed. Thus admonished, Cesario volunteers to do his best, exclaiming in an aside, however, that this will prove a hard task, as 'Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife.'

When the curtain again rises, we see a room in Olivia's house where her Maid and Clown are conversing, the former receiving ridiculous replies to all her questions. Exasperated by the Clown's evasions, the Maid finally bids him prepare a suitable excuse, saying his irate mistress will soon appear. Thus warned, the Clown tries to collect his scattered wits, coming to the conclusion that it is better to be 'a witty fool than a foolish wit,' just as Olivia enters with her steward, Malvolio. The mistress shows her displeasure by immediately ordering the Clown removed, whereupon, pretending to misunderstand her, he makes witty speeches, offering at last to demonstrate she is the 'fool' she calls him, provided she will answer a few questions. Olivia expressing willingness to do so, the Clown makes her confess she is mourning the death of a brother, whose soul she indignantly declares is in heaven when the Fool opines that it must be in hell. On hearing this, the Clown promptly retorts that none but a fool would mourn because a relative enjoyed heavenly bliss! Olivia's admiration for this clever deduction irritates Malvolio, who contemptuously exclaims he cannot see how she can put up with such a rascal, a remark savouring so strongly of conceit, that his mistress vows he is so 'sick of self-love,' that he cannot bear to hear any one else praised.

It is at this juncture that the maid reappears, announcing that some one is asking for the Countess. On hearing that a handsome youth is at the door, Olivia charges Malvolio to report her sick or not at home, as she is determined not to receive any more messages from the Duke. It is while Olivia is reproving the Clown for some mischief, that her uncle passes across the scene, too tipsy to answer her questions properly, so, after he has gone, Olivia makes the Clown define 'drunken man,' praising his definition as apt ere she dismisses him.

Then Malvolio returns reporting that the youth is so determined to speak to the Countess that he has found a witty retort to all excuses, retorts which so arouse Olivia's curiosity that she soon orders him admitted. While Malvolio goes out to fetch the page, the maid shrouds her mistress in the folds of a thick veil, so when Cesario is ushered in he is confronted by a veiled lady. Told to make his errand known, Cesario begins a set speech, interrupting himself at the end of a few moments to inquire whether he is addressing the right person. In reply to Olivia's query whence he comes, Cesario urges that is not part of his discourse, although he denies being the 'comedian' Olivia calls him. He admits, however, that he is not what he seems, so Olivia, caring naught for his speech, ruthlessly interrupts his glib sentences.

In fact, his appearance so charms her that she finally grants him a private audience, although she pays no heed when he tries to tell her that the text of his discourse lies in the Duke's bosom. A little later, when the page begs for a glimpse of her face, Olivia cannot refrain from showing the youth, with whom she has fallen in love, how beautiful she is. She, therefore, raises her veil, assuring Cesario that the colours he sees are fast, and her beauty ingrain. But, when the page exclaims that so lovely a woman should not go down to her grave without leaving children to perpetuate her beauty, she is secretly pleased, although she disdainfully says her charms could easily be inventoried as ' two lips, indifferent red,' 'two grey eyes, with lids to them,' 'one neck, one chin, and so forth.'

In reply to Olivia's question how the Duke shows his affection for her, the page replies, 'With adorations, fertile tears, with groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire,' words which evidently fail to impress Olivia, as she coldly states she never will return his affections. Thereupon the gallant page retorts that were he in his master's place he would accept no dismissal, but, camping before her gates, would call her name day and night until he wearied her into acceptance! Unable to restrain amusement and curiosity, Olivia again inquires who Cesario may be, only to receive the ambiguous reply that, although of gentle birth, his parentage is above his present fortunes. Again told to report to his master that his wooing is vain, the page finally takes leave of Olivia, saying, 'Farewell, fair cruelty.'

After Cesario has gone, Olivia admits she has allowed his perfections to creep in at her eyes; then, feeling anxious to see more of him, she bids Malvolio run after him, taking a diamond ring she pretends he left behind him, but with which she hopes to bribe Cesario to visit her once more. The steward having departed to execute this commission, Olivia marvels at herself, concluding Fate will have to decide her lot, since she herself knows not what to do.

Act II

The second act opens on the seashore, where a seaman, Antonio, is inquiring of Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, whether he wishes to be accompanied further? Afraid lest the ill-fortune which has lately dogged his steps should injure his rescuer should they remain together, Sebastian takes leave of the seaman, after describing the loss of his sister, who resembled him so closely that they differed in naught save garments and sex. Sebastian's intention is to present himself before the Duke, whom Antonio wishes to avoid, as he once boarded a ducal vessel.

Cesario is trudging along the street on his way back to the palace, when he is overtaken by Malvolio, asking whether he has not recently been with the Countess. The page admitting this, Malvolio delivers ring and message, only to have the jewel rejected. His orders being explicit, however, the steward sternly places the ring on the ground, vowing unless the page picks it up it will become the prey of any finder.

When Malvolio has gone, Cesario shrewdly argues that Olivia has fallen in love with him, and is trying to bribe him with this gift. Although he regrets being his master's rival in the lady's affections, he ascribes this conquest to his resemblance to his handsome brother, concluding, 'O time! thou must un- tangle this, not I; it is too hard a knot for me to untie!'

We now return to Olivia's house, where Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are drinking, having come to the sage conclusion that by sitting up until after midnight, they will keep early hours. Their conversation is interrupted by the Clown, whose nonsensical talk enlivens them, and who finally favours them with a song of his own composition, wherein the line, 'Journeys end in lovers meeting,' is often quoted.

The noise made by the drinkers so annoys the Maid that she soon bounces in, saying the steward will turn them all out unless they are quieter. This warning is hailed with such a clamour that Malvolio does appear, sternly requesting them to show more respect for his mistress, but, instead of silencing the tipplers, his strictures excite them to mirth, and they swear to take their revenge when he leaves them.

On hearing them propose to send Malvolio a challenge, the Maid suggests a better scheme, so all agree to send him letters, purporting to have been written by the Countess herself, and all tending to flatter his overweening vanity. This plan having won general approval, the Maid volunteers to prepare the letters, as she can best imitate her mistress's handwriting.

The Duke is again in his palace, calling for the song which pleased him the night before, which Cesario strums on his instrument, while awaiting the arrival of the singer. Meantime, the master inquires whether his page has ever been in love, assuming that unless he had experienced this tender passion he could not so readily sympathise with his woes.

On seeking to discover the object of his page's affections, the Duke obtains an artful description of himself. Learning, therefore, that Cesario is hopelessly enamoured of a person of his own age, the Duke exclaims such a sweetheart is far too old for him, and advises him to select some younger person, because, 'Women are as roses, whose fair flower being once display'd, doth fall that very hour.'

The entrance of the singer interrupts this talk, but after he has rendered the song and received his reward, the Duke bids Cesario hasten back to Lady Olivia, to tell her that, however large her fortune may be, it has never attracted him. When the page objects that the Countess refuses to listen, the Duke insists upon his obtaining a more favourable answer, exclaiming, when Cesario suggests some one may love him as dearly and as vainly as he does Olivia, that no woman could ever feel such passion as fills his heart.

Then Cesario gravely assures him that his father once had a daughter, who could love as deeply as any man, adding, when the Duke asks what befell her, that ' She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, feed on her damask cheek; she pined in thought, and with a green and yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.'

When the Duke wonders whether this faithful lady finally died of love, the page gives the ambiguous reply, 'I am all the daughters of my father's house, and all the brothers, too,' before asking what message his master wishes him to carry. This readiness to serve so pleases the Duke, that he sends Cesario forth with kindly words, bidding him bear a rich jewel to the obdurate Countess.

We now behold Olivia's garden, where Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and their friend Fabian, are discussing the trick they are planning to play upon Malvolio. While they are still talking, the Maid rushes in to warn them that their letters are taking effect, for she has seen Malvolio practising attitudes for the past half hour. She also reports that he is now on his way to the garden, where she drops her last letter, which is to complete their work.

The Maid has vanished, and the three men are hiding behind bushes, when Malvolio strolls in, talking to himself in conceited fashion. This soliloquy is accompanied by mocking comments from the hidden trio, who laugh when he talks of becoming a count, and fatuously dreams of the time when Olivia will be won, and when, master of all her possessions, he will be able to call her kinsman to account for his drunken ways.

It is while complacently dwelling on such dreams of future bliss, that Malvolio suddenly finds the letter concocted to mislead him. Deeming both writing and seal those of the Countess, Malvolio, unaware of a running accompaniment of jeers, reads this missive aloud, gravely deciding to carry out all its instructions, for he is told therein, 'Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em!' It is only when Malvolio has gone, that the spectators reappear, delighted with the sport they have had, and congratulating the Maid on the success of her trick.


The third act opens in Olivia's garden, where Cesario and the Clown are entertaining one another with conversation and music. After obtaining a tip from the visitor, the Clown so fervently hopes he may soon have a beard, that Viola, who longs to call the bearded Duke her own, bestows upon him a second coin. The page is too wary, however, to allow the Clown to trick him into a third donation, commenting, after he has gone away, that a Fool's office is hardly enviable, seeing he must so closely 'observe their mood upon whom he jests.'

Cesario's soliloquy is interrupted by the arrival of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, who, after exchanging greetings with him, report that Olivia awaits him. It is just as Cesario is about to obey these summons, that this lady comes into the garden with her maid, and the grace of the page's address so disconcerts Sir Andrew that he becomes madly jealous. After dismissing all the rest, Olivia questions Cesario, bidding him drop complimentary phrases when he styles himself her servant. Thereupon the witty page immediately retorts that, his master being her lover and slave, his servants are hers, too, a statement Olivia begs him never to repeat, hinting that, although she does not care for his master, she might lend a more favourable ear, should he urge some other suit. It is while Cesario is reproaching Olivia for wasting affections on an unworthy object, that a striking clock reminds her of the passing of time, so, after wringing from her visitor a second admission that he is not what he seems, Olivia makes him a declaration of love. The embarrassed page thereupon replies that he has no affections to give her, vowing he will never again plead his master's vain cause an announcement which fills Olivia's heart with dismay, as she fears he will cease to visit her. To insure seeing him again she, therefore, mendaciously intimates that, if he persevere, his master may succeed in the end.

In the next scene Sir Andrew is just informing Sir Toby and Fabian that, having seen Olivia show greater favour to a page than to himself, he feels obliged to depart. Both his friends, however, persuade him that the lady is trying to rouse his jealousy, and thus egg him on to fight the objectionable Cesario. While Sir Andrew goes off to write a challenge, Sir Toby gloats over the amusement they are going to derive from a duel between a man of no courage at all and a page anything but brave.

Just then the Maid rushes in, bidding them follow if they wish to see Malvolio carrying out the ridiculous instructions contained in her last letter. Not willing to lose any of the diversion awaiting them, Sir Toby and Fabian eagerly obey her summons.

In a street in Illyria, we see Sebastian, Viola's twin, and his faithful henchman and rescuer, Antonio, and overhear the former chiding this sailor for following him. To this reproach Antonio pleads guilty, saying he dares not let his young friend venture alone among so rough and inhospitable a people. After thanking Antonio warmly for such devotion, Sebastian proposes they view together the curiosities of the town, an invitation the sailor declines, deeming it best not to be seen abroad lest he be recognised and arrested. He, therefore, proposes to await his young companion at the inn, leaving his purse with him under pretext that he may want to purchase some trifle ere they meet again.

We next behold Olivia's garden, where this fair lady is telling her maid she has sent for the page, but does not know how to entertain him. Next she asks for Malvolio, who she is told is coming in strange attire, and behaving so queerly that he seems 'tainted in his wits.' A moment later the steward appears, wearing yellow stockings cross-gartered, and behaving so unlike a respectable servant that his mistress is shocked. To carry out instructions he thinks penned by her fair hand, Malvolio displays the utmost impudence, ogling Olivia, kissing his hand to her, and quoting whole passages of the letters, until she charitably concludes he is afflicted with 'midsummer madness.'

As a servant now announces the arrival of the page, Olivia bids her maid summon her uncle to watch over the mad steward, ere she goes away. Left alone, the fatuous Malvolio boasts 'nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes,' feeling sure Olivia is in love with him, and that she is now giving him a chance to show his contempt for her kinsman. When the Maid, therefore, returns with Sir Toby and Fabian, the conceited steward, then and there, treats his mistress's uncle with such insolence that, pretending he is mad, Sir Toby orders him locked up in a dark room like an insane man.

After that, Sir Andrew reappears bearing a ridiculous challenge which he insists Sir Toby shall read aloud. Overhearing this production, the Maid volunteers that the person to whom it is addressed is now with her mistress; so Sir Andrew rushes out to post himself in the page's way, taking to heart Sir Toby's instructions to draw his sword and swear loudly as soon as he sees his antagonist, as that will give him the proper martial air.

Once rid of Sir Andrew, the two others decide not to deliver his written challenge, lest it betray the fact that he is an ignoramus. Instead, Sir Toby proposes to transmit one by word of mouth, frightening the page by picturing his opponent as a paragon of impetuous fury.

Both have left to settle plans, when Olivia and the page stroll upon the scene. Alone with the youth for whom she has conceived a violent passion, Olivia regrets having sought his affections only to be told his master suffers from unrequited love. But, before taking leave of the page, she wrings from him a promise to return on the morrow, and gives him a jewel.

When Olivia has gone, Sir Toby and his friend reappear, to deliver the challenge of Sir Andrew, whom they depict to the page as a fire-eater. Poor Cesario thereupon anxiously protests he has no quarrel with Sir Andrew, proffering all manner of apologies. His tormentors will, however, allow him no loop-hole of escape, and all he can obtain is that Sir Toby will try to discover the nature of his offence, while Fabian keeps him company and incidentally amuses himself by increasing his fears.

Fabian and the page strolling off the stage, the scene is occupied by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, the latter almost paralysed at the prospect of a duel with Cesario, whom Sir Toby describes as an expert fencer, notwithstanding his youth. In his terror, Sir Andrew offers to withdraw, pacifying his antagonist with the gift of his best steed, by which donation Sir Toby intends to profit.

Seeing Fabian return with the page, Sir Toby converses a while with his friend, before both urge their principals to draw swords for appearance sake, it being impossible to conclude a duel honourably without fighting. So, while the page, in an aside, fervently implores the protection of Heaven, ruefully confessing it would not require much to make him reveal how little of the man there is in his composition, Sir Andrew is being heartened by his friends to act the part of a man.

The trembling antagonists have just been brought face to face, and are awaiting the signal, when Antonio rushes between them, imagining the page is Sebastian, whom he resembles so closely. When Antonio, therefore, offers to fight in his stead, the page proves so eager to grant him that privilege, that Sir Toby interferes, until Antonio in anger challenges him.

Toby and Antonio are just crossing swords, when officers enter to arrest the latter for his attack upon the ducal vessel. Turning to Cesario, whom he still thinks his protege Sebastian, Antonio now demands the return of his purse, not wishing to find himself penniless in prison. In reply to a request he fails to understand, the page generously offers to reward Antonio for interrupting the duel by sharing with him all he has a sum which appears beggarly in comparison with the contents of Antonio's purse. Hotly reproaching the youth for ingratitude, an accusation truthfully refuted, Antonio indignantly describes how he saved Sebastian from the jaws of death, ere the officers lead him away.

It is only then that the page sufficiently recovers his senses to wonder whether his brother, whose name has just been uttered, may not have been saved by this seaman, and exclaims rejoicing, 'O, if it prove, tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!'

Meantime it is evident that Sir Toby and his companions consider Cesario a paltry lad, who not only shows no courage in a fight, but is base enough to deny a friend. Such is the contempt they express after he has gone, that Sir Andrew eagerly offers to follow and slap him, an act of daring which affords his companions such intense amusement that they follow to witness the fun.

Act IV

The fourth act opens before Olivia's house, where Sebastian and the Clown are talking, the latter seeming amused that the former should deny his acquaintance, although he has brought him many messages. However, Sebastian goodnaturedly gives the Clown a tip, and this individual is just trying to secure a second donation, when Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian arrive. Egged on by his companions, and thinking he is dealing with the cowardly page, Sir Andrew swaggers up and strikes Sebastian. But instead of the passive antagonist he expects, he suddenly finds himself attacked by an enraged man, who deems all Illyrians mad.

While the Clown rushes off in terror to summon his mistress, Sir Andrew, whose courage has evaporated at the first blow, vainly tries with Sir Toby's help to patch up the quarrel. But Sebastian indignantly refuses to overlook the insult received, so Sir Toby, dreading the outcome of his encounter with Sir Andrew, challenges him himself.

They are about to fight when Olivia rushes in, reproving her kinsman, and offering lavish apologies to the supposed page. While the three conspirators vanish, Olivia talks to Sebastian, whom she begs to follow her into the house, where she will give an explanation and make amends for the insult he has received. Her sudden appearance, kindly invitation, and familiar address, greatly bewilder Sebastian, who is, nevertheless, so charmed by her beauty that he exclaims, 'If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep' as he wonderingly follows her into the house.

In a room in Olivia's dwelling, the Maid is next seen dressing the Clown to impersonate a priest, although he ruefully declares he is not learned enough to play such a part with success. His disguise completed, Sir Toby joins them, and bids the Clown knock at the door of Malvolio's cell, informing him in loud tones that he is the priest. From behind the door the lamentable voice of the steward now begs the priest's intercession, protesting he should not be locked up in the dark, as he is not mad. Schooled for his part, the Clown declares Malvolio must be insane, seeing the place is flooded with light, and wittily defeats him with his own arguments when he tries to reason through the door.

While he is doing this, Sir Toby and the Maid go out together, whereupon, seeing himself alone, the Clown suddenly changes his tone and, being recognised by Malvolio, consents to get him paper and ink so he can communicate with his mistress. But, before doing so, the Clown impishly teases Malvolio by pretending to doubt his sanity.

The next scene is played in Olivia's garden, where Sebastian gazes around him, wondering how it happens the Countess should have treated him with such kindness. He is further mystified by her donation of a ring, and by Antonio's absence from the inn. Although under the impression he is under some delusion, Sebastian ardently hopes that Olivia may be real, as he has fallen desperately in love with her. When she appears, therefore, accompanied by a priest, begging him follow her to the altar, where the vows they have just secretly exchanged can be duly confirmed, he enthusiastically cries, 'Lead the way, good father; and heavens so shine, that they may fairly note this act of mine!'

Act V

The fifth act opens before Olivia's house, where the Clown and Fabian are conversing, the latter vainly trying to obtain a glimpse of the letter Malvolfo has written. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Duke, who, after discovering that they belong to Olivia's household, shows great condescension, rewarding the Clown's witty remarks with a gold coin. This tip calls forth new witticisms and a second donation ensues, but the Duke warily refuses to be tricked into a third unless the Clown bring his mistress.

It is at this moment Antonio is brought before him by the police, only to be recognised by Cesario as the very man who recently rescued him from peril, meaning, of course, that Antonio saved him from Sir Andrew's sword. Gazing fixedly at the captive, the Duke recognises in him the seaman who once boarded his galley, and is about to vent his anger upon him, when his page intercedes. Addressing Antonio more temperately, therefore, the Duke bids him explain, thus learning that, although Antonio did fight against him on one occasion, he is no pirate, but a seaman who has come to IIlyria out of devotion to the ungrateful lad standing beside him, in whose company he has been night and day for the past three months.

Such a statement amazes the Duke, who replies that his page, having been constantly with him, the seaman's declaration is palpably false. But, before he can investigate the matter further, Olivia appears, and, after greeting him, turns to Cesario, reproaching him passionately for not keeping his promises. These reproaches astonish master and page, until the Duke, fancying that Cesario has tried to supplant him, becomes so irate that he mutters, 'I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love,' a threat which has no terror for the page, but which almost paralyses Olivia.

But, when Cesario swears he will gladly follow the one he loves more than he can ere love wife, Olivia becomes so incensed, that she reveals her secret betrothal to the page, which he indignantly denies. Seeing the priest draw near who heard their vows, Olivia charges him to make the truth known, whereupon he duly admits having plighted the couple before him two hours ago.

While the Duke is angrily reproaching his protesting page for such treachery, Sir Andrew rushes in clamouring for a surgeon for Sir Toby, who has been grievously wounded by Cesario. This new accusation the Duke declares cannot be true, seeing his page has remained quietly beside him, although Sir Andrew reviles the lad for injuring his friend. The page truthfully denies ever hurting any one; yet, thinking Sir Andrew refers to the duel, tries to explain how he was compelled to fight against his will.

It is at this moment that Sir Toby is brought in by the Clown, clamouring for a surgeon. In reply to the Duke's questions, he tries to describe how his wound was received, but is too drunk to do so intelligently. Seeing his predicament, Olivia soon orders him off, so Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian leave the stage with the Clown.

They have barely departed when Sebastian rushes in, apologising profusely for injuring Olivia's kinsman, who unaccountably attacked him, and asking why his lady-love gazes so coldly upon him? The appearance of Sebastian, an exact counterpart of the page in face, voice, and apparel, startles all present, and while the Duke comments softly upon it, Sebastian suddenly falls upon Antonio's neck, vowing he has endured much anxiety in his behalf. Staring at the two youths so exactly alike, the sailor expresses a surprise, shared by Olivia and by all the rest. Discovering his counterpart in his turn, Sebastian exclaims that while he once had a sister just like him, he knows she is drowned. Then he begins questioning the page, who admits that his father and brother both bore the name of Sebastian, and that the latter must be resting in a watery tomb, for Viola feels convinced it is her brother's ghost she sees. After she has given irrefutable proofs of her identity, Sebastian embraces her, exclaiming this is his beloved sister Viola, and obliges her to admit that she donned male apparel to serve the Duke. When she adds that while in his service she often visited Olivia in his behalf, the Countess' mistake is explained, and Sebastian informs his betrothed that whereas she might have been pledged to a maid, she is now irrevocably bound to a man.

Although the Duke fancied he could never forget Olivia, he suddenly finds himself less inconsolable than he deemed possible, and turning to his page, eagerly inquires whether he told the truth when he declared he would never love any one as fervently as he loved his master. Unable to deny this impeachment, Viola is told to resume her former garb a command she promises to obey as soon as Malvolio, who has seized her wardrobe in her absence, can make restitution.

Not at all sorry to exchange Cesario for his more virile counterpart, Olivia calls for her steward, whereupon the Clown, rushing forward, delivers his letter. In this missive Malvolio accuses his mistress of making him behave in unseemly fashion, before imploring her to set him free; it is so sane, however, that Olivia orders him liberated, ere, turning to the Duke, she welcomes him as brother, he having, meantime, decided to marry Viola, for whom he felt such tender affection when deeming her only a page. He also decrees that both weddings shall take place in his palace, whither all are invited to join in the festivities. Then, turning to Viola, the Duke dismisses her forever as page, and warmly welcomes her as a sweetheart, just as Fabian produces Malvolio. On being questioned, the indignant steward exhibits the letter responsible for his offensive behaviour, and when Olivia denies writing it, Fabian admits it was penned by her maid, adding that Sir Toby has just married this woman to reward her for playing so amusing a trick.

When the Clown slyly adds 'some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.' Malvolio, failing to see any humour in such a remark, stalks off the scene, muttering wrathfully, 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!' After Olivia has acknowledged that Malvolio has some ground for resentment, the Duke begs his followers hasten after to appease him, before he bids Viola follow him back to the palace, where, having donned suitable garments, she will become 'Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen.'

All the rest having left the stage, the Clown sings a ridiculous song as epilogue, wherein occurs the platitude that 'A great while ago the world began,' but that in spite of all that 'the play is now done.'

How to cite this article:
Guerber, Helene Adeline. Stories of Shakespeare's Comedies. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1910. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < >.


More to Explore

 Twelfth Night: The Complete Play with Explanatory Notes
 Proper Names in Twelfth Night
 Types of Shakespearean Comedy

 The Settings of the Plays
 How to Pronounce the Names in Twelfth Night
 Exploring the Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
 Shakespeare's Second Period: Exploring Twelfth Night


Did You Know? ... The action of Twelfth Night takes place over three days. In the First Folio the play is divided into acts and scenes, but no list of the dramatis personae is included. For that we have the dramatic poet Nicholas Rowe to thank. Rowe was instrumental in the evolution of Shakespearean scholarship.


 Introduction to Shakespeare's Malvolio
 Introduction to Shakespeare's Feste
 Spiritual Grace: An Examination of Viola from Twelfth Night
 The Comic Relief of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek

 Introduction to Shakespeare's Olivia
 Introduction to the Duke in Twelfth Night
 Twelfth Night: Q & A
 Shakespeare and Music

 Famous Quotations from Twelfth Night
 Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Impact on Other Writers
 Why Study Shakespeare?
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels

 The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays
 Establishing the Order of the Plays
 How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write?
 Shakespeare Timeline

 Words Shakespeare Invented
 Quotations About William Shakespeare
 Portraits of Shakespeare

 Top 10 Shakespeare Plays
 Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
 Shakespeare's Blank Verse
 Edward Alleyn (Actor)