Twelfth Night, Or What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, based on the short story "Of Apolonius and Silla" by Barnabe Rich. It is named after the Twelfth Night holiday of the Christmas season. It was written around 1601 and first published in the First Folio in 1623. The main title is believed to be an afterthought, created after John Marston premiered a play titled What You Will during the course of the writing. (From feedbooks.com)
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Identify one example of synaesthesia in this monologue besides the first line.
Synaesthesia is the mixing of one sense with another. For example, someone might taste honey when hearing a specific sound. Another person might see a specific shape when touching something. Check out the site below to get a more detailed definition of the term and some examples. (This annotation contains a link)
What is the "noblest that I have"?
This is an allusion to the myth of Actaeon, one that Shakespeare and others in Early Modern England and Renaissance Italy used to describe the way desire overcomes the individual. This video describes the myth. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Olivia refuse to see Duke Orsino's messenger?
Blank verse, in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, is verse composed of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. Given the unrhymed nature of it, when lines rhyme something important is usually going on. Many of the lines that end scenes are couplets as a way to round out the section and indicate to the audience that the scene was ending and a new one was about to begin.
Based on the context, what has just happened here?
This is a reference to the myth of Arion and the Dolphin. Check out the site below, if you would like to learn more about the myth as well as some visual representations of it. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Viola's father's familiarity with Orsino indicate about their social class?
Northrop Frye, the noted literary critic, described the structure of comedy in terms of the goals of its characters. The explanation provided here is a bit simplified, so if you wish to delve into the discussion deeper, the basis for this annotation is "The Argument of Comedy" in Frye's book, "The Anatomy of Criticism." A link has been provided to some materials below. The bottom line for Frye is that comedy is about characters discovering how little they knew about themselves rather than receiving a punishment. The segments of comedy are roughly thus: The Law or Father is opposed to a marriage; the conflict moves to the "Green World" and is solved; the society is reconstituted to accommodate the young and old alike. All of this is to point out the fact that, unlike most comedies, "Twelfth Night" has no fathers. It is an absence that says a lot. You may want to consider how this play would be different if there were a central figure of authority present in the text. (This annotation contains a link)
This is a lone reference to this term, and when Viola is Cesario, no mention is made of eunuchs. A potential reason for this is the geography of Illyria. Illyria is located in Eastern Europe and was, at the time, part of the Ottoman Empire. This word would have conjured in the minds of the audience exotic ideas and locations.
Describe Viola's plan by discussing the following points: 1) What is she going to do? 2) Why doesn't she work for Olivia? 3) What dangers does she face in Illyria? Cite the text in your response.
Quick Note: Many people pronounce this "Mar-Eye-Ah" instead of "Mar-Ee-uh." Just in case you hear it both ways, you now know what each sounds like.
Sir Andrew's name, like that of others, is revealing of his character and appearance. Ague is a word associated with fever and sickness, and cheek suggests his face; therefore, his name means "sickness face." How do you think that might look?
What does Maria's question about Sir Andrew suggest?
"Natural" in this context means an idiot in its original meaning of someone with a mental deficiency.
Which of the following words best fits the context of what Sir Andrew is trying to say?
What is the purpose of the preceding exchange between Maria and Sir Andrew?
Bear-baiting is a recurring motif in the play. To understand it, you have to understand Early Modern notions of entertainment. Bear-baiting shared the same space as the theater, so the scents of the day's match could still have been lingering in the air as people watched the latest play. Bear-baiting was so popular that many of the bears were celebrities on par with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence. A bear named "Sackerson" was immortalized in Shakespeare's "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Keep an eye out for more bear-baiting images as you continue through the play. (This annotation contains a link)
The pun in this statement is also a metaphor that compares sex with which of the following daily chores?
Kickshawes derives from the French "quelques chose" meaning anything or something. What Sir Toby is asking is "Are you any good at these things, Sir Andrew?"
Shakespeare often includes stage directions implicitly in what he has the characters say. What is the stage direction implicit in this final line that suggests how these two might have left the stage?
Like many Shakespearean comedies, "Twelfth Night" features a character who must dress like the opposite sex. Keep in mind that Viola is Cesario as you read.
How does Orsino feel about Cesario?
Which of the following does Orsino believe will make Cesario a better messenger than those he has sent in the past?
The clown's name is one of those things that is often up for debate. In the First Folio, he is called Clown in stage directions and speech prefixes. In speech he is referred to as a "fool." He is referred to briefly as Feste. When you see "Feste," "Fool," or "Clown," they all refer to the same person.
This line sets up the stakes for Feste. As we will soon find out, he was Olivia's father's jester. Unless Olivia agrees to keep him around, he will be without a job to sustain him. Any threat to Feste's sustained employment is a threat to his very life.
What does Feste suggest here?
The following exchange between Feste and Olivia reveals a lot about each character as well as the relationship they share. The following video clip is a performance from the 1996 Trevor Nunn film. (This annotation contains a video)
A catechism is a way of stating beliefs through question and answer. What Feste is doing here is setting up the question and answer that is to come, but also to solemnize the moment because he is about to do that which fools do so well: speak unwanted truths. In medieval and early modern England, being of the nobility meant that everyone came to see you for this and that, bringing along lavish praises. An "allowed fool" like Feste was responsible for reminding you of your humanity, just as he does for Olivia in this scene. A catechistic formatting allows for the one being questioned to speak the truths for the fool; this format is useful especially in circumstances where the information is particularly volatile (like your brother is dead, move on). Check out a sample of the Westminster Catechism below. (This annotation contains a link)
What has the fool made Olivia realize?
Based on Feste's need for employment, what potential result does Malvolio's comment have?
Olivia's place as head of the household is highly unusual in early modern England. She only has it because her father and brother died and she is not married. This positioning does two very unusual things for her character: first, she is subordinate only to Orsino; second, she is a highly powerful woman, a foil to the disguised Viola who had to transform into a man to get the power she has. Olivia will face conflicts with the fact of her position and power affecting her decisions. See if you can track her development in parallel to that of Viola; each one is a strong woman, but each one develops differently based on the situation. For more on how characters develop, check out the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on this exchange between Malvolio and Olivia, what can you say about Malvolio as a character?
This play relies heavily on the liminal. Liminal spaces are those in transition between two places: gardens as transition from indoor to outdoor; cemeteries as transition from life to death; seashores as transition from land to sea. Characters can be liminal as well: Viola is neither boy nor man in this passage, caught in "standing water," or the water that remains between high and low tide. Consider how all of the characters and spaces they inhabit could be seen as liminal. Also, consider that transition is not a permanent state, nor can it be.
Viola and Olivia have a quick exchange here where they are trying to figure one another out. Which of the following words characterizes Viola's use of language to this point?
What does Olivia's willingness to send her servants out of the room reveal about Viola?
Many performances have portrayed this moment as the moment where Olivia falls in love with Cesario. What aspects of this speech, or the conversation to this point, persuade Olivia to love? Why does Cesario succeed where so many others have failed?
What has happened to make Cesario say this to Olivia?
If people ask you, "Why study Shakespeare," point them to this line. If we write out exactly what is happening here, it goes something like this: Olivia decides she has feelings for Cesario, but this is absurd because he is a servant, but if he weren't a servant it wouldn't be absurd, but in order to make this happen I have to marry him, so I'll marry him and it will all work out ok. Circular and cumbersome reasoning to say the least, not to mention a tedious idea to read. Shakespeare gives us the sentence fragment here so that we infer the rest (which isn't hard given how unhinged Olivia has suddenly become). She is so taken by Cesario, she has to calm herself before and after this thought. Then, to emphasize the idea to a contemporary audience, Shakespeare has Olivia compare her the rapid onset of her love with the rapid onset of the plague. They knew exactly how quickly that could, and did, happen.
Twelfth Night Quiz 1
This section gives a lot of detail about Sebastian's and Viola's background. Which element of their story provides a connection with the play that we have already discussed?
This speech is very short, but shows Antonio wrestling with a big decision. How might you stage this soliloquy if you were the director? What would you have the actor do? How would you have the actor speak the lines?
In Elizabethan England, the exchange of a ring in this way could be considered an acceptance and creation of a marriage. If Cesario were to take the ring, Olivia would be considered his wife.
Which is the closest approximation of what this line means?
Viola is torn by her decision to masquerade as a man. As a man, his state is desperate for his master's love, that is Orsino's favor. Servants who served well were rewarded well. She cuts herself off when she speaks of herself as a woman. What is the competing interest she has a woman that interferes with her duty to Orsino as a man?
Check out the link below to find out about this Elizabethan era gag. (This annotation contains a link)
Here is a recording of this song. To sing it as a catch, think of a round like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." (This annotation contains a video)
What is the tone of this song?
Answer after you have watched the video:How does this second song differ from the first one? Why did Sir Toby choose to have them sing this song after the first one? How does this song change the atmosphere of the scene?
The video below shows one interpretation of the catch sung here. It is from the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. (This annotation contains a video)
This is the Shakespearean version of "Shut Up!"
Malvolio here is simply doing his job. Why do you think Sir Toby gets so angry with him?
Besides this being yet another allusion to Malvolio being a baited bear, what does Maria's statement suggest about her reaction to Malvolio's statement?
Puritans were an emerging force in English social and religious life in the 1600s. In fact, the 1600s would be the decade that saw the Puritans rise to power, execute a king, and rule the country for about ten years. Check out the link below to learn more about them. (This annotation contains a link)
Summarize Maria's plan in your own words. Cite the parts of the text that name the specific details.
This passage suggests that Sir Toby is interested only in Sir Andrew's _____.
There is a pun here in the sense of "favoring" one's parents. Orsino thinks he is simply saying that Cesario has stay'd upon some object of love, but doubles the meaning to mean that object's face. This pun is repeated in Viola's next line, but done so in a way that Orsino does not get.
The humor in this scene comes from the _____, a result of our knowledge that Cesario is actually a woman.
Now that you have read the song and heard it sung two different ways, how does the tone of the song compare and contrast with the context of what is happening around it? Also: Considering that Orsino and Cesario (Viola) are standing there watching him sing, how would you have the actors play the scene? Why?
A traditional version of the song sung by Roger Quilter. (This annotation contains a video)
Check out this version of the song sung by contemporary musician Dave Matthews. (This annotation contains a video)
Everything in Feste's commentary on Orsino possesses a quality of changeability. Nothing is constant about Orsino in his love sickness, and Feste would rather have none of it.
The following conversation is thematically important in the play's discussion of love. Pay attention to the points Orsino makes and how Cesario defends women.
In saying this, what has Cesario accidentally done?
What does this story suggest about the theme of love in the play? Use the text to this point to pull evidence to support your reading.
The play is beginning to turn here. The archetypal melancholy male in a fit of love sickness, Orsino is full of himself and not much more. In the preceding discussion, Viola so passionately argues the feelings she has beneath the Cesario surface that Orsino almost forgets to play his part. It is Cesario's question here that puts Orsino back into his place as the melancholy male in pursuit of the fair Olivia, but not without a more resolved, if misdirected vision. These points are very subtle, but very important to our understanding of how the characters are changing.
This scene is a key scene in the plot about Malvolio. Take your time and consider this scene carefully. What does Sir Toby want in this scene? What does Malvolio want? How are these two wants in conflict? What sources of humor are there? Is Sir Toby and Maria's plan too cruel?
This comment, and the next line Sir Toby says, once again link Malvolio with bear-baiting. Consider how Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria set upon Malvolio. What has he done wrong? What has Malvolio done that is bad enough to warrant what is about to happen to him. Consider this as you read further. (This annotation contains an image)
This means "my golden one." Ironically, the reference to India is actually the West Indies or the Americas, the source of gold in Shakespeare's day.
What is it that Maria is saying Malvolio is doing?
For the next part of the scene, the section where Malvolio is wandering through the garden contemplating the letter, the things Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian say are all asides. Asides are things characters say to the audience or other characters that not all those on stage are meant to hear. Malvolio does not hear the asides though the audience does. As you read, think about how you might direct the scene in your own production of the play.
What does Malvolio want in his daydream?
Here, Shakespeare again shows his talent for characterization through dialogue. Malvolio, with whom we could sympathize or not at this point, uses language of such over-weening pride and egotism that it is hard not to encourage the trick that is about to happen. The pure glee that so absorbs him here is present throughout his language in the first half of the scene and shows the audience how primed Malvolio is for the gulling he is about to receive. (This annotation contains a link)
At this point, explain what Malvolio wants and why that angers Toby. Use the text to support your answer.
The name Lucrece comes from the story of the Rape of Lucrece, a story Shakespeare also wrote (except not as a play, but as a poem). Check out the page below for a study guide about the poem that has a pretty succinct summary of it. (This annotation contains a link)
Much ink has been spilt over the meaning of these four letters. One interpretation, included because it is brief, describes one scholar's reading of the "fustian riddle." (This annotation contains a link)
Which is the best explanation for why Malvolio jumps so quickly to his name as the name that "M" stands for?
What specific lines can you pull from the text that support Malvolio's "crushing" (reading) of the letter as addressed to him? Make sure you quote the line first, then explicate it.
According to Maria, her pan includes all of the following EXCEPT _____.
Which of the following themes does this passage best support?
An allusion to the story of Troilus and Cressida, a story that Shakespeare retold in the play Troilus and Cressida. It tells the story of a Trojan prince and his love for the young Trojan woman Cressida. Cressida's uncle, Pandarus, is the vehicle for the misguided and doomed courtship. That is why when we speak negatively about someone who is trying to convince someone to sleep with another we say that he or she is pandering to the other person. Notice how Pandarus hovers vicariously over the two lovers with his torch in this ancient Greek red-figure depiction. This is Feste's genius; he makes an allusion to a classical figure in order to ask for some more money. This impressive move ends up getting him exactly what he wants. (This annotation contains an image)
This is an allusion to both the events of the play and the role of fool in general. In Shakespeare's troupe, there were two main comedic actors who played various fools: Will Kempe and Robert Armin. This speech is a meta-theatrical pat-on-the-back to the actor playing Feste as well as a reference to how well Feste "practices" or tricks people. This use of the word "practice" has its most relevant use in the play in reference to the plot against Malvolio.
This image is an example of synesthesia. This literary figure is when one sense is combined with another. In this image, _____ is combined with ______.
The Ptolemaic universe, the predominant scientific model of the universe in Early Modern England. The music of these spheres is generated by the rotation of the crystalline spheres that contained the stars. When these spheres rotated, they created beautiful music which humans cannot hear. See below for a drawing of the Ptolemaic model of the universe. (This annotation contains an image)
These lines contain a metaphor that Olivia is using to describe how she feels as she bears her heart to Cesario. As with many of the representations of Malvolio, this metaphor compares Olivia's heart to which of the following?
These lines contain an example of which of the following literary techniques?
Explain the allusion here. What does Sir Andrew's allusion say about him? Do you think he meant to say this or is it another of his verbal missteps? Make sure you provide evidence for your reasoning.
This allusion refers to the radical theologian Robert Browne (c. 1550-1633). Check out the video below for basic outline of Browne's beliefs. (This annotation contains a video)
This one is just for fun (mostly because it is unbelievable that this actually exists). The picture below is the bed of Ware. It is actually ten feet wide. (This annotation contains an image)
"Thou," though it sounds fancy, is actually a familiar, not a formal, means of address. What Sir Toby is encouraging Sir Andrew to do here is to taunt Cesario by being rude to him.
The humors, the four fluids of the body in Medieval medicine, represented corresponding emotional states. Blood represented emotions tied to the heart. If Sir Andrew lacks blood, which of the following emotional states corresponds to this lack?
With which of the following adjectives would you describe Antonio?
For what offense is Antonio wanted in Illyria?
Notice how this dialogue puts Antonio in the position of the "father" to Sebastian. Who else would ask a younger person if he would like to purchase a "toy"?
Why does Malvolio appear possessed?
Consider that, when this play was first performed, men played all of the parts. Does that add to the humor of this scene? Does it take away from it? The following clip is from the award-winning Mark Rylance performance at the Globe Theatre in London. Mark Rylance plays Olivia and Stephen Fry plays Malvolio. You may wish to consider how this performance affects your reading of the scene itself. (This annotation contains a video)
This is a visual representation of the scene from a production in the 1820s. Malvoli appears on the right, cross-gartered. (This annotation contains an image)
How does seeing Olivia portrayed by a man in the Mark Rylance performance change how you read the character? Does it change your reading at all? Why? Remember that in Shakespeare's day, all actors were male, so the choice to have men play women would have not been unusual to them.
Modern American audiences have shown a lot of sympathy for Malvolio because he is simply trying to climb the social ladder and better himself; however, the social ladder of Shakespeare's day was a divine construct, the Great Chain of Being. People were not supposed to climb on this. Malvolio's assertion of himself over the other people around him of higher social status is wrong in an Early Modern sense of social order. When he calls those people above him "idle shallow things" he brings this social blasphemy out.
Fabian notes that Sir Andrew's letter makes "good sense." Why might this not be true?
Summarize Sir Toby's plan in these highlighted lines.
Here, as in the rest of this exchange, Sir Toby describes Sir Andrew, but not the Sir Andrew we know as the audience. The man he describes is forceful, violent, and strong. Sir Andrew is not. The fact that we know this and Viola does not is called dramatic irony. Any time the audience knows more than the characters on stage (or even on the page), and there is an incongruity between what is said and that knowledge, that is dramatic irony. Notice how it makes the comedy of this scene work.
What makes this statement so funny?
Antonio plays an interesting role in this play. According to Northrop Frye, the inciting incident of a comedy is the disapproval of society, often through the figure of the father. Unlike other plays, there are no fathers in this play; both Olivia and the twins have lost their fathers, and Orsino's father has been dead a while. Yet, when either Viola or Sebastian are in trouble, he arrives to protect them both. As the play moves forward, consider how Antonio does or doesn't fulfill the role of a father. This thinking may help you understand one of the more enigmatic characters in Shakespeare's comedies.
Twelfth Night Quiz 2
There is a very interesting parallelism in the opening of these two Acts. In Act III, scene i, Viola and Feste have a lively exchange. In this scene, Sebastian and Feste have a lively exchange. Whenever this type of parallelism arises, consider why the author might be aligning whatever he or she might be aligning. In this case, consider why Shakespeare would have these two scenes open with parallel interactions by the twins.
Why is Sebastian so confused?
Sir Topas is a character from the tales of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. As a tale, the tale Sir Topas features in is a parody of the genre of romance. As such, Sir Topas is mock-heroic, not heroic. Essentially, Sir Topas comes across as a fool. As you read, consider what implications arise from Feste's association with another famous fool. Follow the link to get a rundown on the character Sir Topas. (This annotation contains a link)
To whom is this phrase addressed?
Malvolio's mistreatment reaches its pinnacle here, and even Sir Toby is impressed with Malvolio's resilience to the point where he says that he would rather they stopped "this knavery." Despite Sir Toby's apparent repentance of the trick, Feste has not satisifed his own desire for revenge on Malvolio. This carries through in the way he continues to psychologically torture Malvolio. For example, the song he sings is almost a dirge, sung in a catch (round) about an unkind lady who loves another, but denies it. The other speaker disagrees, creating a very dark and cynical tone.
What does this text reveal about Malvolio at this point?
Read this section carefully; Feste is going to bounce back and forth between being himself and Sir Topas. Keeping track of when he is who is difficult, but not impossible.
Music plays a significant part in this play. What is the effect of this song on the meaning of the scene? Cite the text to support your assertions.
Ironically, in the play, which character have we seen actually trying to maintain order in the household despite the fact people now think he has gone mad?
Feste is displaying his linguistic prowess again. Here, he shows how he can play with the meaning of double negatives (used commonly in Early Modern English to amplify the negative, not cancel it out) and twist even Orsino's words into the shape he prefers.
What is Orsino giving to Feste?
Of what crime does Orsino accuse Antonio?
Which of the following does Shakespeare use in this passage to indicate Antonio's emotional state?
This begins the reveals that will set the world right again. These reveals will unfold in a long and unusual series of events. First, Olivia will accuse Cesario of not honoring their love. Viola has no clue about the marriage from Act IV because Olivia believed Sebastian was Cesario, so she married Sebastian. Orsino, enraged will threaten to kill Cesario rather than allow him to love Olivia. Olivia then calls Cesario "husband," which stops everyone in their respective tracks. A priest is produced to verify the marriage, and Cesario is very confused. Orsino is further enraged and unloads on Cesario. This verbal violence is broken up when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, fresh from being beaten by Sebastian, arrive. Sir Toby finally reveals his feelings about Sir Andrew. Sir Andrew, disgraced, follows the injured Sir Toby into the house. Sebastian arrives and the aha really begins.
Who possesses "the raven's heart"? In other words, who is "the dove" Orsino refers to in the final line?
What is the effect of the repetition of "husband" here? Justify your answer by referring to the character traits of the two characters involved.
Notice that the language here subconsciously links Sir Toby and Sir Andrew with fools. Just as Feste said earlier in his allusion to the picture of we three, Shakespeare ties these buffoons with the foolish instead of the nobility of their titles. Below is a picture of an actor wearing a coxcomb. (This annotation contains an image)
What does this language reveal about Sir Toby's relationship with Sir Andrew?
This line often gets a ton of laughs. What do you think makes it so funny?
Watch the first 3 or so minutes of the attached clip. Think about the way you might have staged the scene if you were the director and how the choices Trevor Nunn makes limit your view of the scene. (This annotation contains a video)
What does this line reveal about Duke Orsino? Then, after you have explained your reading of the line, suggest how you might stage it so that Orsino's body language corresponds to his intended meaning.
Why does Olivia ask Fabian to read the letter?
Notice how the celebrations are intercut with the revelation of the plot against Malvolio and all the cruelty this entails. Consider the effect of this in complicating the ending to this comedy. Why does so much darkness seem to arise here?
Malvolio feels wronged, and justly so, but he does not yet understand that Olivia had no part in it. His insistence that she does have a part in it reduces the sympathy audiences have for him. The threat in the letter he wrote reveals his misguided, but deeply felt, indignation. Even when he is shown that Olivia's handwriting is not the one on the paper, he refuses to relent, saying he will be "reveng'd on the whole pack of [them]."
How do you read Malvolio? That is, do you feel sorry for him? Why or why not? What themes does Malvolio's story ask us to confront and what questions do these themes cause us to ask? Provide evidence from the text to support your answer (you are not limited to Act 5).
Again, notice the darkness of this line in relation to the relative happiness of the scene in which it occurs. This is not the normal tone for these events.
How does the inclusion of this song at the end affect the way you read the ending? Answer this question after you view the film clip and listen to the audio clip in the annotations; consider each in your response.
READ THE SONG FIRST Audio Clip: Alfred Dellar Sings (This annotation contains a video)
READ THE SONG FIRST Film Clip 1: Trevor Nunn Version (This annotation contains a video)
Twelfth Night Quiz 3