Twelfth Night, Acts, I, II, and III

If Shakespeare had a sister who also wanted to write or act, how different would her life be from her brother’s? In the Elizabethan period, only women belonging to the nobility had access to education. Shakespeare’s father was a merchant, and his family did not belong to the noble class. Given the social codes of the time, his sister would have no access to education and, therefore, writing would be out of the question. Acting would not be possible, either, because women were not allowed on stage. She would instead be trained in how to be a good wife, a good cook, and a good mother.If Shakespeare’s sister wanted to break the mold and pursue her dreams, society would be hostile to her. She likely would not have the support of family members. She also would have been unlikely to find work as an actor in London. In short, it would be nearly impossible for a single woman of Shakespeare’s time to succeed in the male-dominated world of acting and writing.
Read act I of Twelfth Night. Then respond to the following question.Viola finds herself in the land of Illyria after the shipwreck. Based on information in this lesson and your own knowledge, why do you think Viola decided to put on men’s clothing and pretend to be a man? A shipwreck lands Viola on the shores of Illyria, a new and strange place for her. Viola is conscious of the fact that it would be difficult for her to survive as a single woman in a strange land. She would need to earn a living, and there was no job she could take up without calling undue attention to herself. In order to safeguard her chastity and be able to look out for herself, she figures that she will have to disguise herself as a boy. This disguise would enable her to enjoy more freedom and more opportunities. She learns about the lovesick Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia, who has gone into self-imposed seclusion to mourn the loss of her brother. Viola, disguised as a young man, decides to take up the job of a page in Orsino’s household.
Read act II of Twelfth Night. Then respond to the following question.In act II, scene I, the audience finds out that Sebastian and Viola are twins and that they are identical, at least when they are both dressed as men. In what ways do you predict this revelation will complicate matters as the plot moves forward? Sebastian is Viola’s twin brother, and we know that Viola is dressed as a man. Sebastian is entering Illyria, which means he could run into people who think he’s Viola/Cesario. This problem of mistaken identity will likely add new humorous twists and turns to the plot.
Describe one instance of dramatic irony in act II of Twelfth Night. One instance of dramatic irony in act II of Twelfth Night is when Cesario/Viola describes the person he/she loves to Orsino, and we know that she is actually describing Orsino himself. Another is when Malvolio finds the letter and thinks it is from Olivia, but we know it was written by Maria.
Read act III of Twelfth Night. Then respond to the following question.Explain how mistaken identity becomes even more complicated in act III, scene IV. Include specific details from the text. In act III, scene IV, mistaken identity becomes more complicated when Sir Andrew Aguecheek challenges Cesario (who is really Viola) to a duel. Viola is ready to admit that she is too weak to fight but eventually has to face Sir Andrew. This plot twist highlights how Viola’s decision to dress as a man has some potentially dangerous consequences. However, Antonio suddenly appears on the scene and, thinking that Viola is Sebastian, comes to the aid of the person he thinks is his friend.No one is able to understand how Cesario happens to be Antonio’s friend. When police officers intervene and recognize Antonio as a wanted man in Illyria, Antonio gives his reasons for fighting. He explains that that he is trying to save the young man he once saved from drowning:ANTONIO: Let me speak a little. This youth that you see hereI snatched one half out of the jaws of death,Relieved him with such sanctity of love,—And to his image, which methought did promiseMost venerable worth, did I devotion.Antonio then asks Cesario/Viola to give him back his purse, which he lent earlier to Sebastian. She has no idea what he is talking about, of course, but Antonio, still mistaking Viola as Sebastian, thinks Sebastian is betraying him.The characters in the scene are befuddled and unable to comprehend these happenings. But Viola understands that this case of mistaken identity hints at the fact that her brother Sebastian is alive and has been in the company of Antonio in Illyria:VIOLA: Methinks his words do from such passion flyThat he believes himself; so do not I.Prove true, imagination; O prove true,That I, dear brother, be now ta’en for you!
You have read the first three acts of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Describe the characters in the play and their relationships with other characters in the table given below. Orsino He is the lovesick duke of Illyria. Orsino is a noble man but lacks the courage to directly woo his lady, Olivia. He is melancholy and despondent. Orsino uses Cesario (Viola in disguise) as a go-between to convey his messages to Olivia. He is unaware that Viola is actually in love with him.OliviaOlivia is a countess (a lady of high social rank). She is proud and dignified. Following the death of her brother, she became the head of her household. She has gone into a self-imposed seclusion of seven years to mourn her brother. She scorns Duke Orsino and spurns his moves to impress her. Nevertheless, she succumbs to the charms of Cesario (Viola in disguise), the messenger from Orsino’s court. This situation creates a complicated love triangle in which Orsino loves Olivia, Olivia loves Cesario (Viola), and Viola loves Orsino.ViolaViola, the play’s protagonist, is a young lady of noble birth who finds herself on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck. She is told that her twin brother, Sebastian, was not found after the shipwreck. Viola must fend for herself in a strange land. Therefore, she decides to disguise herself as a man named Cesario and serves as a page to Duke Orsino. She falls in love with him but is unable to express her feelings because she is disguised. Throughout the play, she handles difficult situations effectively and emerges as an intelligent, resourceful, and strong woman.Sebastian Sebastian is Viola’s twin brother who was lost in the shipwreck. He is saved by Antonio, a sea-captain who becomes his devoted friend. Sebastian is often mistaken as Cesario in the course of the play. He is a loving brother and has a penchant for adventure.Antonio Antonio is a sea-captain who saved Sebastian after the shipwreck. He takes on the responsibility of safeguarding Sebastian in Illyria. Antonio comes upon Viola disguised as Cesario in the duel scene and thinks that she is Sebastian. He is a loyal and devoted friend.Malvolio Malvolio is the steward in Olivia’s household. He has ambitions of climbing the social ladder by marrying Olivia. He is a puritan who abhors merrymaking, is vain, and is self-absorbed. Malvolio is immersed in self-love. As a steward, he is always berating those who are lower in rank than he is. People hate him for his condescending attitude toward them. He is at odds with Sir Toby, who is a compulsive drinker. Maria, Sir Toby, and Andrew Aguecheek trick Malvolio into making a fool of himself in front of Olivia.Maria Maria is a maid in Olivia’s household. She does not like Sir Toby’s drinking habit but dislikes Malvolio more. She writes the letter that causes Malvolio to appear in yellow cross garters in front of Olivia and act like a madman. Maria is sharp tongued and witty. She is also the love-interest of Sir Toby.Sir Toby Belch He is Olivia’s uncle who drinks and whiles away his time in the company of Andrew Aguecheek. This behavior earns Sir Toby the disapproval of Malvolio. Sir Toby, in turn, conspires to insult Malvolio. He comes across as a careless and irresponsible person who loves to play practical jokes.Andrew Aguecheek He is Sir Toby Belch’s favorite drinking partner. He is an aristocrat who earns three thousand ducats a year. He is not very intelligent and is gullible enough to be manipulated by Sir Toby. Sir Andrew Aguecheek also tries to woo Olivia, but she rejects him.Feste Feste is the clown in Olivia’s household. His duty is to entertain people with his antics. Feste has the freedom to say what he likes. He has a way with words and indulges in punning. Feste is also the aloof observer who makes precise comments on the behavior of other characters. He points out their folly and entertains them at the same time. He is the typical Shakespearean fool, with great insight into human nature.Valentine He is a servant in Orsino’s court.Curio: He is an attendant in Orsino’s court.Fabian: He is a servant in Olivia’s household and is party to the conspiracy against Malvolio.
The title Twelfth Night is a reference to the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated twelve days after Christmas. It was an occasion on which people indulged in revelry and merry-making, and the social order was turned upside down; servants dressed as masters, men dressed as women, and so on. Explain in a short essay of no more than a few paragraphs how things are similarly turned upside down in the first three acts of Shakespeare’s play. In Twelfth Night, there is an inversion of the social order during Shakespeare’s time. The storm and shipwreck that plants Viola on the shores of Illyria initiates the events in which the social order is turned upside down. One example is the inversion of gender roles. Viola has to cross-dress as a man, Cesario, to get employment in Orsino’s court. At the same time, Olivia becomes the head of her household after her brother’s demise. Her position is an exception to the social norm during the Elizabethan era.The roles of the social classes also get inverted in Twelfth Night. The characters belonging to the lower rungs of society indulge in impersonating those of higher social standing. Maria’s forging of a love letter from Olivia to Malvolio is an example. Malvolio’s love for Olivia becomes a source of laughter largely because he is of a lower social standing than Olivia and would never have been considered good enough to marry her. Feste, the clown, also adds to the feeling of revelry, though he isn’t always being silly. As a clown, he has the rare privilege of poking fun at those of a higher social standing than himself.