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Twelfth Night

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • Background
    • Written 1601-1602
    • Written for a Christmastime celebration
    • Lots of cross-dressing and craziness
    • Not published during Shakespeare’s lifetime (First Folio, 1623)
    • A response to the “boy- plays”?
  • Setting
    • “Illyria”
    • Eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea
    • Ragusa? Croatia?
  • Characters
    • Viola / Cesario—A young noblewoman who assumes a male identity after being separated from her twin brother, Sebastian. Loves Orsino. Is loved by Olivia.
    • Sebastian—A young nobleman, twin brother of Viola. Friends with Antonio. Marries Olivia.
    • Orsino—Duke of Illyria and pompous blowhard. Woos Olivia (unsuccessfully). Falls in love with “Cesario.”
    • Olivia—A countess who refuses to marry on account of her brother’s recent death. Self-indulgent. Falls in love with “Cesario,” and later Sebastian.
    • Malvolio—Olivia’s priggish servant. His coworkers make him believe Olivia is in love with him.
    • Maria—Olivia’s clever maid. Plays pranks on Malvolio and eventually marries Olivia’s uncle.
    • Antonio—A sea captain who rescues Sebastian and seems to be in love with him.
    • Sir Toby Belch—Olivia’s drunken uncle. Marries Maria.
    • Sir Andrew Aguecheek—Suitor to Olivia and friend to Sir Toby. Fatuous idiot.
    • Feste—A jester. Probably the wisest character in the play.
  • Plot
    • Orsino in love
    • The shipwreck
      • The twins separated
      • Cross-dressing
      • Viola goes to Illyria
      • A page in the service of Orsino
    • A visit to Olivia
      • Viola delivers Orsino’s message
      • Olivia falls in love with “Cesario”
      • The gift of a ring
    • A prank on Malvolio
    • Viola and Orsino—can a woman love a man as much as a man can love a woman?
    • Olivia tries to woo “Cesario”
    • Antonio and Sebastian appear in town
    • Malvolio tries to woo Olivia
      • Sir Andrew picks a fight with Viola
    • Antonio rescues “Sebastian”, and is arrested
    • Sebastian is challenged, courted, and married
    • The clown mocks Malvolio
    • The marriage and the beating are revealed
    • The twins are reunited (after Viola messes with Sebastian’s head)
    • Orsino falls for Viola
    • The prank on Malvolio is revealed
    • Everyone has a laugh and a song
  • Themes
    • Metatheatre
    • Shape-shifting, disguise, and mistaken identity
    • Love as a cause of pain
    • Gender-bending
    • Folly of ambition
  • Major Passages
    • “If music be the food of love, play on …”

      -Act I, Scene 1, 1-15

    • “Make me a willow cabin at your gate …”

      -Act I, Scene 5, 237-245

    • “…Make no compare
      Between that love a woman can bear me
      And that I owe Olivia.”

      -Act II, Scene 4, 91-101

    • “… Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times
      Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.”

      -Act V, Scene 1, 258-266

  • Jumping-Off Points
    • How does Shakespeare experiment with gender roles in this play? How does he portray the intelligence, power, and faithfulness of men and women?
    • Twelfth Night, the holiday for which the play is named, was a topsy-turvy time of cross-dressing and role reversal. How does this play out in the story?
    • What role do the explicitly comical characters—Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste, etc.—play in the story? Why did Shakespeare include them?
    • Is Malvolio a comical character, a tragic figure, or both? Explain.
    • By the end of Twelfth Night, everyone seems to have a happy ending—except Malvolio and Antonio. What effect does this have? Why do you think Shakespeare chose to write his ending this way?
    • Compare Orsino and Olivia. How are their attitudes toward love the same? How are they different? Both seem to be in love with the idea of being in love more than with any particular person. What statement is Shakespeare making about romantic love?
    • Shakespeare uses mistaken identity throughout the play, yet Sebastian and Viola are very different characters. How does their physical similarity highlight their personal differences?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
    • Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …

Twelfth Night

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:10
  • Lesson Overview 0:42
  • Background 1:24
  • Setting 3:08
  • Characters 3:40
    • Viola/Cesario
    • Sebastian
    • Orsino
    • Olivia
    • Malvolio
    • Maria
    • Antonio
    • Sir Toby Belch
    • Sir Andrew Aguecheek
    • Feste
  • Plot 6:11
    • Orsino in love
    • The shipwreck
    • A visit to Olivia
    • A prank on Malvolio
    • Viola and Orsino
    • Olivia tries to woo “Cesario”
    • Antonio and Sebastian appear in town
    • Malvolio tries to woo Olivia
    • Sir Andrew picks fight with Viola
    • Antonio rescues “Sebastian,” is arrested
    • Sebastian is challenges, courted, married
    • The clown mocks Malvolio
    • Marriage and beating revealed
    • Twins are reunited
    • Orsino falls for Viola
    • Prank on Malvolio is revealed
    • Laughing and singing
  • Themes 12:36
  • Major Passages 14:33
    • Act I, scene 1, 1-15
    • Act I, scene 5, 237-245
    • Act II, scene 4, 91-101
    • Act V, scene 1, 258-266
  • Jumping-off Points 16:28
    • Gender roles
    • The Twelfth Night Holiday
    • Comical characters
    • Malvolio
    • The ending
    • Compare Orsino and Olivia
    • Mistaken identity
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 18:30