GCSE REVISION NOTES


 "Twelfth Night" - William Shakespeare


CHARACTER ANALYSIS

VIOLA

She is the heroine of the main plot whose action turns on her as the centre of interest. She is one of the most charming of the romantic heroines of Shakespeare's comedies. Of the three major characters, she is the most appealing, and her situation wins the audience's sympathy to a greater extent than do the similarly pathetic predicaments of Orsino and Olivia.

Personage and Appearance

She is the daughter of Sebastian of Messaline, of well-known and noble family, it appears. She answers Olivia's question concerning her parentage with "above my fortunes, yet my state is well; I am a gentleman." We are told nothing of the purpose of the voyage which brought her and Sebastian to Illyria.

Her appearance is more frequently commented on than that of most other characters. The Duke speaks of her "smooth and rubious" lip comparing it to Diana's, her womanly voice "shrill and sound" (not changed like a man's); Maria and Malvolio both describe her as a fair young man and "very well-favour'd." Sebastian states that she was "of many accounted beautiful," and Olivia is captivated by her fresh beauty as much as by her personality.

Resourcefulness and Determination

Viola is cast into a difficult part. She is in a strange land, without her brother whom she must believe lost, even though the captain tells her of Sebastian's swimming tied to a mast (I, 2). Most of her possessions are gone. Her situation is worse, since she is a woman, especially as it was not considered becoming for a woman then to go unattended. Viola is forced to make her own way in Illyria. She displays resourcefulness and firmness in her quick acceptance of each new situation. She hears of Olivia and would like to serve her till such time that she can make known her "estate" or rank. She changes her mind at once when the captain presents to her the difficulties of gaining access to Olivia. Instead, she enters Orsino's service. Her intelligence and skill in music and singing win her master's quick favour. She carries out her errand to Olivia successfully. She is a match for Malvolio; he complains that she is "fortified against any denial" (I, 5, 137). She persuades Olivia to grant her a private hearing and to unveil her face. She plays her two-fold part as man and as love-messenger so well that no one suspects her identity. She threatens Sir Toby that she will ask for an escort from Olivia, and prepares to fight the duel only out of fear that otherwise her identity may be revealed. She resists Olivia's wooing as best she can, without giving herself away. She maintains her poise in the face of Antonio's charges of ingratitude. Throughout, she plays her difficult part to the best of her ability, knowing that, once Orsino discovers her disguise, he may turn her out. Only at the critical point in the last act does she think that all is lost and is ready to die.

Intelligence and Wit

Her daring in dressing as a page and taking service with the Duke is accompanied by lively intelligence. She makes good use of her musical accomplishments, her good breeding, and her skill in conversation, in order to make herself the Duke's close confidant and companion. She humours him successfully in his sentimental moods. She is practical and businesslike in her conversation with the captain, seeking information about Illyria. She readily falls in with Feste's jests when she calls at the house in III, 1. In her interviews with Olivia she is practical, impersonal, witty, sympathetic and personal in turn. She plays the courtier, using pompous phrases like "most radiant taxation of homage," "most excellent, accomplis'd lady, the heavens exquisite, and unmatchable beauty," "bring no overture of war, no rain odours on you." She maintains dignity in resisting Olivia's advances. Maria's impertinence is demolished by her sarcastic reply (I, 5, 192). She is dignified towards Sir Toby who bears the challenge for the duel.

Charm

Few of the characters in the play can resist Viola's charm of personality. She wins the captain's sympathy on her first appearance and is readily offered help and advice, with the promise to keep her plan a secret. She gains the Duke's trust in three days, because of her skill in music and her intelligence as well as her subtle charm. Olivia's interest changes to fascination; she easily grants Viola's request to unveil her face, though they have only known each other a short while. After her departure, Olivia says of Viola:

Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit,
Do give thee five-fold blazon...
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes.

Sir Toby, though impolite to her and eager to pit Sir Andrew against her, admits that her behaviour shows "good capacity and breeding" (III, 4, 171); Maria and Malvolio grudgingly concede her the same, though both are insolent to her - Maria in Olivia's presence, Malvolio when running after Viola with the ring.

Loyalty

For good or bad, Viola's lot is cast with the Duke by her own choice, and once she has gained his trust and favour, she is bound to present his suit to Olivia. With her heart divided between love for Orsino and her duty as his page, she carries out her errand well. Her realisation that Olivia is not impressed by Orsino's courtship eases her heart; Olivia's sudden, unexpected love for her, however, puts her in further difficulties. She is forced to conceal her identity from Olivia, though she thus hurts Olivia as well as herself, she is willing to prove her loyalty to the Duke by her death.

Womanly Modesty

Viola's original intention to enter Olivia's service and live with her in seclusion, mourning Sebastian, is not carried out, on account of the captain's words. Viola resorts, instead, to men's dress and enters the dukal court, acting the page and messenger. This new role does not make her happy. Instead of living in seclusion as her original intention was, she is plunged into a series of situations. She causes great confusion, and unintentionally becomes an instrument of unhappiness. Moreover, she cannot give free vent to her own feelings, but is forced to speak of her love for the Duke as her sister's unrequited love. She curses her disguise, "I see thou art a wickedness." Hence, she is eager to retrieve her "maiden weeds" in the last act.

Emotion and Love

Under an exterior of alternate modesty and sprightliness, Viola has a heart capable of deep and pure love. The love of Orsino for Olivia is dramatised, sentimental and morbid; Olivia's love for Viola is marked by the conflict of strong passion and of dignity and pride. Viola's love is constant, deep and entirely selfless. It prompts her to further the Duke's suit to her own potential rival. It makes her glad to die many times for him. It also makes her sympathise with Olivia whose love seems as hopeless as hers. She gives vent to her feelings when asked by Olivia what she would do in Orsino's place (I, 5, 241-253), and by her account of her sister's love (II, 5, 107-114). There is a hint that she was interested in Orsino before coming to Illyria, for she remarks to the captain "Orsino! I have heard my father name him; he was a bachelor then" (I, 2, 28-29).

Before we see Viola in love, we are given proof of her gentle heart in her love for Sebastian, whom she laments in her first appearance, and again in her joy when she suspects his presence in Illyria in the third act, Scene 4, 355 ff.

 

OLIVIA

She is not introduced directly, but by repeated references in the first scenes; the captain remarks of her and Orsino. Maria and Sir Toby furnish us with information. She is more complex than Viola, following a less single-minded course of action, and more changeable in temper and emotion.

Personage and Appearance

She is a wealthy, high-ranking countess, beautiful and in every respect apparently the most ideal match for the Duke within the borders of Illyria. She has been orphaned by her father's death a year before the play takes place; her brother's more recent death has left her without relatives except for her uncle, Sir Toby, who also is a kind of nominal guardian. In reality, she administers her estate herself.

She is considered to be beautiful by all. Orsino speaks of her appearance as purging "the air of pestilence," Viola calls her beauty "truly blent whose red and white Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on" and addresses Olivia as "Fair cruelty" and "If you were the devil, you are fair." Orsino calls out at her approach in Act V "Now heaven walks on earth."

Charm

Olivia, seen through the highly romantic imagination of Orsino and through Viola's more sober eyes, appears charming like the latter, though in different fashion. She is the true heroine of a romance, wealthy, noble, beautiful, majestic and inaccessible to all. She is to be won by him who could successfully conquer the castle of her heart. The seven years solitude to which she had vowed to retire is in keeping with her romantic idealisation; Orsino's and the Captain's words about her prepare us further. The coarseness and low comedy taking place in her household stand in contrast to this but we see that she is unaware of the events in her house due to her vow of seclusion and her later absorption in love. Her treatment of the members of her household bears tribute to the charm she spreads around her. She is firm, but kind with her servants; she rebukes Feste for his absence and exaggerated fooling but takes his part against the bitter attack of Malvolio (I, 5, 85 ff.). She sympathises with Malvolio for his ill treatment, but we can imagine her partial amusement at it and her understanding of the dislike which Sir Toby, Maria and the others have for the steward. Her charm and stately grace quickly win her Sebastian's heart, though he is bewildered by her sudden proposal.

Dignity

She is proud, conscious of her position and wealth, and, according to Sir Toby, will not accept the Duke, because she will not marry above her rank. She runs her house with a firm hand, only temporarily grown slack by her devotion to her dead brother and her pursuit of Viola. When she takes over the reins, her household fears her displeasure. Maria warns Sir Toby (I, 3, 4), Feste is afraid of being turned out (I, 5, 24), Sir Toby repents of pushing his pranks too far in Act IV, and Fabian tries to tone down her anger in Act V when the whole story of Malvolio's gulling leaks out. Sebastian is impressed by her efficient running of the house. She meets Viola with dignity, and her misgivings over her pursuit of Viola are proof of the struggle she undergoes in trying to maintain her pride while swept by stronger feelings. Her resistance to Orsino shows her dignity at its best; she is aware of his worth, but is too honest to profess more than respect and admiration of him at the risk of appearing proud and cruel to both Viola and Orsino.

Love

Olivia, in accord with the romantic glamour of her position, is more sentimental and unrestrained, and less unselfish than Viola. At the start of the play, she is mourning the death of her brother, but her manner of mourning seems out of all proportion to the cause. She is, under a dignified, proud exterior, more easily impassioned than Viola. After Exaggerating her sorrow over her brother's death and vowing solitude, she quickly goes over to the other extreme. From mere interest in the new messenger, she proceeds to consuming love in the course of a short interview. Her aristocratic reserve breaks down and in her later meetings with Viola, she is alternately proud and pathetic. She sends her ring after Viola before weighing the consequences, apologises for it (III, 1, 110), only to renew her wooing of Viola to break off again and bid Viola farewell. She is sad and proud in their next meeting. Sebastian brings her love into the open again in a moment, and she hastily weds him, without any further thought for the possible consequences of her action.

Inconsistencies In Her Conduct

She is willing to admit Viola, unknown to her, after constantly refusing to see Valentine or the Duke. She breaks her vow soon after she has made it and makes no reference to it or to her brother anywhere. After resisting the Duke, she falls in love with his page with extreme rapidity. She humbles her strong pride to pursue a page, sending her ring to Viola under false pretences. She is not affected by discovering that she is married to Sebastian instead of Viola, but easily transfers her love to him. These inconsistencies are in part only apparent, for Olivia's real nature breaks through her vowed seclusion and her pride and dignity. In part, the inconsistencies are also solved if we remember that Shakespeare introduces the vow as a dramatic device to heighten the dramatic suspense, for it creates an obstacle which Olivia, Orsino and Viola have to overcome and thus adds to the interest of the action.

 

MARIA

She is a mainspring of comic action in the play and is directly and indirectly responsible for much of the interest of the Malvolio subplot.

Personage and Appearance

She is called Olivia's handmaid, that is to say her closest attendant and something of a companion and confidante. Her intimacy with her mistress and the trust placed in her are shown in her repeated scolding of other members of the household, of Feste when he returns from his gadding about town, of Sir Toby for his drinking and Sir Andrew's companionship, and of the three boon companions for their carousing late at night. She appears to be of noble birth and well educated, as her relative intimacy with Olivia, her familiarity with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and her skill in writing the letter to Malvolio, show.

We are told nothing of her appearance save that she is small. Viola's uncertainty (I, 5) as to which is the lady of the house implies that in looks and conduct Maria is of good social origin. Her small height is insisted on repeatedly. Viola calls her "giant"; Sir Toby refers to her as "Penthesilea," the Queen of the Amazons and as the "Youngest wren of nine" and calls her "little Villain." The reference to the Qqueen of the Amazons implies moreover Maria's qualities formidable in spite of her small size, her sharp tongue, ready wit and quick temper; she is a miniature female warrior.

Intelligence

Maria is gifted with considerable intelligence and she uses it freely, both in sprightly, sometimes witty talk and in exploiting the weaknesses of others. She is far more than a match for Sir Andrew, of whom Sir Toby remarks after Maria's verbal drubbing "when did I see thee so put down" (I, 3, 78). She holds her own against Sir Toby and Feste in conversation. She engages in two intrigues, the one to marry Sir Toby, and the other to make Malvolio a proverbial fool for all time to come. Her pursuit of Sir Toby is hinted at in several places; Feste makes mention of her attempts to cure Sir Toby of his drinking, Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew that Maria adores him and it seems that he has promised to marry her if she fooled Malvolio successfully, for in the last act we hear that he has married her as reward for writing the letter. She makes good use of her wit to capture Sir Toby. The original plot against Malvolio is her work, she suggests and writes the counterfeit letter, drops it, and then brings Malvolio before Olivia at an opportune moment and convinces Olivia of his madness, by preparing her for it and leading Malvolio on to quote from the letter. Her exposition of Malvolio's character (II, 3,136 ff.) shows her knowledge of human nature.

Relation With Sir Toby

We are given no glimpse of Maria's emotions. She is dry and rational, full of life and gaiety, but there is no evidence anywhere of her having much of a heart. She shows her interest in Sir Toby early in the play, warning him that Olivia is displeased at his heavy drinking and at his company with Sir Andrew. She has respect for Sir Toby, and is as ready as he for jests; she seems to enjoy railing at him, while disapproving of his habits. She half obeys Olivia in attempting to stop the midnight carousal and half obeys Sir Toby bringing him more wine and taking his part against Malvolio. She wins Sir Toby by amusing him with writing the letter for Malvolio; his affection for her increases as the diminutives he applies to her grow more tender. She gives nowhere a display of her own feelings for Sir Toby, but she is very fond of him to judge by Sir Toby's remark that she adores him. Her affection for him is not entirely disinterested, for he is Olivia's relative and must have some means. She evidently feels sure of keeping him sober, once she is married to him.

Defects of Character

Maria tries to keep order in the household and to subdue Sir Toby, but she is on the other hand disloyal to her duty as Olivia's attendant in forging the writing of the letter and persuading her of Malvolio's insanity. She is too sharp-tongued with Feste, impolite to Viola in bidding her hoist sails and go, and makes coarse jests to Sir Andrew. She loses face before Olivia when Viola calls her a "swabber"; Feste scores over her by implying her interest in Sir Toby whom she wants to stop drinking. She is callous and heartless in writing the letter to Malvolio. Her pursuit of Malvolio's humiliation cools off after his confinement in the cell when she fears Olivia's anger.

 

ORSINO

The female characters play a great part both in the main plot where Olivia and Viola are of the main interest, and in the subplot which is largely inspired by Maria. The men are of chief interest and major importance in the subplot only; the main action contains several shadowy characters like Antonio, Sebastian and the sea captain, Orsino being the only male character of real importance.

Personage and Appearance

He is Duke of Illyria and a young man given to sentimental musings on love and to music amidst luxury and ease. He does not appear in his capacity as ruler until the last act. His nobility of mind and soul is stressed repeatedly. The captain speaks of him as noble in nature and name; Olivia, though unable to love him, praises him to Viola in the following terms "I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,/ of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;/ In voices well divulg'd, learned and valiant;/ And in dimension and the shape of nature / A gracious person" (I, 5). This description shows Orsino to be the ideal type of nobleman and courtier of Shakespeare's time, liberally endowed with good looks, wealth, a noble character, and various accomplishments.

Romantic Sentimentality

Orsino's first introduction shows him sentimental in nature. He is effusive and emotional; he has been fascinated by the sight of Olivia, and his romantic imagination makes him believe himself hopelessly in love with her. In reality, he is rather indulging in sentimental enjoyment of being in love with love, for the sake of the emotion, not of Olivia. He is capable of a complete change from her to Viola in the last act. While he fancies himself in love with Olivia, he acts his lovesick condition very well and quite sincerely. He feeds his thoughts on music, enjoying its rich melancholy till it grows cloying; he loses interest in the manly sport of hunting and seems to devote little of his time to affairs of state. He describes true lovers as "unstaid and skittish in all motions else" except in love, and his own search of diversions to fit his changing moods bears out this description. He is restless, moody, and inconsistent as in his conversation with Viola in which he praises and deprecates the capacity of women for love almost in one breath. His preoccupation with love is rather dramatic, showing that he is not really in love with Olivia, but with the sentiments which have been called forth by his imagination.

His language is typical of his sentimentality; it is highly-coloured, rich and poetical. He speaks of violets, scented winds, rich golden shafts of love, of beds of flowers, of the pleasure in music. He compares his own capacity with the sea twice (I, 1, 10-I I; II, 4, 99). He is always praising love, its sweetness, luxury, melancholy, constancy and fervour. He compares Olivia to a deity, "now heaven walks on earth." (V, 1, 95).

True Love

Orsino's preoccupation with love is exaggerated and unhealthy. He expects Olivia to yield without hesitation; he exacts sacrifice from her or Viola for slighting his love. He does not show the unselfish devotion of Viola. The latter's example teaches him the way of true love. He realises the depth and ardour of Viola’s affection and loyalty to him, and does not find it hard to transfer his feelings from Olivia to Viola. We feel that he will repay Viola's devotion with equal love, for he is already very fond of her and his talk of the nature of love shows that he knows love, though he has before been in love with the emotion, not the person causing it.

Defects of Character

Orsino's sentimental self-absorption is a fault, showing morbid egoism. It robs him of interest in his duties and in action. In the last act, he shows himself capable of despotic exercise of his power. We find him previously on good terms with his servants, especially with Viola, grateful for her loyalty, and liberal towards his servants and the clown whom he rewards with ,money for his jesting (V, I, 26) and for his singing. In the last act however, he treats Antonio harshly, thinking that he is guilty of piracy, and he is willing to put Olivia or Viola to death because of the wound caused to his vanity by Olivia's consistent refusal to accept his suit.

 

SEBASTIAN

He is only a minor character, of importance in bringing about the resolution of the plot, but otherwise playing no special part in The play. In the few appearances which he makes, however, he is characterised with surprising detail. We learn that he is Viola's twin, not merely in date of birth, but also in looks, dress, speech and conduct. "One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons" (V, 1, 212) is Orsino's comment on the twins' likeness. He is a gentleman, noble, courageous, generous, loyal and kind-hearted, corresponding in all to Viola, except in differences of sex, such as his readiness and Viola's reluctance to fight a duel at Sir Toby's challenge.

He wins the friendship of Antonio immediately, and gives proof of his fondness for him and love of Viola. He is unwilling to see Antonio involved in his misfortunes, by having him come along to the town, and rebukes Antonio for risking his life by following him. His anxiety to know that his friend is safe makes him leave Olivia immediately after the wedding. He is overwhelmed with joy at seeing Antonio again and ignores his friend's being a prisoner. His youthful zest for adventure makes him tour the town on his arrival; he quickly accepts each changing situation, the attempt of Feste to take him inside the house, the unprovoked attack by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and the strange interest of Olivia in him. His quick falling in with Olivia's plan of marriage serves chiefly a dramatic purpose; we are surprised by the readiness with which Sebastian takes the sudden proposal as a gift of fortune but in view of Olivia's beauty and dignity we accept it as convincing. Sebastian is in Illyria, a land where anything may happen; his encounters with Feste and the knights in search of Viola have already persuaded him that he is walking in a sort of dream (IV,1, 61-63).

Or I am mad, or else this is a dream:
Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep;
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep.

When he returns from his search for Antonio, he addresses Olivia as "sweet one" ( V, 1, 210); he is fully glad to have obtained her by mere good fortune when the confusion of the twins has been solved in the end.

 

ANTONIO

His part in the play is subordinate; he is chiefly a dramatic device serving to account for Sebastian's rescue and presence in the town, to complicate the action by his confusion of Sebastian and Viola and his appeal to the latter to return his purse, and to give a glimpse of Orsino in his capacity of ruler and judge.

He is a loyal and devoted friend to Sebastian, caring for him after he has been washed ashore, giving him his purse to buy some trifles in the town, and offering his help throughout. He is brave and somewhat foolhardy, risking his life to follow Sebastian into the town; his enemy Orsino pays tribute to his courage, though denouncing him as a pirate. He defends himself before the Duke with dignity; his spirits are not depressed by his arrest, but he is deeply hurt by Viola's denial of knowing him and having received money from him. The truth of Orsino's charge of piracy is never explained, as it is really of no importance in the action. It is likely that he will meet with lenient treatment at Sebastian's intercession, though we are not told so.

 

SIR TOBY BELCH

One of the main mirth causers in the play is the fun-loving Sir Toby; he supplies a major share of the broad humour and comedy in the subplot. He is the most robust and earthy character, and though his nature shows a number of defects, these appear minor and negligible compared to his likeable traits. His very name is expressive of his nature; he is coarse, homely and prosaic, in contrast to the musical, Italian names of the characters of the main plot. It suggests the pickled herring that he eats in order to cure his hangovers and that he blames his hiccups on. He is thus oddly cast in the house of his niece Olivia. His hard drinking, voluble swearing, and coarse good-humour are typical of the English country-squires whom he resembles more than he does the romantic natives of Illyria.

Personage and Appearance

He speaks of Olivia as his niece, but it is not made very clear whether he is her uncle. His actions make him quite unfit for the position of guardian; he is responsible for most of the disturbance in the house, and has to be constantly looked after when drunk. Nothing is said of his looks or his age. We may take him to be middle-aged, a jolly-faced, red-complexioned man, strongly built, and possibly with a paunch, the result of drinking.

View of Life and Mentality

His view of life is appropriately stated in his disapproval of Olivia's undue grief: "Nay I am sure care's an enemy to life" (I, 3, 2). He is full of life, giving vent to it in great drinking bouts lasting deep into the midnight, in a series of pranks, and in noisy singing and jesting. He is very selfish in the pursuit of his pleasure; he has no consideration for the feelings of Olivia, Malvolio, Sir Andrew, or Viola. His enjoyment of life is not otherwise selfish; he is expansive, fond of merry companionship, and is happiest when engaging in a joke with others, Feste, Maria, Fabian or Sir Andrew, though he is exploiting the last-named. He is fond of teasing people. His constant drinking is evidence of his total lack of seriousness and prevents him from any very clear thinking, except in his pranks. His ability in thinking up schemes and his love for joking shows, however, intelligence, rather limited in application but lively and active.

Humour

In contrast to the more subtle wit of Maria and Feste, Sir Toby's brain exerts itself in the broad humour of farce and nonsense. He is fond of using words of his own making or application, "Tobyisms" like "substractors," "Castiliano vulgo," "cubiculo firago." He makes crude puns on the meanings of "confine" and "except." He baffles Sir Andrew by terms like "accost" and "pourquoi." He teases Maria by his sarcastic praise of Sir Andrew's qualities and knowledge of tongues, and he makes fun of Sir Andrew, by commending his hair and his dancing and by instructing him how to challenge Viola (III, 2, 30-45). His language is remarkable for its flow and energy of expression rather than for wit. His most brilliant saying is his contemptuous remark to Malvolio "Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" He is the first to suggest Malvolio's punishment, though he is not responsible for the letter. He torments Malvolio (III, 4) by treating him like one possessed by the devil, and bears responsibility for locking him in the cell. He loves comic songs. The duel between Sir Andrew and Viola is arranged by him out of sheer love of practical jokes. He likes Maria for the fun that she sets in motion with the letter; he would marry her and ask no other dowry with her but such another jest (II, 5, 68).

Defects of Character

His fishing of money out of Sir Andrew is evidence of his lack of scruples. He humours the foolish knight by praising his dancing, keeps him in hope of obtaining Olivia, and cheats him of some two thousand ducats. "1'll ride your horse as well as I ride you" (III, 4, 269) and "I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong, or so" (III, 2, 49), he brags smugly.He shows further unscrupulousness in pitting Sir Andrew against Viola without regard for the consequences, and in his merciless baiting of Malvolio. His attitude to his niece Olivia is careless; in fun, he speaks of her as a Captain or scoundrel, though he enjoys her hospitality; he carouses late at night, after promising Maria to stop (II, 3, 81). He is rude to strangers like Viola, on her first coming to the house.

Redeeming Qualities

Apart from providing material for laughter so tirelessly, at the expense of Sir Andrew and Malvolio, he is likeable for his constant good humour, good fellowship, and for the courage he displays in fighting Antonio and Sebastian. He takes his "bloody coxcomb" at the latter's hands without complaint. He is fond of Maria for her wit and sharp tongue. Though he is careless and irresponsible, he bears no one any ill will, and carries out his pranks purely for the sake of amusement.

 

SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK

He provides an effective contrast to Sir Toby in looks and character. 'The two knights are so well grouped together, that their peculiarities appear more absurd. Sir- 'Toby is loud, boisterous, full of life and humorous invention, and brave: Sir Andrew is shallow, stupid, imitative and cowardly.

Personage and Appearance

He is a wealthy knight, come to woo Olivia, without any knowledge on her part, it seems. He dimly perceives that he is wasting his time, but Sir Toby persuades him to stay on at the house.

Of his personal appearance we gather by his name that he is thin and pale-faced, and Sir Toby's comparison of his hair with the flax on a distaff shows it to be fair, long and straight. His voice is probably weak and shrill: Maria speaks of his dry hand, implying his physical weakness, though he calls himself a great eater of beef. He says of his leg that "it does indifferent well in a flame-coloured stock" (I, 3, 120).

Stupidity

Sir Andrew's feeble and passive mind is his most outstanding characteristic. He states himself "many do call me fool" (II, 5, 74), and attributes his defect to the eating of beef, for "that does harm to my wit" (I. 3, 81). A man of means evidently, he has been trained in the knightly accomplishments of dancing and fencing, and has spent his time on them and on bear-baiting. His education is poor; he regrets that he has not studied the arts. The letter of challenge to Viola is typical of his illogical, badly-functioning mind. He does not know the meaning of pourquoi, though Sir Toby ironically informs Maria of his knowledge of three or four languages. He uses Sir Toby as a model to copy in conduct and speech; he picks up terms from Viola, "pregnant, couchsafed, odours," in order to increase his poor education. His shallow mind makes him incapable of seeing Sir 'Toby’s shady purpose in making him stay on at the house of Olivia. He is easily taken in by the explanation which Sir Toby and Fabian make of Olivia's favours to Viola. He prides himself on scorning "policy" or intrigue, whereas he is in reality too stupid to attempt it (III, 2, 27-28). Sir Toby's frightening report of Viola’s fierceness is swallowed by him without hesitation (III, 4, 260). His opinions of others are based on the most superficial observation. He calls Viola a "rare courtier" (III, 1, 87) because of the affected speech she uses. He admires Feste for his sheer nonsense, not for his wit (II, 3, 20-28). He looks up to Sir Toby. Maria's sharp wit puts him out of countenance in a moment.

Lack of Originality

Sir Andrew's negative personality is brought out in his constant aping and parroting of others. He follows Sir Toby in everything, is provoked into giving his hand to Maria, into dancing, drinking, singing, and duelling. He parrots Sir Toby's words frequently, even to repeating that he could marry Maria and have her set her foot on his neck. He suggests the singing of a catch, and conceives the feeble idea of challenging Malvolio to a duel and then walking out of it. Otherwise, he is always taking his lead from others, especially Sir Toby who has him under his thumb completely.

Cowardice

He regrets that he has spent so much time on fencing, among other things, but he is a con firmed coward. Maria calls him "a great quareller, who has the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarrelling" (I, 3, 27). He boasts of his valour, but when his duelling ability is put to the test, he fails lamentably. He proposes to challenge Malvolio, then not to fight the duel; he would like to beat him while he is hiding in the box-tree. He is mortally afraid of being wounded by Viola, is willing to give his horse to her in order to get out of the duel, and extracts the promise that the bout shall be bloodless. Sir Toby’s and Fabian's denunciation of Viola revives his courage "'Slid I'll after him again and beat him" (III, 4, 367). He threatens to charge Sebastian with battery, "though I struck his first" (IV, 1, 34), and is driven to seek a physician, moaning over his wound.

 

FESTE

The court jester is an ancient institution, still of common occurrence in Shakespeare's time. The fools, dressed in their distinctive motley costume, were obliged to keep their masters amused with their wit and clowning, often enlivening the mealtimes. 'The jester was given considerable license to speak his frank opinion of those present, and to make satirical observations on society. Successful fooling called for considerable mental alertness, power of observation, and nimble skill in words. Viola speaks on the wisdom of fools in III, 1, 5I-59.

Feste is not ashamed of his calling; he explains to Olivia, "I wear not motley in my brain" (I, 5, 46) and "better a witty fool than a foolish wit" (I, 5, 27). His liberty as professional jester makes him prove to Olivia that she is a fool, tell Orsino his inconstancy and restlessness to his face, "thy mind is :s very opal" (II, 4, 72 ff.), and answer Maria's complaints by hinting at her designs on Sir Toby (I, 5, 20). Except for Malvolio, most of the characters appreciate his jesting, even when it is directed against them. He shows his versatility by acting the part of Sir Topas, the curate, before Malvolio. He is one of Shakespeare's most musical fools; he tells the Duke that he takes pleasure in singing. He sings two beautiful songs and joins in Sir Toby's revelry, leading in the catches, and falls in with Sir Toby's musical dialogue before the steward. He always carries his tabor or small drum with him, and refuses money from Orsino for his song in II, 4, 67.

Wit and Humour

The clown's chief requirement, verbal wit, is apt to run into quibbling and punning. Malvolio claims that Feste's wit is barren, and that he is not spontaneous, but has to be provided with a lead for his wit. Feste's bitter resentment of the charge shows that it is partly true. He is, however, capable of quick improvisation, as shows his ready winning of Olivia's favour ( I, 5) after her annoyance with his irregular ways, his skilful evasion of Maria's questions (I, 5) and Fabian's request (V, 1, 1-6), and his ridicule of new words "element, vent." He quotes Latin readily; invents imaginary names like Quinapalus and talks pure nonsense, as in his talk of Pigrogromitus and the Vapians (II, 3, 21-27). He is fond of making proofs involving comical logical reasoning: he proves Olivia a fool, proves to Viola that he is not Olivia's fool (III, 1, 30-34), and wins Orsino's praise for showing that he is the worse off for his friends (V, 1, 16-22).

Defects of Character

Feste is rather loose-living; he is fond of taking part in the midnight revels of Sir Toby, and keeps loose company, as Sir Andrew's sending him sixpence for his "leman" seems to suggest. His resentment of Malvolio shows him to be spiteful, and he is very callous in recalling the letter, Sir Topas, and Malvolio’s early remark about his wit while Olivia is trying to pacify the steward. His attempts to wheedle money out of everyone are evidence of greediness, though he is dependent for his living on those he entertains with his wit and will not take money from the Duke for his singing.

 

MALVOLIO

It is worthy of note that the characters of the subplot, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Malvolio, seem to be most closely drawn from certain social types of Shakespeare's day. The chief characters of the main plot are more idealised and more truly natives of the romantic, indefinite setting in Illyria; Sir Toby is much like a hearty, jovial country-squire; Sir Andrew a bragging, cowardly knight, a frequent comic character; Malvolio is a type of snobbish puritan frequent then and not extinct today. King James I, who intensely disliked the puritans, had the play renamed "Malvolio." The steward is given more truly satirical treatment than any other character. fn spite of his evident good qualities, he is objectionable in a way that no other character in the play is, and he receives little sympathy. He earns some sympathy for his cruel punishment, but forfeits it by his last words of revenge. His name hints at his character: the "malevolent" or "bearing ill-will".

Personage and Appearance

He manages Olivia’s household as steward and has her trust because of the efficient execution of his duties. His grave sober behaviour is suited to Olivia’s melancholy following her brother’s death; he is desirable for curbing the activities of the irresponsible Sir Toby. He gains the servants’ dislike for his severity, vanity, and the reports he carries to Olivia.

His official insignia are a chain of office and a cane. He dresses in black, the customary colour of the puritans, but he seems to affect on occasion ostentatious yellow stockings with cross-garters, which offer an excellent point for Maria's attack, because they are dear- to his vanity, but go ill with his stern and dignified bearing. We may imagine Malvolio to be a stately, rather florid man, with a moustache which he twirls importantly while speaking.

Ability

There is no doubt that Malvolio is a man of good intentions at first, and that he fulfils his position well. Olivia trusts him and thinks highly of him. He appears to be in her confidence to some extent, but he mistakes her trust for affection. His speech is precise and grave; his education is attested by his correct answers to Feste's questions on Pythagoras. His remark on Feste's wit shows observation, though it is exaggerated by his bitter critical nature.

Morality

Being a puritan, Malvolio is strict and exacting in matters of morality. His honesty as a steward is beyond reproach; his complaints against Sir Toby's noisiness and drinking are justified, as is his objection to Maria's connivance at Sir Toby's requests for more wine.

Hypocrisy

That Malvolio is a hypocrite is borne out by Maria's comment: "The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser" (II, 3, 131). He is a time-server who affects a standard of morality to which he does not always adhere. He is a good steward, but secretly aspires to the position of count, showing worldly ambition which is not in keeping with his air of honesty. He imagines himself amidst luxury and wealth, "having come from a day-bed where I left Olivia sleeping" (II, 5, 44), and desires good living which he scorns as a puritan. His austerity is quite forgotten when he reads the letter which promises fulfilment of all his self-interested desires.

Vanity

Malvolio's vanity goes hand in hand with both his morality and hypocrisy. He displays his chain of office before others; he practises with his shadow when alone. He thinks that his smiles, frowns, grave speech, gaudy stockings and garters charm his mistress. He thinks that she loves him (II, 5, 20 ff.) and that the servants and Sir Toby deserve to be treated with haughty condescension and harshness.

He has no doubt of his perfection, moral and otherwise. His conceit is his real vice, for his good qualities are so overrated by him that he is fooled by Maria's letter with the greatest ease and misjudges all that happens afterwards. His vanity robs him of all sense of humour; he magnifies his own virtues and vices of others, and has no use for the harmless railing of Feste. His self-love makes him a hypocrite. Maria's letter cleverly exploits his vanity. It is broken by his imprisonment, for he humbly asks Feste to help him; but emerges again at the end when he shows how little he has learned by bitter experience.

Superiority

He is full of contempt for "Sir Toby and the lighter people." He speaks gravely and pompously, and refuses to enter into arguments with his supposed inferiors. His meetings with Viola are marked by haughtiness and insults; he throws the ring at her feet; he rebukes Olivia for being amused by Feste; he lectures Sir Toby like a school boy. He haughtily asks Olivia's explanation of the letter in Act V and does not apologise for blaming her for his maltreatment.

Redeeming Qualities

His chief defect is his self-love, which causes his excessive vanity and overbearing self-righteousness and tale-bearing. His unquestioned merits are loyalty, honesty and good management as a steward; we feel that he is efficient except in handling people in which he is blinded by his self esteem. The ugly side of his character stands out; but, with less insistence on his seriousness, importance in the house, and school-mastering of others, he would be an excellent man and steward. The letter tricks him into a display of vanity which makes us forget his intelligence and almost believe in his insanity. The tormenting by Sir Toby and Feste is carried beyond propriety and is no longer punishment by injustice. Feste's reminder of his part as Sir Topas, of Malvolio's attack on him and of his acting out of the instructions on greatness are needlessly cruel. Olivia's concern for Malvolio's safety "I would not have him miscarry for the half my dowry," is proof of his worth despite his faults. Maria substantiates it by saying "My lady would not lose him for more than I can say."

 

FABIAN

He is introduced at an advanced stage of the plot, in Act II, Scene 5, and is a minor character. He has a grudge against Malvolio who "brought me out o' favour my lady over a bear-baiting here." He is less exuberant than Sir Toby, and tries hard to restrain him and Sir Andrew from betraying themselves while watching Malvolio from the box-tree. He is fond of amusement, however, and helps Sir Toby in the arrangement of the duel, scaring Viola. He is afraid of Olivia's displeasure and has little part in Malvolio’s imprisonment and maltreatment there. He asks Feste for Malvolio’s letter, probably out of fear that it lays charges against him and the others. His defence of Maria and taking of the blame for Malvolio's baiting on himself and Sir Toby shows him courageous and with a sense of responsibility.

 

 

OUTLINE OF MAJOR CHARACTERS

VIOLA

The heroine of the main plot; most appealing character.

Personage and Appearance

Noble, of good breeding. Beautiful: tribute paid to her beauty by others.

Resourcefulness and Determination

Her difficult role; cast on her own; quick acceptance of changing situations. Varied accomplishments; her winning of Orsino's favour. Successful interview with Olivia; good acting as love-messenger. Success in keeping her identity concealed before Olivia, the knights, Orsino and Antonio.

Charm

Gaining of captain's sympathy, Orsino's trust, Olivia's love in a short time. Tributes paid to her charm by other characters.

Loyalty

Carrying on Duke's suit to Olivia in spite of her own love for him. Willing to prove her loyalty by death.

Womanly Modesty

Unhappy at the disguise adopted by her which causes confusion and unhappiness to her and Olivia. Forced to conceal her love for Orsino, eager to appear before him as woman.

Emotion and Love

Depth of her love: constant, unselfish and loyal. Orsino's interests more important than her own to her: sympathy for Olivia. Attempts to vent her feelings by relating examples of her "sister's" love and of herself, if she were Orsino. Possibly interested in Orsino before entering his service. Love for Sebastian, sorrow for his supposed death, joy at suspecting his being alive.

 

OLIVIA

Countess, wealthy, beautiful, talented, orphan, her brother recently dead; under guardianship of Sir Toby. Desirable match for Duke. More complex than Viola.

Charm

Heroine of romance, beautiful and charming, hard to obtain. Vow of seven years' seclusion, liked by members of household. Sympathy for Feste, for Malvolio; Orsino won by her charm; Viola admits it: Sebastian succumbs to it.

Dignity

Proud; Sir Toby's claim that she will not marry above her rank and wealth. Firm sway over household; Sir Toby, Maria, Feste, Fabian afraid of displeasing her. Sebastian impressed by good running of house. Dignified resistance to Orsino, too proud to accept courtship while not in love; struggle to overcome pride and dignity loving Viola.

Love and Emotion

Romantic, sentimental, more unrestrained, less unselfish than Viola in love. Easily roused to love of Viola.

Inconsistencies

Refused Duke, Valentine, admits Viola. Breaks vow. Humbles pride for the sake of a page. Accepts Sebastion instead of Viola.

 

MARIA

Attendant and companion of Olivia. Intimate with her. Small; ladylike; of good birth, sharp tongued; quick-tempered; ready witted.

Intelligence

Sprightly talk, knowledge of human nature. Match for Sir Andrew, Feste and Sir Toby. Clever in scheming, plan to marry Sir Toby successful, convincing Olivia by Malvolio's conduct that he is mad.

Relation With Sir Toby

No sign she is capable of love. Interested in Sir Toby, likes his good humour, dislikes his noise and drinking. Schemes to marry him for his rank and means. Tries to stop his drinking and association with Sir Andrew.

Defects

Disloyal to Olivia, forges letter, persuades her Viola is mad. Coarse jesting to Sir Andrew, insolent to Olivia. Callous in treatment of Malvolio.

 

ORSINO

Duke of Illyria; noble, young, cultural and accomplished gentleman.

Romantic Sentimentality

Emotional, fond of music, flowers, romantic luxury. In love with love, fascinated by Olivia, imagines himself hopelessly in love with her. Loss of taste for state functions, active diversions, hunting. Restless, moody, feeding his love-melancholy. Romantic in language; poetical, rich expression. Believes own love greater than that of any woman.

Love

Preoccupied with thoughts of love. Willing to sacrifice Olivia or Viola to feed his jealousy; not selfless in love like Viola. Taught true love by Viola's example, more healthy than his sentiments of being in love with love.

Defects

Too absorbed in fascination by Olivia. Inactive and careless of all while in her spell. Tyrannical exercise of power in last act; harsh treatment of Antonio, threat to execute Olivia or Viola for crossing him.

 

SIR TOBY

Responsible for most comedy of subplot with Maria and Feste. Olivia's uncle and supposed guardian. Robust, earthy, coarse, hard-drinking, boisterous.

View of Life

Fond of revelry, drinking, carefree, selfish in following own pleasures. Practical jokester, love of merry company. Without seriousness, clever in scheming.

Humour and Wit

Without subtlety, coarse, farcical. Crude punning. Energetic, full-mouthed speeches, little true wit. Fond of comic songs, practical jokes, arranging duel of Sir Andrew and Viola, imprisonment of Malvolio.

Defects

Unscrupulous, tricky, sucking money from Sir Andrew under false pretences, starting the duel. Heartless to Malvolio, locking him up. Careless of Olivia's feelings.

Good Qualities

Constant good humour. No malice intended in robbing Sir Andrew. Sociable; courageous in fights with Sebastian and Antonio.

 

SIR ANDREW AGUECHEEK

Contrast to Sir Toby. Thin, silly-looking, addlepated, imitative, cowardly. Wealthy knight, courting Olivia.

Stupidity

Knows he is a fool. Ill-educated. Put on by Maria's wit; writes senseless challenge to Viola; incapable of seeing Sir Toby's cheating him of his money; persuaded to fight Viola to gain Olivia's favour. Shallow admiration of Sir Toby, of Viola's far-fetched terms of address to Olivia, of Feste's nonsensical talk.

Lack of Originality

Always following Sir Toby's lead. Repetition of his words; easily talked into staying, sending of money, fighting the duel.

Cowardice

Boastful of his fighting qualities. Suggestion to challenge Malvolio, then walk out on the duel. Fond of picking quarrels. Afraid of Viola; wants bloodless duel. Cowardly attack on Sebastian from behind; lament over wounds.

 

MALVOLIO

Satirical portrait of a snobbish puritan. Steward, serious, honest, trustworthy, efficient. Severely dressed with chain of office and cane. Fond of bright stockings.

Ability

Good steward, trusted by Olivia. Serious in speech and action; educated, intelligent.

Morality

Strict, honest as steward; dislike of Sir Toby's noise and drinking complaint of Maria's serving wine.

Hypocrisy

Serving self-advancement; desire to be count; marry Olivia; censuring others for amusement, drinking, singing, bear-baiting, secret desire for wealth and luxury.

Vanity

Fond of showing authority; practising with shadow. Thinks himself liked by all, by Olivia. Easily tricked by letter that Olivia is in love with him. Sure of own virtue; lacking in sense of humour. Turned hypocrite by self-love. Vanity subdued by imprisonment, apparent in last act.

Superiority

Scornful of servants, Sir Toby. Short in speech with them. Insults to Viola, Feste; haughty to Olivia in last act.

Merits

Loyal, honest, efficient as steward. Vanity destroys his good qualities. Olivia's high opinion of him.

 

COMPARISON OF THE TWO HEROINES

Both are young, of noble origin, beautiful and mourn the loss of a brother; they are cast on their own resources without close or helpful relatives; both yearn for love and sympathy. Love conquers them both at first sight.

Viola is with few material means, shipwrecked on an unknown shore, an obscure stranger. She is forced to disguise herself in order to make her way, has to act the part of a man to her distress and cannot reveal her true nature or her feelings. She loves with selfless devotion. She is resourceful and practical.

Olivia is wealthy and influential, lives in her own home, is well known, but is isolated in a house of companions of different mentality and less refinement. She is more selfish in love than Viola, resists the Duke but pursues Viola tirelessly. She is less resourceful, more unstable and sentimental than Viola.

 

THE PLOTS

  1. The main plot, a love triangle between the Duke, Olivia and Viola, later involving Sebastian.
  2. The three subplots which have no connection with the main plot, except that Viola is involved in both the main and one of the subplots. They add humour and contrast to the play, giving it a great variety of interests.
  1. The humiliation of Malvolio before Olivia, suggested by Maria and brought about by her forging of Olivia's hand in the letter.
  2. The imprisonment of Malvolio as a madman in a dark cell suggested by Sir Toby and effected by him, Maria and Fabian.
  3. The duel between Sir Andrew and Viola, suggested by Sir Toby and Fabian to Sir Andrew to make him gain Olivia's favour. II is interrupted by Antonio and ends by the attack on Sebastian.

 

THE DIFFERENT LOVE EPISODES

Different kinds of love are presented in Twelfth Night as is common in Shakespeare's comedies.

Orsino

He is a romantic and highly sentimental lover, in love with love not a particular person. His love is like Romeo's passion for Rosaline before he meets Juliet, and it is meant to be satirised, although we are delighted by Orsino's eloquent poetry on love. He learns a truer, less sentimental love from Viola for whom he changes easily.

Olivia

She is passionate and falls in love at first sight. Her love is too strong to be curbed by her dignity, pride and modesty; she declares it to the man against the custom of the day; she hurries on into marriage. Her marriage to Sebastian proves her blind haste, mistaking him for Viola.

Viola

She is truly in love with Orsino, not with love itself. She is selfless, serving Orsino's courtship to Olivia, prepared to die for him, steadfast, less sentimental than Olivia. She implies her depth of love by the story of her supposed sister.

Sebastian

His love is natural, but not full-grown like that of Viola. He is passive in showing it and is willing to allow Olivia to take the initiative. His is also love at first sight and he does not stop to examine the depth of it but allows himself to be persuaded into marriage soon after he has fallen in love.

Sir Toby and Maria

The love between these two is not apparent, and it would not be too much to say that the attraction on Maria's side is Sir Toby's position and means, and on his side, Maria's wit and intelligence as well as the fact that she seems able to hold her own with him. They find in each other the grounds for good companionship and compatibility, but it could hardly be said that they are in love with each other.

Malvolio

Malvolio's love is purely imaginary, the child of his vanity and conceit and it ceases to exist as soon as he finds out how he has been duped. His mistress has what he secretly desires, wealth, position and a good home, and because of these rather than anything else, he imagines that he is in love with her.

Sample Essays

Essay 1 - Directing the 'dark room' scene.

Essay 2 - Deception.

Essay 3 - Illusion.

 

So, good thinking and planning folks, BEFORE the exam.

If you have sorted out all your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and opinions before the exam, then you will have much more time to write out detailed and structured answers.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Do not run out of time because you only start thinking about all these things mentioned when you are actually sitting down to the exam!

GOOD LUCK.

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