Twelfth Night Synopsis

yellowlegsResourceful, witty Viola is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. In the storm she lost contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, and believes him drowned. Needing employment, she disguises herself as a young manservant and with the help of the sea captain who rescued her, enters the service of Duke Orsino as a boy named Cesario.


The Duke Orsino is in love with the Lady Olivia. He uses Cesario (Viola) as a go-between. But Olivia’s father and brother have recently died, so the lady remains sad and solitary. She refuses overtures of love from anyone, including Orsino.


Yet Olivia is impressed with Orsino’s sensitive young servant. She repeatedly asks Cesario to visit her. Soon she falls in love—not realizing the “manservant” is not a man at all.


Viola, for her part, has fallen in love with her employer, Duke Orsino.


The resulting love triangle is as confusing as it is hilarious: Viola loves Orsino; Orsino loves Olivia; Olivia loves Cesario (Viola).


Meanwhile, mayhem reigns in Olivia’s household. This comic subplot involves Olivia’s haughty steward, Malvolio; her uncle, Sir Toby Belch; a hopeful but ridiculous suitor, Sir Andrew Aguecheek; the servant Maria; and Feste, a jester. The motley gang convinces Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him. A forged love note beseeches Malvolio to do several odd tasks to display his love. He enthusiastically obeys and hilarity ensues.


Viola’s brother arrives. Mistaking Sebastian for “Cesario,” Olivia asks the twin to marry her. Confused but charmed, he accepts, and they marry secretly. Soon “Cesario” and Sebastian appear together in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino to the company’s bewilderment. Viola finally uncovers her disguise and reveals that Sebastian is her twin. The play ends in several happy declarations of marriage.

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