365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

275. “Twelfth Night” summary

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One of the most popular of Shakespeare’s comedies, “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” is an enduring tale of romance, with a healthy dose of hilarity for good measure.

It is one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies, in which the beautiful heroine must disguise herself as a boy in order to protect herself while all alone. Viola is the heroine of this tale, and she dresses as a boy named Cesario and goes to serve the handsome Orlando, whom she falls in love with. Orlando, however, loves the hard-to-get Olivia, and sends Viola to woo her in his name. Of course, since this is a comedy, Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola and will stop at almost nothing to win her affections.

Here is where it gets a little tricky. Viola has a twin brother Sebastian who shows up in town (they were both shipwrecked and believed their sibling to be dead). They bear such a striking resemblance to each other that when Olivia sees Sebastian, she throws herself at him and insists they get married. Sebastian must think he is the luckiest man in the world, because he agrees. He also causes a row between the detestable and foppish Sir Andrew, who believes he must fight with Viola, who has absolutely no idea what is going on.

There is a sub-plot involving this play’s Dwight Schrute, the head of the servants of Olivia known as Malvolio. The other servants play a trick on him which causes him to believe that Olivia is in love with him, and through a series of ever-increasing cruelty they end up locking Malvolio in a dark room and try to convince him that he has lost his mind. It is one of Shakespeare’s darker sub-plots, and Malvolio ends up possibly being the most sympathetic character of the bunch.

Despite the darkness of this secondary story, most find a happy ending. Malvolio excepted, of course, and he storms out declaring that he will seek his revenge. But for Olivia and Sebastian, all is well, and they are happily married. For Maria, the servant, and Sir Toby Belch, her accomplice in all the mischief, all is well, and they are happily married. And, of course, for Viola and her beloved Orlando, all is well when she reveals her true self, and they are to be happily married. But it is not the triple wedding that makes the ending of the play so heartwarming; rather, it is when Viola and Sebastian are reunited at last.

Sprinkled with song and undoubtedly raucous laughter, “Twelfth Night” is a play that truly sings with joy.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 3, 2010 at 11:17 PM

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