Illustrated Guide to Shakespeare Plays

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a comedic twist on the age-old love triangle plot, bending the gender roles and rules, and eventually ending in two happy marriages and a surprising disguise.

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Twelfth Night Summary

Shipwrecked on the island of Illyria, Viola believes she is alone because her twin brother Sebastian likely drowned. She disguises herself as a man and calls herself Cesario, and begins to serve in the Duke Orsino’s court, where she ends up falling in love with the Duke. The Duke is in love with a woman named Olivia who has recently lost her brother and her father. She refuses to marry anyone for seven years. The Duke sends Cesario as an envoy to Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia ends up falling in love with Cesario.

Meanwhile, members of Olivia’s court conspire to make her obnoxious steward Malvolio think that Olivia has fallen in love with him. They deliver a letter in her handwriting telling him to act and dress strangely to prove his love for her. Olivia is appalled by his behavior, and Malvolio is locked up by the conspirators and mercilessly mocked. They do allow him to write a letter to Olivia asking to be released from his prison.

Sebastian arrives at the court, alive after all. Olivia asks him to marry her, thinking that he is “Cesario.” Sebastian agrees, and they are married. Cesario and Orsino go to visit Olivia, and Olivia greets Cesario, thinking she is the Cesario she just married. Sebastian arrives, and Viola reveals her true identity. Orsino comes to realize that he’s in love with Viola and the couples are happy with the outcome. Malvolio is released from his prison and swears revenge on his tormentors.

Date Published: 1601

Genre: Comedy

Major Themes: Love; deception; disorder; gender roles

Famous Quote: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”

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Prefer a different language?

•   (English) Twelfth Night   •   (Español) Duodécima Noche   •   (Français) Douzième Nuit   •   (Deutsch) Zwölfte Nacht   •   (Italiana) Dodicesima Notte   •   (Nederlands) Twaalfde Nacht   •   (Português) Duodécima Noite   •   (עברית) הלילה השנים - עשר   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) اثني عشر ليلة   •   (हिन्दी) बारहवीं रात   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Двенадцатая Ночь   •   (Dansk) Tolvte nat   •   (Svenska) Tolfte Natten   •   (Suomi) Kahdestoista yö   •   (Norsk) Tolvte Natt   •   (Türkçe) On İkinci Gece   •   (Polski) Dwunasta noc   •   (Româna) Noaptea a Doisprezecea   •   (Ceština) Dvanáctá noc   •   (Slovenský) Dvanásta noc   •   (Magyar) Tizenkettedik Éjjel   •   (Hrvatski) Dvanaesta noć   •   (български) Дванадесетата нощ   •   (Lietuvos) Dvylikta Naktis   •   (Slovenščina) Dvanajsta noč   •   (Latvijas) Divpadsmitā Nakts   •   (eesti) Kaheteistkümnes öö