Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is a classic comedy that uses love triangles, mistaken identities, and brilliant language to tell a charming story of bewilderment and romance. The play, which is set in the kingdom of Illyria. It uses a succession of humorous events to explore issues of love, gender, and social norms. “12th Night” continues to be a well-loved work in the world of literature and theater. Viola is portrayed by Academy Award-nominated actress in Anne Hathaway (“Rachel Getting Married”).

the twelfth night anne hathaway
Twelfth Night Anne Hathaway

Twelfth Night Play

William Shakespeare “Twelfth Night” was probably composed between 1601 and 1602 and premiered in 1602. It is one of his romantic comedies. It distinguishes itself from others by its humorous tone, complex storylines, and examination of issues like identity and love. The title of the play alludes to the custom of celebrating the twelfth night after Christmas as a time of fun and celebration, frequently incorporating masks and role reversals.

Twelfth Night Characters

1. Viola

The play’s voyage of self-discovery and identity exploration is at the core of Viola. She is the main character of William Shakespeare’s comedy classic “Twelfth Night,” a complex and dynamic figure. Viola is one of Shakespeare’s most alluring and accessible characters. Because of her humor, tenacity, and capacity to deal with the difficult situations she finds herself in.

Viola- Anne Hathaway

The main character of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Viola, captivates with her masquerade as Cesario and deftly navigating social standards. She communicates with Olivia as Cesario and causes love entanglements that showcase her cleverness and inner struggle.

While breaking stereotypes, Viola’s disguise explores ambiguous gender roles and shows her sincere passion for Orsino. Her misidentification subplot with her twin Sebastian gives the play’s comedic dimension, and it culminates in a sentimental reconciliation.

Shakespeare’s remarkable examination of identity and love in the complex fabric of “Twelfth Night” is due to the brilliance, resiliency, and inner difficulties that make Viola a timeless figure.

2. Duke Orsino

In William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” Duke Orsino, a key player, drives the play’s themes of love, desire, and identity through his amorous aspirations and emotional ups and downs. Orsino is a nobleman who has a great capacity for love while serving as the ruler of Illyria. Yet his character also exhibits some weaknesses and paradoxes.

Duke Orsino

The play’s tone is largely established by Orsino’s love for Olivia. Even though she continually rejects his advances. His activities are due to his intense and undying love for her. The famous opening statement, “If music be the food of love, play on,” and other poetic confessions of love by Orsino highlight his romantic idealism. He loses sight of Olivia’s actual emotions and character as his love for her develops into an infatuation.

3. Malvolio

Malvolio, a character from William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” provides a potent illustration of the negative effects of unbridled ambition and the risks of taking oneself too seriously. In a play that is characterized by hilarious anarchy, Malvolio serves as Olivia’s steward and is a source of authority and order, making him a convenient target for tricks and deception.

Malvolio- A Fictional character

In “Twelfth Night,” Malvolio is a multifaceted character that contrasts ambition, authority, and silliness. Shakespeare’s ability to handle both humorous and darker topics is demonstrated by his character’s metamorphosis from a puritanical steward to an innocent participant in farcical comedy. Malvolio’s demise serves as a lesson in the perils of arrogance and the delicate balance between humor and cruelty.

4. Olivia

Olivia, a wealthy countess, rejects the advances of Duke Orsino because she is grieving the loss of her brother. She eventually falls in love with Cesario (Viola) though, as a result of a number of miscommunications.


Sir Toby Belch: Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby is a jolly and heavy-drinking character who leads much of the play’s comic mischief.

Maria: Olivia’s witty and clever maid, Maria is instrumental in orchestrating pranks and misunderstandings in the play.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: A foolish and wealthy suitor of Olivia, Sir Andrew is manipulated by Sir Toby and others for their own amusement.

Feste: A wise fool and entertainer in Olivia’s household, Feste provides insight and commentary through his songs and words.

Twelfth Night Summary

Twelfth Night Plot Summary

Act 1

The drama begins in Illyria when twins Viola and Sebastian are separated by a shipwreck. Viola resolves to pose as Cesario in order to securely travel a foreign place because she thinks her brother is dead. She joins the household of Duke Orsino, a nobleman who is madly in love with Olivia, a rich countess who is grieving the loss of her brother.

Orsino sends Viola to court Olivia on his behalf as Cesario. However, due to her grief, Olivia is uninterested in Orsino’s advances. Instead, she falls in love with Cesario, which causes a number of hilarious misunderstandings. In the meantime, Viola discovers that she is falling for Orsino.

Act 1 Analysis

The plot’s romantic entanglements are set up in Act 1 by introducing important ideas and characters. Viola’s choice to pose as Cesario emphasizes how societal norms and gender roles are flexible. The confusion and false identities that would follow also laid forth by her transition into Cesario.
The topic of unfulfilled desire and unrequited love, first introduced by Duke Orsino’s unrequited love for Olivia. He emphasizes his romanticized conception of romance in his poetic speeches about love, which give the play a romantic feel. The self-indulgence and sincere emotion displayed by Orsino’s persona hint at the complexity of his emotional journey.

The hilarious irony of Olivia falling in love with Cesario contrasted with her rejection of Orsino’s approaches. This aspect of the play’s investigation of the power dynamics in courtship and the arbitrary nature of attraction stands out. Shakespeare’s deft use of mistaken identification as a comedy device, demonstrated as the stage is prepared for a string of amusing miscommunications.

Shakespeare lays the groundwork for the themes of love, identity, and social conventions in Act 1, which will be further developed in the succeeding acts. The characters’ complicated relationships weave a rich tapestry of passion and humor that paves the way for the play’s mounting problems and joyful pandemonium.

Act 2

Act 2 of “Twelfth Night” delves deeper into the romantic entanglements and comedic misunderstandings established in the first act. Viola, as Cesario, continues to serve Duke Orsino and deliver messages of love to Olivia. Olivia’s affection for Cesario grows stronger, while Viola herself struggles with her unrequited love for Orsino.

Meanwhile, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, revels in his own antics, drinking and carousing with Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The clever Maria orchestrates a prank on the strict steward Malvolio, planting a letter that makes him believe Olivia is in love with him, leading to a series of comical and humiliating events.

Act 2 Analysis

The second act intensifies the themes of mistaken identity and comedic misunderstandings. Viola’s position as Cesario continues to complicate her emotions, as she conveys Orsino’s love for Olivia while harboring her own affection for him. Her inner conflict is exemplified in lines like, “My state is desperate for my master’s love. / As I am woman (now alas the day!), / What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe?” (2.2.38-40). These lines reflect her turmoil as she navigates the intricate web of emotions.

The comedic subplot involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria adds levity to the play. Their revelry and pranks reveal the contrast between the carefree and festive atmosphere of Illyria and the more serious undertones of love and identity. Sir Toby’s playful nature is evident in lines such as, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (2.3.106-107), highlighting the tension between different perspectives on life.

Malvolio’s transformation is a significant highlight in this act. His gullibility and willingness to believe the letter’s authenticity exemplify his aspirations for social advancement and his vulnerability. His decision to wear the absurd yellow cross-gartered stockings and smile inappropriately underscores the absurdity of his situation and the play’s exploration of appearances versus reality.

Act 2 further deepens the themes of love, deception, and self-discovery. The characters’ interactions and the intricate layers of mistaken identities contribute to the play’s comedic and emotional complexity, laying the groundwork for the events that will unfold in the subsequent acts.

Act 3

Act 3 of “Twelfth Night” continues to explore the complexities of love, mistaken identities, and the comedic interactions among the characters. Viola, still disguised as Cesario, delivers Orsino’s messages of love to Olivia. However, Olivia’s feelings have shifted, and she declares her love for Cesario, leading to a heartfelt and humorous exchange between them.

Viola’s inner turmoil escalates as she navigates her role in Orsino’s pursuit of Olivia while grappling with her own feelings for Orsino. Meanwhile, the subplot involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria reaches its peak as they trick Malvolio into believing Olivia loves him. Malvolio’s ridiculous behavior, spurred by his belief in the letter, leads Olivia and her household to think he is mad.

Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, arrives in Illyria, further complicating the mistaken identity subplot. Olivia, believing Sebastian to be Cesario, marries him in a surprising turn of events. This act of mistaken identity sets the stage for a joyful reunion between Viola and Sebastian.

Act 3 Analysis

Act 3 deepens the themes of love and identity through the interactions of the characters. Olivia’s sudden shift from mourning to infatuation is a prime example of the play’s exploration of the fickleness of love. Her lines, “Cesario, by the roses of the spring, / By maidhood, honor, truth, and everything, / I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride” (3.1.141-143), illustrate her intense emotions while highlighting the play’s theme of romantic excess.

Viola’s inner conflict is further highlighted as she struggles to deliver Orsino’s messages of love to Olivia. Her lines, “My lord, I’ll tell my lady you will come,” (3.1.142) showcase her position as the intermediary between Orsino and Olivia, demonstrating her complex role and the emotional turmoil that accompanies it.

The subplot involving Malvolio reaches a comical climax as he dons the ridiculous yellow stockings and smiles manically, believing Olivia’s affections are directed at him. His lines, “My lady loves me,” (3.4.114) exemplify his deluded state and highlight the consequences of unchecked ambition and gullibility.

The mistaken identity subplot takes a surprising turn as Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario and hastily marries him. This turn of events underscores the play’s exploration of appearances versus reality and sets the stage for the eventual reunion between Viola and Sebastian.

Overall, Act 3 furthers the intricate web of misunderstandings and emotional entanglements, while also highlighting the play’s comedic elements and its exploration of the multifaceted nature of love, identity, and human relationships.

Act 4

Act 4 of “Twelfth Night” continues to unravel the web of mistaken identities and love triangles. Olivia, believing Sebastian to be Cesario, insists on his companionship, leaving him baffled. Meanwhile, Antonio, a sea captain who saved Sebastian, mistakes Viola for her brother and confronts her about breaking their agreement.

Viola and Sebastian finally encounter each other, leading to a joyous and emotional reunion. Olivia, witnessing this, is bewildered by the twins’ resemblance and the confusion they cause. Malvolio’s mistreatment in the dark room continues, his belief in Olivia’s love serving as the basis for the prank against him.

Act 4 Analysis

Act 4 emphasizes the heightening confusion and the resolution of the mistaken identity subplot. Olivia’s continued attraction to “Cesario,” actually Sebastian, underscores the theme of appearances versus reality. Her lines, “Most wonderful!” (4.1.59) capture her astonishment at the twins’ similarity, reflecting the play’s exploration of the boundaries between illusion and truth.

Antonio’s confrontation with Viola showcases the impact of mistaken identities on characters’ actions and decisions. His lines, “How have you made division of yourself?” (4.3.15) highlight the perplexity he experiences upon seeing what he believes to be Sebastian, revealing the disorienting nature of the confusion.

The reunion of Viola and Sebastian is a pivotal moment, resolving the misunderstanding between them and solidifying their bond. Their exchange, “Sebastian, I have been so long a mourner, / That, all this while I have forgot me” (4.3.18-19), emphasizes the emotional journey they have both undergone and serves as a testament to the power of familial connections.

Malvolio’s predicament, trapped and tormented in the dark room, adds a darker element to the play’s otherwise lighthearted tone. His lines, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” (4.2.116), reflect his anger and desire for revenge, highlighting the consequences of the prank and the fine line between humor and cruelty.

Act 4 further unravels the complexities of mistaken identities while highlighting the play’s exploration of the emotional undercurrents beneath the humor. As the characters’ paths converge, the stage is set for the final act’s resolutions and revelations.

Act 5

Act 5 of “Twelfth Night” brings the play’s various storylines to a satisfying resolution. Sebastian and Viola’s identities are finally revealed to all, leading to joyful reunions and clarifications. Duke Orsino’s feelings for Viola also come to light, and Olivia’s affection for Sebastian is redirected to her actual love, Cesario.

The comedic subplot involving Malvolio reaches its conclusion as he released from the dark room, vowing revenge on those who have wronged him. Feste, the wise fool, offers insight and wisdom through his songs and dialogue, contributing to the play’s thematic depth.

As the tangled web of relationships is untangle, the characters come together in a celebratory atmosphere, solidifying their romantic partnerships. The play ends with Feste’s song, emphasizing the themes of time, change, and the transient nature of human emotions.

Act 5 Analysis

Act 5 serves as the culmination of the play’s themes of mistaken identities and love, offering resolutions to the characters’ conflicts. The unveiling of Sebastian and Viola’s true identities exemplifies the theme of truth prevailing over deception. Viola’s line, “I am the man” (5.1.250), is a pivotal moment that resolves the misunderstandings and reinforces the power of familial bonds.

The resolution of romantic entanglements provides a satisfying conclusion. Orsino’s realization of his feelings for Viola illustrates the theme of self-discovery and the acceptance of love. His lines, “Too well what love women to men may owe” (5.1.126), reflect his recognition of the depth of emotion that transcends gender roles.

The culmination of Malvolio’s subplot shows the consequences of manipulation and the fine line between comedy and cruelty. Malvolio’s threat of revenge, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” (5.1.375), echoes his earlier anger and highlights the lasting impact of his humiliation.

Feste’s song at the end underscores the play’s exploration of the transient nature of human emotions and the passage of time. His lines, “For the rain it raineth every day” (5.1.401), offer a bittersweet note to the conclusion. Thus reminding the audience of the impermanence of happiness.

Act 5 provides closure to the play’s intricate plotlines while delving into the deeper themes of identity, love, and the human experience. Through resolution and reconciliation, Shakespeare masterfully concludes “Twelfth Night,” leaving the audience with a sense of fulfillment and contemplation.

Twelfth Night Movie Adaptations

Twelfth Night 1996 movie trailer
1. “Twelfth Night” (1996) – Directed by Trevor Nunn

Trevor Nunn’s adaptation offers a faithful rendition of Shakespeare’s play, set in a visually stunning Illyria. The movie captures the essence of the original text, with Helena Bonham Carter portraying a captivating Olivia. Not to forget Imogen Stubbs as a convincing Viola/Cesario, and Toby Stephens embodying the conflicted Duke Orsino. The film successfully translates the play’s wit and humor onto the screen. While its lavish costumes and picturesque landscapes enhance the visual experience.

Twelfth Night 1996
2. “She’s the Man” (2006) – Directed by Andy Fickman

While a modern-day adaptation, “She’s the Man” draws inspiration from “Twelfth Night.” Amanda Bynes takes on the role of Viola. Moreover she poses as her twin brother Sebastian to join a boys’ soccer team. The film captures the gender-bending themes of the original play while adding contemporary twists and comedic situations. While departing from the intricacies of Shakespeare’s language. Still the adaptation retains the spirit of mistaken identities and the exploration of societal norms.

She’s the Man, Twlefth Night Movie Adaptation
3. “Twelfth Night” (2012) – Directed by Tim Supple

Tim Supple’s adaptation brings a unique cultural perspective to the play by setting it in an Indian context. The film explores the story’s universal themes through Indian music, dance, and vibrant colors. The cast features Indian actors, such as Parminder Nagra as Viola/Cesario and Ajay Devgn as Duke Orsino. This adaptation offers a fresh take on the play’s exploration of love and identity, showcasing how Shakespeare’s themes can transcend cultural boundaries.

4. National Theatre Live Twelfth Night” (2018) – Directed by Simon Godwin

This adaptation recorded live during a stage production at the National Theatre in London. Starring Tamsin Greig as Malvolia (a gender-swapped Malvolio) and featuring modern elements. The production offers a fresh and thought-provoking interpretation of the play’s themes. The decision to cast a female Malvolia highlights the fluidity of gender roles. It also opens new avenues for exploring power dynamics and societal expectations.

12th Night Theater
1. What is the theme of the twelfth night?

“Twelfth Night” explores themes of love, mistaken identity, and the fluidity of gender roles, showcasing Shakespeare’s wit and complexity. It delves into the transformative power of love and the humorous consequences of deception and self-discovery.

2. Why is Twelfth Night also called “or what you will”?

“Twelfth Night” is subtitled “Or What You Will” to suggest a sense of improvisation, inviting varied interpretations and reflections on its themes. The phrase encapsulates the play’s playful spirit and open-ended nature.