The novel “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare Term Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 1st, 2019


Twelfth Night is a must-read chef-d’oeuvre written by William Shakespeare, the famous playwright of his time. Short as it is, the masterwork is heavy laden with moral lessons, with each word strategically crafted to address a certain theme. The paper presents a summary of the novel’s five acts further addressing the main conflicts and key figures as pointed out by Shakespeare.

Act Summary

Act I opens the story with Duke Orsino, a noble man who has reverted to listening to music as he thinks about his lover Olivia who is mourning his brother and has vowed not to let anyone see her face for seven years. It further brings into limelight Viola, a woman who survives from a shipwreck and comes to a strange land.

She is worried that his brother Sebastian is dead forcing her to seek assistance from the captain in looking for a job whereby she feigns manhood to gain favor as a servant at Orsino place. The idea strikes her because Olivia does not want to see any person before her face. The reader too encounters sir Toby, Olivia’s uncle and Maria, her gentle woman who is aware of the plans of Toby to ensure that Sir Andrew gets married to Olivia. Maria is against this move even though Toby sees Andrew as a person who matches his niece.

Orsino takes the stage developing interest in Olivia who has changed her name to Cesario purposely to strengthen his love with Olivia. However, Viola reaches a point and wishes to be his wife. Viola then delivers a letter to Olivia, who develops feelings for Viola and sends her some rings in pretext that he forgets them when he delivers to her the message from Orsino. Funny enough, Olivia does this believing that Viola is a man.

Act II follows with new characters, Sebastian and Antonio. Sebastian is worried that his sister is dead and therefore he is alone since his father too dead. They decide to go to Orsino’s courts. Antonio, Sebastian friend vows to accompany Sebastian knowing very well the consequences that he may go through.

In this act, Cesario also comes to her senses that Olivia is in love with her based on her actions towards him. The reader also encounters a trick to fool Malvolio that Olivia loves him through a letter written by Maria who has handwriting similar to that of Olivia. Orsino and Viola are engaged in a discussion about love. The conversation ends by Orsino sending viola a letter to take to Olivia. On the other hand, Malvolio who fantasies about his love to Olivia picks the letter drafted by Maria.

In act III, the reader encounters the blossoming love between Olivia and Viola. Upon seeing Cesario, Olivia requests Toby and Andrew to excuse her to talk to Cesario. Cesario tells Olivia that he cannot fall in love with her because there is one person he loves. Malvolio’s confusion forces him into doing awkward things as per the letter in order to appease Olivia.

For instance, he is wearing yellow stockings and laughing all over to attract attention from Olivia. Sebastian and Antonio arrive at their destination though Antonio feels insecure. The people receive him with hostility because of his involvement in the sea fight against the men of Orsino, who gets hold of him. He in turn seeks assistance from Cesario whom he confuses for Sebastian.

Act IV opens with Sebastian confused with Cesario. Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario going further to request him to marry her. Sebastian’s lack of understanding the underlying accepts the offer and marries Sebastian. Malvolio is still in the dark room recuperating from his alleged madness.

Act V follows with Antonio’s men taking him to Orsino where he identifies Cesario as Sebastian. He accuses Cesario for not rescuing him when he upon his arrest by the police. The truth stand out when it comes to every person senses that Cesario is a woman. The wedding organized features Orsino as the bride with Viola acting as the bridegroom. Further, Tobby marries Maria. Malvolio is released from the dark room after the truth is known and it come out clear that he was not insane as they had early thought.

Overall summary of the main conflict

Shakespeare successfully addresses the conflicts associated with love for instance deception, illusion, extraordinary things, disguises, and madness amongst others.

A conflict based on love stands out among the major characters and as the account reveals, their relationships are all miserable. While Orsino loves Olivia, he too has another partner, Viola. On the other hand, Olivia loves Cesario, the woman who feigned manhood. The disguising behavior brings a good deal of confusion in the love of Orsino and Viola, a conflict that continues in the rest of the story leading to sufferings of Malvolio who is tricked by Maria through a letter of love alleged to have come from Olivia (Hodgdon 132).

Furthermore, another conflict stands out between Antonio and the Orsino officers. The case follows the arrest of Antonio’s, who ends up confusing Cesario with Sebastian begging for assistance from him. When he refuses, he feels betrayed by his closest friend.

The conflict brings a clue to viola that his brother whom he thought to be dead is still alive. There is also confusion and conflict when Olivia sees Sebastian after he mistakes him for Cesario, and therefore asks him to marry her, a trick whose revelation stands out when Orsino confesses that she loves Viola who pretends to be a woman (Shakespeare 123). As the play unveils, deception assumes a good share in the love affairs the characters.

For instance, Viola works for Orsino who falls in love with her unaware of the gender, case that arouses the evident dispute between the two. Therefore, Conflicts dominate William Shakespeare narrative: conflict of love, which comes with much deception resulting to confusion with people doing unexpected things. Malvolio, Olivia’s servant, provides the best illustration upon his attempt to admire her.

Maria tricks him through a letter that alleged to come from Olivia that she loves him (Shakespeare 136). The letter contains Olivia’s expectations and therefore subjecting Malvolio into a deceptive plot owing to his love for Olivia. As a result, he behaves in an unusual way leading to his seclusion in a dark room based on insanity allegations. The conflict follows an alleged interruption by Malvolio as Toby, Andrew and Maria entertain themselves.

Key figures

Viola, one of the major characters, escapes from the shipwreck and finds a job at Orsino after feigning manhood by changing her name to Cesario and later falling in love with Orsino, a nobleman.

The story portrays her as the only woman who stands out as a true lover. Although he subjects himself to disguise as a man, he sticks to his love for Orsino and manages to realize his dream assuming his duty as a woman when she marries Orison. Compared to other characters in the play like Olivia, Maria and Toby whose love is not straight and focused, Viola is stable, follows her heart, and ends up marrying the man of her dreams. Orsino is another key figure in the play, who is a noble man in search of a love.

He falls in love with a woman who he fantasizes. However, the woman is not ready for marriage because of her mourning of the death of her brother. Orison falls in love with Viola disguised as Cesario. Their love stands out through the evident closeness and the treatment he receives from Orison.

They continue admiring each other until the end of the act following the revelation of Cesario’s gender as a woman. They therefore become a couple. Olivia, another major figure in the play, comes from a noble family and has a group of servants who work for her. She is in love of Orison though she has refused to accept his marriage proposal (Hotson 44). She finds herself in a dilemma of whether to love Orison or Cesario, a disguised woman who has changed her identity.

She develops love for the young man but ends up marrying Sebastian following some inevitable confusion with Viola’s brother mistaking her for Cesario. Malvolio too is a key figure that initially seems a minor character. He is among Olivia’s servants and a puritan who likes spoiling other people’s plans. Maria dupes him because of his behavior that sees him put behind bars for being insane.

Works Cited

Hodgdon, Barbara. Sexual Disguise and the Theatre of Gender in the Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy. Britain: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Hotson, Leslie. The First Night of Twelfth Night. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.

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