List of Characters
Orsino—the Duke of Illyria, who is madly in love with Olivia.
Olivia—the countess with whom Orsino is in love and who rejects him.
Curio—one of the Duke’s attendants.
Valentine—another gentlemen attending the Duke.
Viola—the female of a brother–sister pair of twins who enters Illyria disguised as Cesario and finds love.
A Sea Captain—a friend to Viola who comes ashore with her.
Sir Toby Belch—Olivia’s uncle who drinks a lot and marries Maria.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek—Sir Toby’s friend who thinks he is a potential suitor for Olivia.
Feste the Clown—servant to Olivia who sings and provides entertainment.
Malvolio—steward to Olivia.
Fabian—another servant to Olivia.
Antonio—another sea captain who is friend to Viola and who comes ashore with Sebastian.
Sebastian—Viola’s twin brother.
First Officer—officer in the service of the Duke.
Second Officer—also in the service of the Duke.
A Priest—marries Sebastian and Olivia.
Musicians—playing for Duke.
Sailors—come ashore with the Captain and Viola.
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Viola (VEE-oh-luh), who, with her twin brother Sebastian, is shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. The twins are separated, and a friendly sea captain helps Viola to assume male clothes and to find service as the page Cesario, with Orsino, the duke of Illyria. Her new master is pleased with her and sends the disguised girl to press his suit for the hand of Countess Olivia, with whom the duke is in love. Olivia, who has been in mourning for her brother, finally admits the page and instantly falls in love with the supposed young man. Cesario, meanwhile, has been falling in love with Orsino. So apparent is Olivia’s feeling for Cesario that the countess’ admirer, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, is persuaded that he must send a challenge to the page, a challenge Cesario reluctantly accepts. Antonio, a sea captain who is a friend of Sebastian, chances on the duel and rescues Viola, mistaking her for her brother, whom he had found after the wreck and to whom he had entrusted his purse. In the ensuing confusion, Olivia marries the real Sebastian, thinking him to be Cesario. Viola and her brother finally are reunited. Viola marries Orsino, and all ends happily.
Sebastian (seh-BAS-tyehn), Viola’s twin brother. Separated from her during the shipwreck, he makes his way to Duke Orsino’s court, where he is befriended by Antonio. He is involved in a fight with...
(The entire section is 675 words.)
Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Character Analysis)
Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a friend of Sir Toby Belch, a suitor to Sir Toby's rich niece Olivia, and a participant in the play's subplot. (A subplot is a secondary or subordinate plot which often reflects on or complicates the major plot in a work of fiction such as a play.) In I.iii.20, Toby praises Sir Andrew Aguecheek for being gallant, or "as tall a man as any's in Illyria." He defends his friend as cultured and talented, claiming that Sir Andrew knows how to play a musical instrument and can speak "three or four languages word for word" (I.iii.25-28). Maria, on the other hand, calls Sir Andrew a "fool and a prodigal," a "great quarreller," and a "coward," who spends his nights getting drunk with Toby (I.iii.24,30,31,36-37). What Sir Toby, in fact, values about his friend is his money, for Sir Andrew has a comfortable income of "three thousand ducats a year," and he spends it generously (I.iii.22).
Aguecheek—whose name suggests that he has a thin or pinched face as though he had a chill, or an ague—makes his first appearance in I.iii.44-139, where he shows himself to be indeed foolish. When, for example, Toby introduces him to Maria with the admonishment to "accost" or greet her, Sir Andrew mistakenly thinks that Maria's last name is "Accost" (I.iii.49,52). In response to a question in French, Sir Andrew proves that, contrary to Toby's claim, he has little knowledge of foreign languages, revealing instead his other, less academic interests: ''What is...
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Sir Toby Belch (Character Analysis)
Sir Toby Belch is Olivia's uncle and a co-director of the play's subplots involving Aguecheek and Malvolio. (A subplot is a secondary or subordinate plot which often reflects on or complicates the major plot in a work of fiction such as a play.) Sir Toby embodies the riot of the Christmas season. He is drunk throughout the play and gives full vent to his whims and passions. In this sense, Uncle Toby is a positive character who is placed in opposition to the grumpy Malvolio.
Believing that "care's an enemy to life," Toby indulges in food, drink, and song, and hopes to do so as long as there is "drink in Illyria" (I.iii.2-3, 40). His last name is appropriate to his dissipated manner of living, and his dissipation is in keeping with the play's festive title.
He is also a freeloader who lives off his niece and takes money from his friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. While Toby's antics are amusing, his plans for Olivia come close to those of a pimp, for he wishes to "sell" his niece to the eminently foolish Sir Andrew, a fop whom Toby can easily control. Sir Toby Belch is annoyed with Olivia, who has "abjured the company / And sight of men" and has chosen instead to spend seven years of her young life hidden and in mourning for her dead brother (I.ii.40-41).
While characters like Viola and Feste comment on the passing of time and the decay of youthfulness, and while Olivia spends her hours keeping her brother's memory alive with her tears,...
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Fabian (Character Analysis)
Fabian is one of Olivia's servants as well as a character in the play's subplot. (A subplot is a secondary or subordinate plot which often reflects on or complicates the major plot in a work of fiction such as a play.) In II.v, Fabian is invited by Sir Toby Belch to join him in spying on Malvolio when he finds and reads the phony love-note forged by Maria to look as though it were written to the steward by Olivia. Like Maria and Sir Toby, Fabian resents Malvolio for bringing him "out o' favour" with the countess and thus looks forward to Malvolio's humiliation (II.v.7-8). Fabian's main function during the phony-letter scene is to restrain Sir Toby's outrage as Malvolio's fantasies about Olivia become increasingly arrogant. "Nay, patience," Fabian counsels Sir Toby, "or we break the sinews of our plot" and spoil the practical joke (II.v.75-76).
In III.ii and iv, Fabian helps Toby direct the various elements of the subplot. In III.ii, for example, he joins in persuading Sir Andrew Aguecheek to challenge his "rival," Viola/Cesario, to a duel. In III.iv.84-141, he participates once more in the practical joke against Malvolio. Shortly afterward, he sees "More matter for a May morning" (in other words, additional subject matter for a comedy) when Sir Andrew Aguecheek arrives with his timidly written challenge to Viola/Cesario (III.iv.142). Fabian's final moment of stage directing comes when he helps Toby to convince Viola/Cesario that Sir Andrew is a skilled...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
Feste the Clown (Character Analysis)
Feste, also referred to as "clown," is Olivia's professional jester, or fool. During the Renaissance, monarchs and sometimes members of the nobility retained fools in their households as a source of entertainment—to sing, make witty observations, and to engage in practical jokes. The traditional costume of a fool consisted of motley, or parti-colored cloth. Thus in I.v.57, when Feste declares, "I wear not motley in my brain," he means that although his body is clothed in the official garb of the jester, his mind is not "naturally" foolish—unlike, for example, the genuinely foolish mind of Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Feste is one of Shakespeare's many clowns or jesters, and while he may not hold a candle to the fool of King Lear, Feste has certain insights into human nature that are wise in their own way. Feste is a fellow drawn to mirth and hence to the circle of Sir Toby. But unlike Toby, Feste realizes that folly is just that, being a necessary dimension of humanity.
To a certain extent—and true to his profession—Feste contributes to the holiday tone of Twelfth Night. His very name makes up part of the word "festival," and he is frequently called upon during the play to sing or to make jokes. Critics have compared him to the Lord of Misrule who according to tradition is crowned, then placed in charge of Twelfth-night festivities and high jinks. Indeed in II.iii, Feste joins the drunken revels of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew...
(The entire section is 806 words.)
Malvolio (Character Analysis)
Malvolio is Olivia's steward. Just as there is a downside to Sir Toby, there is an upside to Malvolio. To be sure, Olivia's steward is a self-inflated, pompous man, and it is precisely these character traits that make him vulnerable to the joke set up by Toby, Maria and the other light-hearted figures of the play and amplifies the humor when the plot reaches its climax. Malvolio wishes that the riot of Christmas would stop altogether. That being so, he is essentially a blocking figure who stands in the way of passion and is, in his own mind, an obstacle to the union of Olivia with any other man, including Cesario and her brother, Sebastian. Malvolio does not take part in the wedding festivities that concludes Twelfth Night, and his final words of revenge are discordant with the play's ending. There is, however, the "Malvolio problem." Overly dour in disposition and harboring an inflated opinion of himself, Malvolio's only crime lies in his character. We may view him as a mere butt of jest; we may alternatively see him as a man who has been treated unfairly.
Malvolio's name means "ill will." He wears dark clothing and has no sense of humor, both of which are appropriate to Olivia's observance of mourning. The countess values Malvolio as a servant because he "is sad [serious] and civil" (III.iv.5). However, she also chides him for being "sick of self-love," and—in a remark which looks ahead to Malvolio's gulling and his subsequent...
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Maria (Character Analysis)
Maria is Olivia's lady-in-waiting and is a balancing character. She scolds Toby and Andrew for their drunkenness, but she also tolerates them and shows her own capacity for pranks by initiating the phony love letter ploy against her supervisor, Malvolio.
In I.iii, Maria draws our attention to Sir Toby Belch's habitual late nights and drunkenness when she warns him that his niece, Countess Olivia, has lost patience with his dissolute behavior. She also prepares us for the entrance shortly afterward of Sir Andrew Aguecheek by referring to him as "a foolish knight" whom Sir Toby "brought in one night here to be [Olivia's] wooer" (I.iii.15-17). In I.v.1-31, she introduces us to the clown Feste when she scolds him on behalf of his employer, Olivia, for having been absent when Olivia wanted entertainment.
Maria's reproofs frequently give way to jokes and lively wordplay. She teases Sir Andrew Aguecheek for his foolishness in I.iii.66-79 and outdoes Feste at punning in I.v.1-31. Her cleverness inspires admiration in Sir Toby Belch, whose affection for her is apparent in the nicknames he gives her—names which also happen to indicate her small size. In II.iii.179, for example, Toby refers to her affectionately as "a beagle true-bred." Elsewhere he fondly describes her as a "little villain" and as his "metal [gold] of India" (II.v.13,14). In III.ii.66, he calls her "the youngest wren of nine" (in other words, the smallest in a nest of wrens—a type...
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Olivia (Character Analysis)
Olivia, of course, is the main female role, the object of amorous intentions by the Duke, by Sir Andrew, by Malvolio and, eventually, by Sebastian. She is obviously a beautiful young woman of proper breeding who disapproves of Sir Toby's tipsy rabble-rousing but nonetheless generously tolerates his presence in her household. Her kindness is also evident in Olivia's efforts to bring Malvolio back into the wedding society at the play's end. On the other side of the coin, Olivia is a moody woman whose reclusiveness seems more a matter of posturing than of genuine mourning. We note, for example, that her devotion to her brother's memory is jettisoned in short order after she meets Cesario, and that she switches her love from Cesario to "his" brother, Sebastian, in a heartbeat.
Olivia is a rich countess who is loved by Orsino even though she does not feel the same way about him. In I.i.23-31, we learn that Olivia plans to spend seven years mourning for her dead brother, during which time she will hide her face with a veil, reject any declarations of love, and weep daily to keep her brother's memory alive. Orsino considers the countess beautiful but cruel (II.iv.80-86). Viola's friend the captain describes Olivia as "a virtuous maid" (I.ii.36). Viola/Cesario calls her beautiful but "too proud" and scolds her for refusing to marry and for thus failing to "leave the world [a] copy" of her beauty by having children (I.v.243,250-51). Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch,...
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Orsino (Character Analysis)
Also: Duke Orsino, also known as the Count
Orsino is the duke of Illyria. It is to Duke Orsino that Shakespeare assigns the highest poetical lines of Twelfth Night, the ruler of Illyria being given to philosophical statements in lyrical terms. There is, in this, a certain self-consciousness. Nevertheless, the Duke is basically a good fellow who bonds with the lost Cesario and pardons Antonio. Like Olivia, the Duke is fickle, for he quickly embraces the revealed Viola and forgets about Olivia as soon as the mechanical confusion of the play is resolved.
Although Orsino appears less often than most of the other major characters, his speeches are important to the play's assessment of love and human nature. When the play begins, Orsino is so preoccupied with unrequited love for Olivia that he feels unable to do anything but listen to music. "If music be the food of love, play on," he tells his musicians, "Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken and so die" (I.i.1-3). He hopes to kill his feelings for Olivia by letting them gorge themselves to death on music—which has been described as the "food of love." Unfortunately, his feelings tire of the music before they can be sickened by it, and so his love for Olivia survives. Several lines afterward, the duke compares his lovesick heart to a "hart" (deer) which has been attacked by "cruel" hunting dogs (I.i.17-22). Later, when he hears that Olivia is in mourning for her...
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Sebastian (Character Analysis)
Sebastian is Viola's twin brother. The two of them were victims of a shipwreck, and each believes the other has been drowned at sea. Unlike his sister, Sebastian makes only a few, short appearances in the play. He is essentially a minor character whose nature as a "good young man" is subordinated to the demands of the plot. He first enters in II.i accompanied by his devoted rescuer, Antonio. Mourning the apparent death of Viola and feeling aimless in the foreign country of Illyria, Sebastian initially decides to head for Duke Orsino's court but then in III.iii opts instead for touring the local sights.
Sebastian has been called a passive character. His argument for setting off on his own in II.i is that he has been the victim of bad luck and does not want the "malignancy" of his own fate to influence Antonio's luck. In IV.i.24-43, he fights with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, but only because they attack him first after mistaking him for Viola/Cesario. When Olivia offers to take him to her home afterward, he is amazed but goes along without questioning her, agreeing to be "ruled" by her request and concluding that "If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!" (IV.i.64,63). His reaction to Olivia's proposal of marriage in IV.iii is the same—even though he is astonished by her behavior, he submits to a hasty wedding. In IV.iii.1-21, Sebastian describes his state of mind: sometimes he thinks he is the victim of a misunderstanding, while at other times he wonders...
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Viola (Character Analysis)
Viola is a gentlewoman from a country called Messaline and also the twin sister of Sebastian. Whether disguised as the young man Cesario or in her true identity as Sebastian's sister, Viola is the central character of the play. Not only does the main plot dilemma hinge upon Viola, she is the only one of the characters (or at least the first) who knows its kinks. In this sense, Viola has greater wisdom than the others do, for she is able to objectively evaluate (most) of the events that take place while others remain in the dark. Resourceful, loving and loyal, Viola is an attractive young woman. Nevertheless, she too is subject to instantaneous love, falling for Duke Orsino immediately after arriving at his court.
Viola first appears on the coast of Illyria in I.ii, accompanied by the captain who saved her from drowning in a shipwreck, and concerned about the fate of her missing brother who had been traveling with her. "And what should I do in Illyria?"—she wonders—"My brother he is in Elysium [heaven]" (I.ii.3-4). Once the captain gives her reason to hope that her brother is still alive, Viola sets about the business of fending for herself in a foreign country. At the close of I.ii, Viola has decided to disguise herself and seek employment with Duke Orsino; I.ii is the first and last time that Viola appears in women's clothing. For the rest of the play she wears men's clothing appropriate to her disguise as Orsino's page, Cesario.
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Antonio (Character Analysis)
Antonio is the sea captain who rescues Sebastian and is more of a full-fledged character than Viola's twin, Sebastian. Antonio is a helping character who demonstrates the Christian quality of placing his own life in jeopardy for the sake of his friend. He becomes Sebastian's devoted friend after rescuing him from a shipwreck. Antonio's discussion with his new friend in II.i introduces the fact that Sebastian and his sister, Viola, are twins who were "born [with] in an hour" of one another (II.i.19). Antonio's affection for Sebastian is so strong that he decides to follow the young man to Orsino's household, even though Antonio has "many enemies in Orsino's court" and would face danger if he went there (II.i.45-48).
When he catches up with Sebastian in III.iii, Antonio explains that he was once in a sea battle against the count's galleys and is wanted in Illyria for piracy. Antonio's status as an outlaw is significant to the action of Twelfth Night because it means that he must often leave Sebastian and not "walk too open" or he might be arrested (III.iii.37). Inevitably, during one of these separations, he encounters Viola/Cesario and thinks that she is her brother, Sebastian, adding to the chaos in this play of shifting identities and miscommunication.
Scholars have remarked that during the Renaissance, friendship was considered more important than was sexual love, and that friendship is in fact one of the themes in Twelfth...
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Other Characters (Analysis)
Andrew (Sir Andrew Aguecheek)
These are unnamed characters with no speaking parts. Attendants accompany the duke and Olivia throughout the play.
Captain (Sea Captain)
His first and only appearance occurs in I.ii when he comes ashore with Viola after having rescued her from a shipwreck. The captain's role in the play is brief but useful since he provides us with important introductory information. For example, he tells Viola the name of the country where the play is set (Illyria), as well as the name of its ruler (Duke Orsino). He also informs her that he saw her brother, Sebastian, still alive and clinging to a mast after their ship sank, thus preparing the way for Sebastian's entrance in II.i. Finally, the captain is the character to whom Viola confides her plan to disguise herself as the youth Cesario and seek employment with Orsino. At the close of the play, Viola mentions that she left her "maiden weeds," or female clothing, in the captain's safekeeping while she masqueraded as Cesario, and that he can "confirm" that she is in fact Viola (V.i.249-56). The last we hear of the captain is that he has been imprisoned on charges brought against him by Malvolio; thus the captain's function at this point is to shift our attention away from the lovers and toward the steward, who, as Olivia now remembers, has himself been taken into custody for madness (V.i.274-83).
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