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 Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who mistakes him for Cesario. When Olivia interferes and takes Sebastian to her home, she marries him, also thinking him to be Cesario. Thus, he and Viola are reunited.
Orsino (ohr-SEE-noh), the duke of Illyria, who is in love with Olivia. He sends the disguised Viola to press his suit, not realizing that Viola is falling in love with him. When Viola reveals herself as a woman, the duke returns her love and marries her.
Olivia, a rich countess, living in retirement because of the death of her brother. Orsino courts her through Cesario, but she rejects his suit and falls in love with the disguised Viola. When Sebastian, whom she mistakes for Cesario, is brought to her after the fight with Sir Andrew, she marries him.
Malvolio (mal-VOH-lee-oh), Olivia’s pompous steward. Considering himself far above his station, he dreams of marrying the countess. He so angers the other members of her household by his arrogance that they plan a trick on him. Maria, imitating Olivia’s handwriting, plants a note telling him that to please the countess he must appear always smiling and wearing yellow stockings cross-gartered, affectations that Olivia hates. The countess considers him insane and has him locked in a dark room. He is finally released and leaves the stage vowing revenge. Some critics have seen Malvolio as the playwright’s satiric portrait of the Puritan, but this interpretation is disputed by others.
Maria, Olivia’s lively waiting woman. It is she who, angered by the vanity of Malvolio, imitates Olivia’s handwriting in the note that leads him to make a fool of himself. She marries Sir Toby Belch.
Sir Toby Belch
Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle and a member of her household. His conviviality is constantly threatened by Malvolio, so that he gladly joins in the plot against the steward. Sir Toby marries Maria.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Sir Andrew Aguecheek (ay-GYEW-cheek), a cowardly, foolish drinking companion of Sir Toby and suitor of Olivia. He is forced into a duel with Cesario but mistakenly becomes involved with Sebastian, who wounds him.
Antonio, a sea captain who befriends Sebastian, though at great risk, for he has been forbidden to enter Illyria. Having entrusted Sebastian with his purse, he is involved in the confusion of identities between Sebastian and Cesario. When he is confronted with the twins, Antonio helps to clear up the mystery of the mistaken identities.
Feste (FEHS-tuh), a clown. He teases Malvolio during his confinement but brings to Olivia the steward’s letter explaining the trick that has been played on him.