TWELFTH NIGHT develops its theme on two levels. The main plot, written mostly in blank verse, shows the nobility in pursuit of love. The subplot features lower characters, who speak in prose and pursue drunkenness and mischief.
In the main plot, the twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked on the Illyrian coast and separated; each presumes the other dead. Disguised as a young man, Viola joins the court of Duke Orsino, falls in love with him, and becomes his favorite. Orsino loves the lady Olivia, who refuses his attentions because she still mourns her dead brother. When Orsino sends Viola to woo Olivia for him, Olivia falls in love with Viola.
In the subplot, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a ridiculous suitor to Olivia, fall out with Malvolio, Olivia’s puritanical steward, who condemns their revels. With the help of Maria and Fabian, Olivia’s servants, they trick the self-serving Malvolio into thinking Olivia loves him, then they confine him for insanity. Sir Toby also persuades Sir Andrew to challenge Viola to a duel.
These plots untangle when Sebastian appears, marries Olivia, and whips Sir Andrew and Sir Toby. Viola throws off her disguise and accepts Orsino’s proposal of marriage. Freed, Malvolio stomps out vowing revenge on them all.
Symbolically opposed to Malvolio is Feste, the wise clown. He fools Olivia out of her mourning and Orsino out of his lovesickness--both...
(The entire section is 516 words.)
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