Twelfth Night Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act III, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

Cesario and Feste the Clown are conversing in Olivia’s garden. Cesario, of course, has arrived with the purpose of courting Olivia. Cesario begins by asking the Clown if he earns a living with his tabor. In addition to engaging Cesario in wordplay, the Clown comments on the arbitrariness of words. People can do whatever they like with them regardless of good or bad intentions. Cesario briefly turns the conversation to identifying the fool. Feste, as usual, cannot give her a straight answer. He answers ironically that Olivia has no fool until she marries the man who will accept the role. In a short span, the Clown mentions a beard for Cesario, coins earning interest, and the love story of Troilus and Cressida. The Clown then goes to fetch Olivia. While awaiting Olivia, Cesario praises Feste’s skillfulness at being a fool.

Sir Toby and Andrew arrive before Olivia. Sir Toby informs Cesario that Olivia is eager to see him. Paradoxically, Cesario asserts that he is Olivia’s servant as well as Orsino’s because the Duke has put himself at Olivia’s service. His servant therefore is also hers. Olivia insists that she does not want to hear anymore wooing. Orsino is out.

Olivia, recalling the ring, broaches the subject of love toward Cesario. Cesario, rather than accept her love, says that he feels pity for Olivia. Cesario faithfully suggests the Duke’s love again only to hear Olivia pour out her feelings of love for him: “I love thee so that, maugre all thy pride,/Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.” Cesario does not wish to form a relationship with Olivia or any woman.

We are meant to note a kind of kinship between Feste and Cesario. Shakespeare establishes this kinship by means of the ploce in the opening dialogue. For example, when Cesario says that those who manipulate words can make them “wanton,” meaning equivocal, Feste picks up on another sense of “wanton,” that is, unchaste, in his response. They have used the same word but in different senses. To play on someone else’s words shows an interconnection between the two characters’ ways of thinking. Cesario appreciates the Clown and even pays him for acting his role as fool.

The Clown of this play is a wordsmith and logician, in addition to being a good singer of the thematic songs. It behooves us to question the Clown’s self-conscious commentary about words and their logic. He even refers to himself as not the fool, but rather Olivia’s “corrupter of words.” In essence, the Clown indicates his understanding of the arbitrariness of words: “Words are grown so false I am loath to/prove reason with them.” There is no necessary and sufficient relationship between words and the reality to which they refer. Therefore, people can so manipulate words to do and say what they want, whether or not the words are true to the reality of the situation. Keeping in mind Cesario’s connection with the motif of “appearances versus reality,” his appreciation for the Clown’s sensitivity to that issue is readily understandable. This scene sketches the Clown/fool’s role in the play. For the characters in the play, this role of fool has entertainment value, and for the readers, his words have relevance to the play’s interpretation.

In his short soliloquy following the Clown’s departure, Cesario reveals his appreciation for the skill Feste exercises: “And to do that well craves a kind of wit.” If Cesario can appreciate this skill, he is certainly capable of exercising it himself. The Clown is attuned to the mood and quality of people with whom he practices his fooling. Although we can assert that the Clown is very talented in his use of words, the truth value of what he says about others is not so clear.

Cesario, who represents practical common sense for the lovers, is everywhere a most admirable character. He makes a diligent effort to woo on Orsino’s behalf. Another way that Shakespeare demonstrates his good communication skills is in the...

(The entire section is 1,045 words.)