Twelfth Night Act III, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Twelfth Night Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act III, Scene 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Servant: the one who informs Olivia of Cesario’s return

First Officer: one of the Duke’s officials who comes to arrest Antonio

Second Officer: accompanies the First Officer to carry out the arrest

Olivia, longing for Cesario and out of sorts, wonders where Malvolio is. Here, she commends his nature as agreeable to her. Maria alerts her to his agitated state: “He is sure possessed.” In accordance with the letter, Malvolio is smiling about the place. Nonetheless, Olivia wants to see him because she feels as disturbed as he.

Malvolio speaks to Olivia as though she knew about the letter. His smiling doesn’t fit the mood Olivia is in. After Malvolio refers to his cross-gartering, Olivia asks if there is something wrong. Malvolio only mentions the commands of the letter to explain his behavior. For the rest of the dialogue between them, Malvolio quotes directly from Maria’s letter, while Olivia intersperses her bewildered replies. Having been subjected to this unaccountable behavior, Olivia considers Malvolio to be mad: “Why, this is very midsummer madness.” At this point, a servant enters with news that Cesario has come.

In his soliloquy, Malvolio sounds convinced that Olivia is following the letter. So, her bewilderment was lost on him as he raved on. He thanks Jove for the divine assistance he’s been given.

Sir Toby, along with Fabian and Maria, comes to investigate Malvolio’s behavior. Malvolio assumes the hostility toward him that the letter commands, not listening to the mock sympathy Sir Toby demonstrates. Fabian and Maria’s similarly mock sympathy must be false because they know he’s still under the influence of the letter. When Malvolio leaves, the culprits reflect on Malvolio’s absorption by the letter. Sir Toby foreshadows at Malvolio’s madness and ordeal in the dark room.

Sir Andrew enters with his letter of challenge. Fabian compliments the phrasing of the letter, containing a challenge to a fight, as Sir Toby reads it aloud. Sir Andrew is then egged on to draw on Cesario in the orchard. Claiming that Sir Andrew’s letter will not ring true for Cesario, Sir Toby chooses to convey the challenge by word of mouth in order to “drive the gentleman…into a most hideous opinion of his rage, skill, fury, and impetuosity.”

Following this, there is a brief interlude involving Olivia and Cesario. Olivia complains that her protestations of love are falling on deaf ears. Part of her thinks that it is blameworthy to be so bold, but another part of her holds that love gives her the freedom to speak her love. Cesario likens Olivia’s passion to Orsino’s. Giving Cesario a jewel, Olivia asks him to return tomorrow. Olivia, conscious of her honor, wonders what it will inspire her to give Cesario. Cesario wants nothing but her return of love to the Duke. That is not possible for Olivia because she’s given her love to Cesario. Olivia repeats her request for Cesario to come tomorrow.

When Olivia departs, Sir Toby alarms Cesario with the news that Sir Andrew is preparing to attack him. He urges Cesario to prepare to defend himself. Innocently Cesario cannot believe that he’s done offense to anyone. Sir Toby counters that he has given cause for a fight. Sir Toby further tries to frighten Cesario with Sir Andrew’s strength and prowess. Sir Toby conjures an image of Sir Andrew as a valiant and well-connected knight who has three deaths in dueling to his credit. Cesario refuses to fight, it’s not his way. So he seeks an escort from Lady Olivia.

Cesario surmises that Sir Andrew is only trying to test his valor. But Sir Toby explains that he has just cause. Cesario therefore must face the challenge. At Cesario’s request, Sir Toby leaves to get Sir Andrew so he can tell him what offense Cesario has done. Fabian only admits to knowing that Sir Andrew is incensed against him. Fabian echoes Sir Toby’s spurious praise of Sir Andrew’s skill and power.

When Sir Toby finds Andrew, he scares him with...

(The entire section is 1,555 words.)