Twelfth Night Act I, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Twelfth Night Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act I, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Viola: the female of a twin brother–sister pair, who enters Illyria disguised as Cesario and finds love

A Sea Captain: a friend to Viola who comes ashore with her

The setting of this scene is appropriately away from the majestic atmosphere of the Duke’s palace. We meet Viola and a captain on a seacoast. Viola’s practical nature serves to complement the Duke’s romantic character.

Shipwrecked, Viola asks the Captain and sailors where she is. The Captain tells her that they are in a region called “Illyria.” Her brother, who had also been on the ship with her, is separated from them, which causes Viola to wonder if he has drowned. The Captain suggests that he may still be alive because he last saw him struggling to stay afloat.

The Captain was born and raised in Illyria, and he knows about the Duke’s courtship with Olivia. The Captain relates Olivia’s disinclination to accept Orsino’s pledge, as he has heard from gossip.

Upon hearing this, Viola is moved to serve Olivia. But the Captain tells her that that is impossible. Olivia has closed herself off to any new relationships while she deeply mourns the loss of her brother.

Viola quickly gets another idea. She decides to serve the Duke instead, as his eunuch. Since she is a woman, that plan will require a disguise: “Conceal me what I am.” This plan is very practical, for it utilizes a disguise. Viola claims to have a purpose in assuming a disguise, but, at this point, it is not clear exactly what she wants to achieve. She even says, “What else may hap, to time I will commit.”

This scene shifts the thematic emphasis to a practical, commonsense aspect of love. In so doing, Shakespeare is implying that there’s more to love than mere poetry. It’s all right to put one’s loved one up on a pedestal, but it also becomes necessary to find a way to get her down and together with the wooer. Valentine, the Duke’s servant, had only gone to Olivia to report the Duke’s love for her and obtain a favorable reply. Viola represents a viable plan of action to bring the two together in love. Her offerings of money to the Captain, for example, symbolize this practical side to her character. Money is a tool and a means to an end. Viola is well aware that money represents a way to get people to do what she wants.

The disguise plan has been used a lot in Shakespeare’s plays. Here, as in Measure for Measure and As You...

(The entire section is 672 words.)