Twelfth Night Act I, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Twelfth Night Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act I, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Sir Toby Belch: Olivia’s uncle, who drinks a lot

Maria: Olivia’s lady-in-waiting

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Sir Toby’s friend, who thinks he is a potential suitor for Olivia

This scene is set in Olivia’s house, but we do not as yet meet Olivia. She is in extended mourning. Sir Toby, her uncle, opens with a question about Olivia. He is talking to Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, who responds with a complaint about Toby’s late carousing.

Maria refers to Sir Toby’s friend, Sir Andrew, as a fool. She heard that Sir Toby had brought him to the house to woo Olivia. Sir Toby, on the other hand, praises the many virtues his friend possesses. He is handsome, has a good income, and speaks several languages. Furthermore, they are drinking buddies.

When Sir Andrew enters, Sir Toby immediately urges him on Maria, “board her, woo her, assail her,” though Sir Andrew misunderstands him at first. As Sir Toby’s meaning dawns on him, he asserts that he wouldn’t do such a thing in Olivia’s house.

Before departing, Maria invites Sir Andrew for a drink. Sir Toby realizes that her invitation was made in a joking manner, and he engages Sir Andrew in a playful conversation. Sir Andrew talks of leaving, having lost hope of winning Olivia’s love. He believes the Count Orsino has a much better chance for her than he does. Nonetheless, Sir Toby reassures him that his chances are still good because Orsino is not the kind of man Olivia is looking for. This reassurance encourages Sir Andrew to stay a month longer.

So, continuing their conversation together, Sir Toby questions his friend’s dancing ability. Sir Andrew says that he’s quite a capable dancer. They then plan to go partying together.

The characters of Maria and Sir Toby put us in touch with a lower class of people in Illyria; that is, they do not belong to the aristocracy as do Orsino and Olivia. This is a play for all kinds of people; love is for everyone. The disguise trick suggests this notion. It doesn’t matter what your financial or social status is in love because true love does not play favorites. That is why Sir Andrew and Malvolio can entertain hopes of winning Olivia’s love. Love is an experience that occurs between two human beings. A disguise can prove this statement because if you can conceal who or what you truly are, then it follows that it doesn’t matter what your real identity is. Love can blossom. All is fair in love.

A note of competition enters the play in this scene. Sir Toby believes Sir Andrew to be a proper suitor for his niece. Despite his praise, however, the scene leaves us with the impression that Sir...

(The entire section is 703 words.)