Twelfth Night Act I, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Twelfth Night Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Act I, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Olivia: the countess with whom Orsino is in love and who rejects him

Clown: servant to Olivia who sings and provides entertainment

Malvolio: steward to Olivia

This scene opens with Maria and the Clown engaged in conversation. Maria, wondering where the Clown has been, tells him that he’ll be punished for his absence unless he has good reason for it. This threat fails to scare the Clown, as he shows in his offhand replies.

The Clown is equally offhand with Olivia when she enters. He responds to her with insult, ironically calling her a “fool.” Although she tries to get rid of him, the Clown prevails on her to prove that she is the fool. To that end, he questions her about her mourning her brother’s death.

Unoffended, Olivia turns to her steward Malvolio for his opinion of the Clown. An exchange of insults follows her question. The Clown puts down Malvolio and Malvolio puts down the Clown. Malvolio considers the Clown a stupid, useless character. Olivia sides with the Clown, even calling Malvolio an “egotist,” because the Clown is only playing his role as “fool” properly.

Maria announces Cesario’s arrival. Olivia is not in the mood to listen to a suit from the Duke. Malvolio returns to Olivia to tell her that Cesario stubbornly refuses to leave until Olivia will speak with him. Olivia wonders what kind of man he is. She allows him to enter and puts on a veil.

Cesario begins by showering lover’s compliments on Olivia. Cesario makes a point of the fact that her suit is memorized. Everything he will say has been rehearsed beforehand.

Shortly after starting his speech of love, Cesario requests to see Olivia’s face. Olivia complies and is met with praise for her “beauty truly blent.” Cesario further affirms the Duke’s passion for Olivia, expressing a hope that Olivia will reciprocate the Duke’s love.

Unfortunately for the Duke, Olivia has no desire to love him. Cesario does not quite believe her rejection of Orsino. He can do little more than express a hope that Olivia will return the Duke’s love, before he exits.

Olivia then reveals that she has been taken with the youth. His charms have worked their subtle ways on Olivia’s eyes. So, she sends Malvolio after him with a token of her newfound affection, a ring. Her final words intimate some confusion about what is happening to her.

The original love connection of the Duke admiring Olivia has gone awry by the end of this scene. We witness two twists: Viola states her attraction to Orsino, and Olivia reveals a liking for Cesario. These two twists suggest that, for Shakespeare, love is truly a subjective experience. When a person sees a potential sweetheart and falls in love, he or she feels it in his or her own heart and mind. One cannot be forced to love another by the sheer strength of the other’s attraction, as the Duke’s suit might imply.

Another way that Shakespeare emphasizes the subjective nature of love is through the Clown’s speech. The Clown stands in counterpoint to the Duke in respect to his attitude toward Olivia. The smitten Duke utters his passionate feeling for Olivia, but the Clown’s insults are couched in a jarringly logical manner. The former exalts Olivia; the latter belittles...

(The entire section is 852 words.)