At a Glance

Twelfth Night key characters:

  • In Twelfth Night, Viola and Sebastian are twins who are shipwrecked on Illyria and separated. Viola disguises herself as a man and takes the name Cesario, and is later mistaken for her brother.

  • Orsino is the Duke who at first employs Cesario to woo Olivia, then falls in love with Viola after her true identity is revealed.

  • Olivia is a rich countess who is courted by Orsino. She falls in love with Cesario, then marries Sebastian when she mistakes him for his disguised sister.

  • Malvolio is Olivia’s steward whose inflated sense of self leads him to become the pawn of Maria’s trickery.

  • Maria is Olivia’s waiting woman. She sends false love letters from Olivia to Malvolio and eventually marries Sir Toby Belch.

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List of Characters

Viola (Cesario)

Viola is the protagonist of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night. She is an aristocrat who disguises herself as a young man named Cesario after being shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Viola is witty, resourceful, and charismatic. She shows self-control and dignity in contrast to the bombastic, overly sentimental performances of Orsino and Lady Olivia. (Read extended character analysis of Viola.)

Duke Orsino

Duke Orsino is the duke of Illyria. He is mercurial and passionate, and he is more in love with the idea of being in love than he is with any person. He passionately pursues Lady Olivia for the majority of the play while simultaneously revealing his personal thoughts and emotions to Cesario. (Read extended character analysis of Duke Orsino.)

Sebastian

Sebastian is Viola’s twin brother, who becomes lost in the shipwreck. Sebastian is pragmatic and kind. He is not as passionate as other characters in Twelfth Night and appears to be fairly calm in relation to the wildly loving characters surrounding him, such as Lady Olivia and Antonio. (Read extended character analysis of Sebastian.)

Lady Olivia

Lady Olivia is an upper-class, wealthy, and beautiful countess in Illyria. Olivia is judgemental and overindulgent. Much like Duke Orsino, Olivia is also quick to fall in love and makes rash decisions. She also claims to be in a seven-year, loveless period of mourning for her recently deceased brother. However, Lady Olivia’s mourning period appears to exist as an excuse to refuse Orsino’s advances. (Read extended character analysis of Lady Olivia.)

Minor Characters

Antonio

Antonio is a sea captain and a friend of Sebastian’s. He is generous, kind, and loyal to a fault. His selfless nature leads him into trouble, as does his intense love for Sebastian. Antonio’s love for Sebastian is one of the only examples in the play of a love based on intimate knowledge of another person. Antonio spends three months taking care of Sebastian and getting to know him. As such, his love for Sebastian is based on a solid foundation of knowledge and friendship.

Antonio’s love for Sebastian leads him to follow Sebastian when he leaves for Illyria, despite the region being a dangerous place for Antonio. Antonio has “many enemies in Orsino’s court” due to his piracy against Orsino’s ships. When Antonio and Sebastian arrive in Illyria, Antonio is generous and gives Sebastian his coin purse to allow Sebastian to buy things for himself. Despite his lower social standing, Antonio gives money to Sebastian as if he were his benefactor.

Antonio, like other characters in the play, accidentally falls prey to Viola’s duplicitous disguise. When Antonio sees Viola in disguise as Cesario, he mistakes her for Sebastian and goes so far as to protect her from a duel with Sir Andrew. Viola, of course, does not know who Antonio is, and lets him be arrested by Orsino’s men. Antonio, still thinking that Viola, disguised as Cesario, is Sebastian, believes that Sebastian has betrayed him, despite his generosity and love. At the end of the play, Antonio is reunited with Sebastian, who rapturously greets Antonio with love: “how the hours have rack’d and tortured me / since I lost thee!” Despite their reunion, Antonio...

(The entire section is 1,615 words.)