Twelfth Night Character and Theme Quotes

William Shakespeare

Essential Quotes by Character: Viola

Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 55-64

I prithee, and I'll pay thee bounteously,
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke:
Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him:
It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.
What else may hap to time I will commit;
Only shape thou silence to my wit.


Viola, a gentlewoman of Messaline, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, along with the ship’s captain. Having a twin brother on the ship, Viola believes him drowned. On inquiring from the captain where they are, she learns that Illyria is the captain’s birthplace, and they are near the home of Count Orsino, a duke who is currently a bachelor. Viola had heard her father speak of Orsino and is curious about the bachelorhood of so rich and noble a man. The captain tells her of Orsino’s love for Olivia, a lady of the region. However, because Olivia is in mourning for her father and brother, she will accept no suitors. Viola is intrigued by this tale and decides that she would like to aid the duke’s suit. At first she proposes to present herself as a lady-in-waiting to Olivia, but the captain informs her that Olivia is not even accepting visitors. Viola then decides to disguise herself as a male eunuch (i.e., person surgically altered prior to the onset of puberty so as to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics such as a beard) to Count Orsino as a servant. Her intent is to act as a matchmaker between Orsino and Olivia because she desires to see true love fulfilled.

Essential Passage 2: Act 1, Scene 4, Lines 22-44

O, then unfold the passion of my love,
Surprise her with discourse of my dear faith:
It shall become thee well to act my woes;
She will attend it better in thy youth
Than in a nuncio's of more grave aspect.

I think not so, my lord.

Dear lad, believe it;
For they shall yet belie thy happy years,
That say thou art a man: Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part.
I know thy constellation is right apt
For this affair. Some four or five attend him:
All, if you will; for I myself am best
When least in company. Prosper well in this
And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord,
To call his fortunes thine.

I'll do my best
To woo your lady. [Aside] Yet, a barful strife!
Whoe'er I woo, myself would...

(The entire section is 1578 words.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Love

Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 1-15

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more;
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.


Orsino, Count (or Duke) of Illyria, is sick with love for the lady Olivia. In his chamber, he is listening to the court musicians perform a love song. Bidding them to play on, he hopes the music will increase his feeling of love until he is sick of it. Overindulgence will break the obsession, he believes, and thus release him from the pain of unrequited affection. At last he calls a halt to the music, saying it is not so sweet as when it first began: he is sick of the music but not of love. Orsino thinks that there does not seem to be a limit to love’s capacity. Like the sea that refuses to rise no matter how much water is added to it from the rivers and the rains, his love for Olivia is full. He acknowledges that as the sea level changes with the rise and fall of the tides, love may do likewise without changing capacity. His messenger arrives to announce that Olivia will not entertain Orsino’s suit, because she is still in mourning after the death of her brother. Orsino is content to wait but vows he will not give up until he wins Olivia’s heart.

Essential Passage 2: Act 2, Scene 4, Lines 103-120

There is no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention.
Alas, their love may be call'd appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt;
But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much: make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.

(The entire section is 1336 words.)