Copyright J V Ward. 14th August 2003



Notes on Shakespeare’s

 Twelfth Night





All Shakespeare’s plays are divided into 5 Acts. Each Act is sub divided into scenes. The Notes take each scene (denotes as A to R) and provides the following information.


1               Glossary.  Explanation of difficult or obscure words.

2               Summary. A condensation of the scene showing how the plot is developing.

3               Commentary. A detailed literary commentary on the text.



It is suggested that you start by working one scene at a time (A,B,C etc.) working closely with the text. If you would like a synopsis of the plot, then read A2, B2, C2 etc.. This should familiarise you with the play, after which you should attend to the commentary sections (A3, B3, C3 etc.).







Cloistress  nun
E'er    ever
Element   the outside world
Eye offending brine tears, salt water
Fell wicked
Golden shaft Cupid's golden arrow causes love. His leaden one brings hate.
Hart  stag like animal; popular as object of hunting
Liver/heart/brain the liver used to be considered the location of passion, the brain of thought, the heart of love.
One self king one and the same master (viz. Orsino himself)
O'er   over


Quick   lively
Season keep fresh (In Shakespeare's time, foodstuffs were preserved with salt)
Soe'r  whatsoever
Strain fragment of music
Surfeiting   eating too much
'Tis  it is









Count Orsino is in a gloomy mood as he is sick with love for Olivia. His servant Curio tries to cheer him up and offers to take him hunting, but Orsino still pines for Olivia. Valentine enters with news. He says that Olivia has sworn to remain indoors, out of sight of the world for seven years, in memory of her brother who has recently died. Although Orsino is disappointed he tries to cheer himself up by reflecting that a woman who can love a brother so much, will love him, Orsino, all the more when she does eventually fall for him.








Note that some editors interchange scene 2 with scene 1. This is because in scene 2 , Orsino is mentioned by the sea captain and given a full introduction and description. It would therefore seem sensible to give these facts to the audience before introducing Orsino on stage. However, this scene makes a better introduction to the play as its imagery gives us a complete introduction to the essentials of the play. In the Folio edition (see appendix B) this scene is placed first.


Note the imagery of hunting made more poignant by the pun on the word "hart". The play is all about lovers 'hunting' the objects of their affection. Orsino pursues Olivia, Olivia pursues Viola, Viola Orsino and Malvolio Olivia. In each case, as love is not returned, the affair takes on the aspect of a hunt.


Also observe the imagery of death in 'sicken and so die', 'dying fall' and 'brother's dead love'. This prepares us for the constant references to death in the play. Olivia's brother is dead, Viola and Sebastian are each thought to be dead and there are also other references throughout the play particularly the death imagery in Act II scene 4 and the song 'Come Away Death'.


Note the imagery of the sea in 'receiveth as the sea'. There are various references within the play to the sea being all consuming. In particular having supposedly swallowed up Viola and Sebastian and in Act II scene 4, where Orsino declares that his love is 'all as hungry as the sea'.


This scene shows Orsino in his changeable moods. He is depressed at the beginning of the scene (note the imagery of 'sicken and so die') and elated at the end (love thoughts lie rich). This behaviour is typical of his mood swings later in the play. In particular refer to Act II scene 4 where Feste describes his mind as 'a very opal', suggests a doublet of changeable taffeta' and declares that men of such constancy 'should take to the sea'.







Arion     A character in Roman mythology who charmed a dolphin with his music and was able to ride on its back.
Abjur'd                       sworn to keep away from
And though that…pollution   it often happens, that people who are evil look innocent
Compass                                         achieve
Eunuch                             a young manservant
Elysium where the souls of the dead go: A pagan heaven
Hap    happen
Haply                                  conveniently
Hold acquaintance with the waves
Illyria country in the Balkans: now called Croatia
I prithee                                  I ask you
Made mine own occasion mellow    waited until my own sorrow had become less painful.
Murmur                                 rumour


by chance/ by a piece of luck

Provident in peril                  

Prattle       gossip
Shape….wit   do not tell anyone about this plan








Viola and a ship's captain have landed on the shore of Illyria after having been shipwrecked. Viola thinks that her brother has been drowned in the wreck but the captain tries to comfort her by saying that he may have survived. The captain tells viola that the country is ruled by Duke Orsino who is trying to charm Olivia, a lady who has sworn to keep away from men, in mourning for her late brother. Viola resolves to become a servant to Orsino. She asks the captain to get her some men's clothing so that she can disguise herself and become a manservant to Orsino. _____________________________________







This scene serves to introduce the character of Viola and to supply information on the background to the plot. Although the greater part of the scene is given over to recounting background facts, two major themes are evident.


Note that Viola presents the captain with gold. The theme of gifts (gold, jewels, coins etc.) runs through the play. Olivia presents a pearl to Sebastian( IV/3), Orsino sends a jewel to Olivia(II/4), Olivia claims to have received a ring from Viola(I/5), Sebastian receives Antonio's purse (III/3) and Feste continually receives coins from the other characters.


Also observe the theme of disguise and of not appearing as one rally is. Note particularly how Viola states "a beauteous wall doth oft close in pollution". Compare this with Antonio's remarks on Viola (III/4) "Thou hast done good feature shame" i.e. looks good on the outside but is bad inside. Disguise and misrepresentation run through the play. Viola is disguised as a man, Feste disguises himself as Sir Topaz (IV/2), Olivia throws a veil over her face (I/5), Sir Toby misrepresents the fighting abilities of Viola and Sir Andrew, and most importantly, Malvolio appears completely out of character in yellow stockings, cross gartered.









Allay                        lessen
Viol-de-gamboys  musical instrument: something like a modern day cello
Fie shame


Ducat gold coin
Any's                       any man that is
Wooer a man who courts a woman
Confine "Confine" has two meanings: "stay within" and "dress up". Maria here means the former. Sir Toby mischievously takes the latter meaning.
Plague                         what a pity it is
Care                                worry
O'   of
Cousin/ niece   "cousin" here  means relative. "Cousin" can be substituted for niece.
Ill hours coming home late
Except, before excepted  I would rather she took exception to me than I had to take exception to her.
They be not     if there are not
Gust  liking
By this hand  a mild oath. He promises on his 'hand' that it is true.
Substractors a malapropism for detractors
Coistrel a low person who looks after horses
O' th' toe go round and round
Parish top  a top was a child's toy which span at speed. A parish top was one maintained for the use of villagers.
Wench  girl
Castiliano vulgo  an exclamation: the meaning is obscure
Shrew a bad tempered woman
Accost greet courteously
Undo bring you to disaster
Board confront
Front confront
By my troth a mild oath. "upon my word" or similar.
Fare you well goodbye
Marry mild swear word. Literally the Virgin Mary.
Buttery bar literally a bar or ledge where beer tankards are placed. But Maria refers to her breasts.
Wherefore what do you mean
Metaphor  joke


are in need of
Canary sweet wine somewhat like modern day sherry. From the Canary Isles.
Christian in this context  "any other Christian".
Eater of beef   in Tudor times beef was supposed to dull the brain
No question without doubt
Forswear give it up
Porqoui Why? (French)
Bestowed given (i.e. spent some time)


foreign languages
Bear-baiting a popular Tudor sport where a bear is chained to a stake and taunted
Hadst thou  you would have had
Mended  put right
Past question of course
Seest can see
Flax on a distaff flax on a spinning wheel


an exclamation
She'll none of me  she won't have anything to do with me
Match above her degree marry a man of higher status
Estate, years or wit wealth, age or intelligence
Tut     meaningless exclamation
Lif in't  where there's life there's hope
Masques plays
Revels dances
Kiskshawses a type of dance
Galliard a lively dance
Cut a Caper perform a quick dancing step
Cut the mutton    caper also means a sauce served with mutton--(Sir Toby's little joke)
Back trick  a backwards dancing step
Gifts talents
Curtain before 'em    covered up
Take dust  get dusty by being left unused
Mistress Mall's picture sadly there is no reliable explanation of who was 'Mistress Mall'
Coranto a quick dance
Sink-a-pace  a five step dance: from the French "cinque paces"
Is this a world to hide virtues in? Do not conceal your talents in this cold-blooded world.
Stock stocking
Taurus  Astrological sign of the Bull. Each sign of the Zodiac was supposed to govern a part of the body. Taurus governed the feet.








Sir Toby Belch is Olivia's uncle and a guest at her house. Maria, Olivia's maid, rebukes him for his drunkenness and his habit of coming home late. Sir Andrew Ague cheek is one of Sir Toby's drunken cronies. Maria plays a trick on him and he is bemused. Sir Toby has brought Sir Andrew to Olivia's house for him to court Olivia but Sir Andrew says that Olivia will have nothing to do with him and he will go home. Sir Toby persuades him to stay a while longer.










This scene introduces us to the characters of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Maria's interaction with Sir Toby tells us all we need to know of their pesonalities and prepares the audience for what follows in later scenes. i.e. Sir Toby keeps "ill hours" (III/3), his continual quaffing and drinking (I/5, II/3). Also Sir Andrew is "a fool and a prodigal".(note how he is made a fool of by Maria I/3 and by Sir Toby III/2 and III/4). We find out that Sir Andrew has "the gift of a coward" (see III/4 and IV/1) and is "drunk nightly" with Sir Toby (see Malvolio's discourse in II/5).


The scene also introduces the theme of a lover trying unsuccessfully to develop his courtship. This comic scene is indicative of the theme which runs through the play. Note how Sir Andrew is encouraged to "accost Maria, how he is beguiled by her, how he is duped and finally abandoned.









In man’s attire dressed as a man
Humour                          fickleness
Call in question query
Continuance permanence
Love liking for
Inconstant fickle
On your attendance I am ready
Stand you a while aloof leave us alone for a while
Know'st know
Unclasp'd revealed
Address thy gait get over to
Audience an interview
Abandon'd given up to
Clamorous uproarious
Leap all civil bounds forget normal politeness
Unprofited return come aback with nothing
Discourse a lecture
Faith true intentions
Become....... woes you are the best person to present my case
Nuncio messenger
Grave aspect looking more mature and serious
Belie misrepresent
Diana Roman Goddess known for her beauty
Small pipe shrill voice
As the maiden's organ like a girl's voice
Semblative seeming like
Constellation destiny
Apt well fitted
Four and five attend him four or five of you  go with him
Live as freely enjoy the master's property as if it were your own
Barfull strife an unpleasant task
Myself would be his wife I want to marry him myself








Viola, now dressed as a man, is working for Orsino. She is using the name Cesario. Orsino is to use her as a messenger to Olivia. Orsino tells Viola to go and press his case with Olivia and be persistant, even to the point of rudeness. Orsino says that Viola is perfect for the part as he (she) is so young and looks like a woman (little knowing the truth). When she is about to set on her way, Viola confesses (to the audience and not to anybody else) that she has fallen in love with Orsino.











It seems that Orsino is already in love with Viola although he does not propose to her or even realise that she is a woman until V/1. Orsino praise her female beauty as in ‘Diana’s lip’ ‘smooth and rubios’. His references to his love for Olivia in ‘passion’ and ‘dear faith’ are interspersed with imagery of sadness as in ‘woes’ and ‘abandoned to sorrow’. It is clear that Orsino is in love but is pursuing the wrong woman.


Note the imagery of the open book in ‘unclasped to thee the book even of my secret soul’. (In Tudor England, books could be locked). It would seem that Viola has fallen for Orsino because she can ‘read’ him.











Clown                   jester/funnyman

Hang thee     kill you (an exageration)

Fear no colours       fear no enemy

Make that good        explain that

Lenten answer   a weak reply (Lent is a time of fasting)

In the wars….your foolery  you might well mention war because you are now at war with the mistress

God give….talents   Let God give more wisdom to those who already have it . Fools can look after themselves with cunning.

Turned away     fired and put out of the house.

Let summer bear it out     it won't be so bad on the streets in summer.

Gaskins     trousers (the two points are belt and braces).

Piece of Eve's flesh   a woman (Eve was the first woman[Genesis]).

Peace            be quiet

You were best       you had better

Wit, and't be thy will   [Wit here is personified] Oh Wit, would you please

Put me into good fooling     let me do well in my comic routine

Quinapalus           a philosopher invented by Feste

Go to           go away

Dry       boring

I'll no more of you    I don't want you around any more

Botcher       a clothing mender

Syllogism              philosophical proof

As there is flower       Feste rambles nonsense

Misprision          misunderstanding

Cucculus non fecit monacham    Latin   the habit does not make the monk.  I.e. just because someone is dressed in a certain way does not mean that he is that person.

Motley   patchwork clothing worn by jesters

I wear not motley in my brain     I am not a fool in my head.

Dexteriously         very well indeed

Catechise             cross examine

Good my mouse of virtue      a Tudor expresssion: dear sweet lady

For want of other idleness    as I have nothing else to do

Why mourn'st thou?   What are you grieving for?

Mend                         improve

Shall do…….shake him     he will keep getting better until he dies

Infirmity      loss of mental capacity

I marvel           I am surprised

Minister occasion to him     set up his jokes for him

Zanies       fool's stooges

Sick of            ill with

Distempered                 infected

Bird bolts         shot for shooting birds

Canon-bullets     canon balls

No slander in an allowed fool     a jester has special permission to be disrespectful

Rail                            rant

Reprove           reprimand

Mercury  a Roman god known for lying

Endure thee with leasing    give you a long life

Fair    good looking

Who of my people?   Which one of my servants?

Hold him in delay   is dealing with him

Fetch him off       get him away

Madman        madman's talk

Fie on him        damm him

Jove        Roman god, oldest and wisest of the gods

Pia mater       membrane of the brain

A plague o'      curse

How now        helllo

Sot            drunkard

How have…..lethargy?    Why are you drunk so early in the day?

Lethargy          idleness

Lechary          lust

There's one           there is a person

Marry        exclamation   "Virgin Mary"

What is he?        What sort of person?

Let…….all one    I don't care if he's the Devil

One draught above heat     one drink too many

Mads      makes him mad

Crowner        coroner. Official who investigates unusual deaths

Sit o'     make a judgement on

Coz     cousin

Yond    that (short for yonder)

Sheriff's post    a wooden stake outside the sheriff's office where notices were posted

Personage and years     type and age

Squash/peascod    unripe peapod/ripe peapod

Codling       unripe apple

In standing water       in between

Well favoured     good looking

Shrewishly        shrilly

Your will?    What do you want?

Loath     unwilling

Penned        well written

Pains     trouble

Con                       learn by heart

Sustain              undergo

Compatible          sensitive

Sinister usage     mockery

Comedian              actor

I am not that I play    I am not the same person as the character I am playing

From my commission    I am digressing from my mission

Have reason     are sane

Time of moon      phase of the moon.  The lunar cycle was associated with madness

Skipping        frolicking

Hoist sail        depart. As a sailing ship

Swabber     seaman (continuing the nautical analogy)

To hull            to stay (again nautical)

Mollification        appeasement

Giant       sarcastic: Maria is a short person (see  Act III scene 2 where Sir Toby calls her 'the youngest wren of nine")

Tell me your mind    tell me what you think

Fearful            terrible

Overture          declaration

Olive                olive-branch (a symbol of peace)

Entertainment              reception here

Maidenhead               virginity

Divinity               a religious discourse

Profanation                blasphemy

Give us the place alone      (to the servants) go away and leave us alone.

Comfortable doctrine    comforting text

Chapter                    part

In the first            firstly

Out of your text       departing from your speech

I was this present        I was just now

Well done       good looking

If God did all     if God made it (i.e. if it is not done with cosmetics)

In grain        ingrained (i.e. natural)

Blent                  blended

Cunning                       clever

She                          female

If you will………to copy    die before you have a daughter to inherit your beauty

Divers                      many

Labelled to my will       added to my will as a codicil

To proud…..the devil    Lucifer( the devil) fell from heaven because of his pride

Recompens'd       receive its due

Nonpareil                 unequalled

Thunder                   bellow out

Of great estate         very rich

In voices well divulg'd well spoken of

Free                         generous

In dimensions…..nature  well built

In my master's flame     with the same intensity as my master

What would you?   What would you do?

Willow cabin       a workman's hut. The willow is a symbol of sorrow

Cantons                 songs

Contested                thwarted

Haloo                 holler

Reverberate              echoing

Parentage     background: social class

Above my fortunes yet my estate is well          although I have no money, I am of good class

Perchance                 perhaps

Spend this for me  she gives him a tip

Fee'd post        delivery boy who is grateful for tips

Love make….love   I hope that the man you fall in love with is as heartless to you as you are to my master

Fair cruelty  beautiful yet cruel woman

Five fold blaze    show off in five ways

Soft! soft!         Wait a minute

Even so…..plague    can you catch the plague as quickly as you fall in love?

Methinks       I believe

Methinks…..mine eyes    this young man's charm has overpowered me

Peevish        tiresome

County          the count

Hie thee         get on with it

I do…..what        I don't know what I'm doing

Mine eye…..mind  my eye has deceived my brain

Ourselves we do not owe         none of us have control over our emotions







Feste, the jester, is Olivia's servant. He is scolded by Maria for being away without permission and told that Olivia is angry with him and may well fire him and put him out of the house. Feste hopes that he can amuse Olivia and get back in her favour. Olivia enters with her steward Malvolio. Feste performs a comic routine which amuses Olivia but Malvolio is unimpressed. Malvolio makes some nasty comments about Feste. Olivia is told that there is a young man from Orsino's court who wishes to speak to her and that he was met at the gate by Sir Toby. Sir Toby comes in drunk and tells Olivia that she has a visitor. He is so drunk that he can't remember who it is. Olivia sends Malvolio to say that the visitor is a very young man and very persistant in wanting to speak to Olivia.


Olivia says she will see the visitor but first puts a veil over her face. Viola enters, dressed as a man. Viola tries to deliver a speech which she has written and practiced but Olivia and Maria keep interupting and teasing her so that she cannot finish. Viola asks Olivia to unveil herself and then forgets her speech and gives genuine praise to Olivia's beauty. Viola speaks of Orsino's love but Olivia says she is not interested. Olivia asks Viola to leave and tells her she may be asked to come again. After Viola has gone, Olivia confesses to the audience (but nobody else) that she has fallen in love with Viola. She sends Malvolio to follow Viola and return a ring which she says that viola thrust upon her.


N.B.  Feste is usually referred to as 'the clown' or 'the fool' or is addressed by some other name. His actual name is Feste but this is mentioned only once in the text (Act II scene 4). For the sake of consistency we will call him 'Feste' throughout the Critique.








First part of the scene (up to line 140)


This section deals with the theme of foolishness. The main character is Feste who interacts with each of the other characters to demonstrate their foolishness. Although Feste himself is 'an allowed fool' he shows himself to be shrewder than the others. This can be seen in the quotes "I wear not motley in my brain" i.e. I am not a fool in my mind, only in my exterior. Also "better a witty fool than a follish wit". I.e. better to be a good clown than a foolish serious person.


Feste proves that Olivia is a fool for weeping for her late brother who assuredly is in heaven. (Note in Act I scene 1, she promised to keep away from men for seven years and 'water once a day her chamber round with eye-offending brine')


Feste shows Malvolio's foolishness in lacking humour. He is 'sick of self love' in not laughing at 'an allowed fool'. His 'foolish wit' is shown in his caustic comment 'infirmity that decays the wise doth ever make him the greater fool'. Note that when in Act V scene 1, Feste confesses to have conspired against Malvolio, he gives as his reason the fact that Malvolio called him a 'barren rascel'


Finally the extremity in foolishness is demonstrated by the entrance of the pathetic drunkard, Sir Toby, who is described by Feste as a madman. Notice how the theme of madness reappears later in the play. Sebastian describes the people around him as mad (Act IV scene 1) and also he thinks that Olivia may be mad. Sebastian himself is called a madman when he attacks Sir Andrew. Later in Act I scene 5, Olivia accuses Viola of being mad. Most importantly of all, Malvolio is pronounced mad by all, even those who know him to be sane.


Second part of the scene(from line141)


The second part of the scene begins with confusion as to who is the lady to be addressed. (notice how important this is when Orsino's emotions of the previous scene are considered.) The theme of confusion and disguise emphasise Viola's disguise as a man: 'I swear that I am not that I play'. There is also a theme of rudeness in 'saucy at my gate' and learned from my entertainment'. The theme changes abruptly when Olivia removes her veil and reveals her face as 'beauty truly blent'. From now on the scene continues in blank verse [appendix A] and the theme becomes more agreeable. Note the imagery of cleanliness in 'noble', 'virtuous', 'stainless' and of fire in 'thunder love', 'sighs of fire', 'my master's flame'. The scene reaches a climax when Olivia resigns to her fate in the last four lines of the scene which are poignantly written in rhyming verse.










Stars shine darkly over me     my horoscope predicts bad fortune

Malignancy of my fate          my bad fortune

Distemper                              infect

Crave                                      ask

Whither                                   where

Sooth      exclamation [literally 'by God's truth']

Determinate voyage        travel plans

Extravagancy                             waste of time

But I……express myself     you haven't asked me but I'll tell you anyway

Which I called Rodrigo     I pretended to be called Rodrigo

Messaline     a city invented by Shakespeare

He left behind him              he died leaving

If the heavens had been pleased …ended               If only God had let us die together

Before…drowned      my sister drowned before you rescued me

Alas the day       Oh what a fateful day

Was yet… fair    many people said she was very beautiful. I wouldn't go that far but she was fairly good looking and was quite clever.

Again with more       with more salt water i.e. tears

Bad entertainment     my poor company

Near the manners of my mother     like a woman, about to weep








Antonio is talking to Sebastian. From the conversation we find out that Antonio, a sailor, has rescued Sebastian from a shipwreck. Sebastian is Viola's twin brother. They look very much alike but Sebastian thinks that Viola was drowned in the shipwreck. Sebastian is on his way to see Orsino. Antonio says that although he has many enemies at Orsino's court, he will go with Sebastian because he likes him so much.







There is 'dramatic irony' [Appendix] in that Sebastian believes that Viola is dead while the audience know differently. Sebastian's belief that Viola is truly dead is communicated in the sombre imagery in 'stars shine darkly', 'malignant fate' and 'bear my evils'. Notice also the imagery of weeping in 'salt water' and 'mine eyes will tell tales of me'.








At several doors               from different sides of the stage

Ev'n now                           just now

On a moderate pace        walking slowly

If it be worth stooping for      Malvolio throws the ring on the ground

My outside have not charmed her     my disguise has not made her fall in love with me

Made good view of me   kept staring at me

In starts distractedly   as if she were not paying attention

Disguise              Viola personifies disguise and speaks to him

Pregnant enemy                  the devil

Proper false          good looking but lying men

Waxen hearts                      pliable emotions

To set their forms           impress themselves

Our frailty                        women's weakness

Fadge                               turn out

Fond                                 dote

As I am a man      in my man's disguise

My state is desperate for my master's love  I am striving in my master's cause

What thriftless…breathe     poor Olivia doesn't stand a chance

Oh Time     Time is personified








Malvolio catches up with Viola. He rudely tells her to take the ring. As Viola refuses to take it, he throws it to the ground and leaves. Viola thinks about the situation and then realises that Olivia has fallen in love with her.







The ring is, of course, symbolic of marriage. The exchange between Viola and Malvolio encapsulates the theme of courtship with the ring being offered, refused, repeatedly offered and cast aside. 'peevishly threw it at her' is representative of both Orsino's and Malvolio's pursuit of Olivia.


Notice that when Viola speaks alone, the text changes from prose to blank verse while certain poignant themes of the play are discussed. Note in particular how 'Disguise' is personified and called 'a wickedness' and how the effects of disguise are summed up in 'were better love a dream'. Notice how women's frailty is blamed for the mishaps of the play., particularly in the alliteration of 'women's waxen hearts'. There is a certain irony here as it is the male characters Orsino, Sir Andrew and particularly Malvolio who are the ones deceived.






Approach                             come in

Abed                                     in bed

Betimes                                early

Dilucio surgere                   Latin 'It is healthy to get up early'

By my troth                         truly

Four elements                     earth, air, fire and water. In Greek philosophy, everything in life.

Stoup                                    jug

My hearts                              my friends

Picture of 'we three'            an inn sign showing two asses. The third is the viewer. [a Tudor joke]

Catch                                     song

Breast                                   voice

Forty shillings                     £2 Sterling--in today's terms, about $400

Leg                                   ability to dance

Gracious fooling              very funny

Pigrometes                        one of Feste's invented persons

Equinoctial                       equator

Quebus       another invented person

Sixpence       a coin. In today's terms about $5

Leman                  girlfriend (i.e. to spend on your girlfriend)

Hads't it?                  Did you get it?

I…..gratility            I did pocket your gratuity (Feste is drunk and slurs)

Malvolio's nose…..hours      meaningless ramble

Testril                           sixpence (see above)

Good life                         a drinking song

Melifluous                       melodious

Contagious                    infectious

To hear……contagion     if we listened with our noses, we would call it sweet smelling

Welkin                                            sky

Three souls out of one weaver    weavers were reputed to sing at their work. Therefore to sing as loud as three weavers.

Dog at                              good at

By'r lady             mild oath. By the Virgin Mary

Some dogs will catch well some dogs sing as well as you (a joke).

Hold thy peace                   be quiet

My lady…….ramsey         rambling nonsense

Consanguineous           blood relation

Beshrew me           a mild oath

Coziers                           workmen

Sneck up                       go hang yourself

Be round                    be candid

Harbours             lets him stay at her house

Nothing allied            cannot put up with

Art thou more than a steward?     You are only a servant

Cakes and ale      delicacies served on holy days (disliked by Puritans)

Ginger         cakes were covered in ginger. If there were no cakes , the ginger on its own would burn your mouth (joke).

Rub your chain with crumbs    go and claen your chain (stewards wore a chain as a sign of office)

Means for uncivil rule   Malvolio tells Maria that if he serves any more drink, he will report her.

Much out of quiet                 disturbed

Gull                                         trick

Nayword         byword (i.e. a byword for a fool)

Common recreation    laughing stock

Posses us            let us into the secret

Time pleaser             time server

Cons state without book  learns by heart wise sayings

Utters it by great swarths    uses these sayings profusely

The best….love him  and he thinks that people think him clever

And on that….to work    and I will work my revenge around this fault

Epistles                  letters

Feelingly personated    he will think that it is him that is written about

Physic                  medicine

Construction              interpretation

Penthesilia    Queen of the Amosons, a legenderary tribe of fierce women

A foul way out        wasted a lot of money

Cut      term of abuse(see Act II scene 5). Cunt

Burn some sack      drink some sherry








Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste have come home late. They are all drunk and make a lot of noise, shouting and singing. Maria comes in and tells them to be quiet and that Olivia has told Malvolio to come and speak to them. Malvolio enters and rudely rebukes them for their noise and drunkenness. Sir Toby is angry at being spoken to in this way by a steward. Sir Andrew, Feste and Maria are also annoyed by Malvolio's rudeness to them. Maria forms a plot to get revenge. She will leave a letter for Malvolio, supposedly from Olivia saying that Olivia takes Malvolio for a great man and is in love with him. They all agree to this plot.











The theme of the scene is chaos and disorder. It begins with Sir Toby's joke that to stay up late is 'to be up betimes', a masterpiece of contradiction. The 'four elements' that control an ordered life are replaced by 'eating and drinking'. Feste's malapropisms and mispronunciations add to the confusion which culminates in his ridiculous, yet undeniable assertion that 'I shall never begin if I hold my peace'. In the middle of this chaos is a love song which highlights the play's central theme of confusion within courtship.


The chaos leads up to Malvolio's entrance where the status of masters and servants is reversed. Malvolio's acting like a master prompts Sir Toby to ask 'are you more than a steward?' Malvolio's arrogance is characterised by saying "are you mad?", which is particularly poignant later, when the roles are righted, Sir Toby imprisons Malvolio as a madman. Malvolio's acting above his status is caused by his yearning to be 'Count Malvolio' as we see later when Malvolio berates Sir Toby in his daydream.(Act II scene 5).


The plot to gain revenge and put the roles back in order depends on the recurring theme of deceit and disguise. Maria's 'hand' is to be disguised as Olivia's while Malvolio is to see himself 'feelingly personated'.









Antic                                    antique

Recollected terms              laboriously constructed modern music

Unstaid                                unsteady

In all motions else save  in everything except

My life upon't                      I would bet my life

Some favour                        some face

Of your complexion            looks like you

What years?                         How old?

An elder than herselfa man older than herself

Wears she to him   adapts herself to his ways

Sways she level                  a young wife retains her beauty longer

Our fancies…than women  men are more fickle in their choice of partners than women

Hold the bent                        stand the strain

Spinsters and knitters women who spin wool

Free                                       carefree

Silly sooth                     Venerable and simple

Old age                                   Golden Age

Prithee             please (I pray thee)

Cypress                  a coffin of cypress wood

Fie away                        go away

No one so true        no one was such a true lover as I

Melancholy god                Saturn

Doublet                      garment worn in Tudor times. Like trousers that finish above the knee. Made of silk.

Changeable taffeta silk woven with different colours of warp and weft making it change colour in the light.

Opal                    gemstone which changes colour in the light

Such constancy            subject to moodswings like you

Put to sea             become seafarers (i.e. their moodswings match the sea's changeability)

Sovereign cruelty      queen of cruelty

More noble than the world     is better than anywhere in the world

Prizes not…lands      is not interested in the land she owns

The parts upon her       the wealth she possesses

Lightly                            unsubstantial

Miracle and queen of gems    her good looks

Pranks                               adorns

Sooth                                      truly

There is no woman's sides      a woman cannot love as strongly as a man

Lack retention          do not hold too much

No motion….palate    not felt in the heart (the liver was the throne of love  see Act I scene 1)

That suffers            the taste gets jaded

Can digest as much        can swallow as much as the see can

Make no compare            do not compare

Too well                           very well

My father……      my sister loved a man

As it might…woman     just like me, if I were a woman

She never told her love   never told the man she loved him

But let concealment       but allowed the hiding of her love

Damask       silky

Green and yellow melancholy   sicknes that makes the skin look a bad colour

Patience on a monument   like a statue of the virtue 'Patience'

Smiling at grief          trying to look cheerful

Our shows     our outward appearance

For still we prove  we say a lot but do nothing

I am all the daughters    I am the only child

That's the throne    that's the way to do it







[Remember: Orsino thinks Viola is a man]


Orsino is speaking to Viola about the power of love. He asks Viola if she has ever been in love. Viola says that she once loved a woman who was the same age as Orsino and looked quite like him. Feste is called in to sing a mournful song. Before Feste leaves, he comments that Orsino has a temperamental character. Orsino tells Viola that a man's love is fare greater than a woman's can be and that his love for Olivia is particularly strong. Viola tells Orsino of a sister who had so strong a love for a man that she pined almost to death. Orsino sends Viola to Olivia again.








Despite the fact that Orsino believes Viola to be a man, the couple are here portrayed as lovers. The interaction between the two is shown by their lines joining together in the verse form as for example:--


Orsino. 'Hath it not, boy?

Viola                               A little by your favour'


Orsino. 'Than women's are

Viola                                    I think it well, my lord'


Having two characters share a line of iambic pentameter is a particular Shakesperian teqnique to show the togetherness of a couple.


We know that the two come together in Act IV but for now, the progress of their love is blocked. This is shown by the intermingling of the imagery of death and disease with that of jewellery and precious things. Death imagery is shown in 'worm I' th' bud', 'green and yellow melancholy' but particularly in Feste's song with 'shroud', 'coffin' etc. For imagery of valued items see 'opel', 'jewel', 'damask' and 'fair flower'. Notice how the two forms cojoin in the oxymorans [Apendix] 'sweet pangs' and 'smiling at grief'.


The disaray is caused by the contrasting atitudes to love. Orsino is impatient, eager to make progress and considers his love insatiable and insurmountable as in 'mine is all as hungry as the sea'. Note how this attitude is highlighted in two rhyming  couplets:--


'Our shows are more than will: for still we prove

Much in our vows, but little in our love'


'To her in haste; give her this jewel; say

My love can give no place, bid no delay'


Viola's attitude is over-cautious as shown in 'sat like patience on a monument' and 'never told her love'.


The two contrasting attitudes and the consequent disarray make a didactic [Appendix] point that courtship must be pursued neither over zealously nor over cautiously. Remember that in Elizabethan England, arranged marriages were on the decline and there was a tendency for young people to be allowed to choose their own partners.









Come thy ways                   come along

Scruple                                very small portion

Niggardly                             mean

Sheep biter                          miserable person

Bear-baiting                        Cruel sport (see also Act I scene 3)

We'll have the bear again    we'll make him the bear

Metal of India                       gold (as the sun rising in the East)

Practicing behaviour          practicing mannerisms

Contemplative idiot           bewildered fool

Trout tickling                      trout can be caught by a poacher tickling their underside

Overweaning                      above himself

Jets                                      struts

'Slight                             an oath (God's light)

Yeoman                               a commoner

Yeoman of the wardrobe   man who looks after a lady's clothes

Jezabel                                 a haughty woman (Old Testament: Book of Kings)

Stone bow                            catapult

Humour of state                 taste of business

Demure travel of regard     inspection of those present

Courtesies                             bows

scab                                      insulting term

Gin                                        bird trap

Spirit…to him                       let his erratic behaviour lead him to read it aloud

C.U.T.              spells out cut (nowadays 'cunt')

                                        pee (short for piss)

Contempt of question         without doubt

By your leave, wax           Malvolio speaks to the wax seal and then breaks it

Lucrece                         a sealing ring  bearing the insignia of the sender of the letter

Brock                     a badger: insulting term

Gore                                     bring out blood

Fustian                                  overblown

Staniel                                    kestel (insulting)

Checks                                    flies

Sowter                                     cobler

O shall end                     'O' being a noose for Malvolio to be hanged

Detractions                       slanders and libels

Revolve                             think deeply

Thy fates open their hands    your lucky stars make you a good offer

Inure                               familiarise

Slough                            humility

Opposite                         argumentative

Tang                                speak of

Trick of singularity     your own style of dress

Champaign                 clear open countryside

Politic                               refined

Point…device                   to the letter

The very man    the one described in the letter

Sophy                               emperor

Tay-trip                        game played with dice

Aqua vita                           strong liquor

Tartar                         Tartary: the Greek hell









Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria and Fabian are about to play a trick on Malvolio. Maria drops a letter in Malvolio's path while the men hide behind a box tree to watch the fun. Malvolio is talking to himself. He imagines himself as being married to Olivia and taking on the responsibilities of a count. In his daydream, he imagines rebuking Sir Toby for his drunkenness and calling Sir Andrew a fool. The men watching from behind the tree are furious. Malvolio finds the letter. He recognises the handwriting as Olivia's although in fact Maria has written it. He reads out the letter. It says that Olivia loves him and that if he feels the same about her, he is to give her a sign by dressing in yellow stockings, cross gartered. He is also to smile a lot, to be dismissive to Sir Toby and stand aloof from other servants. He leaves vowing to follow the instructions in the letter. The men laugh uproariously at Malvolio's foolishness. Maria returns and explains that Olivia detests the fashion of cross gartering and hates the colour yellow. The men cannot wait to see what will happen.








We see Malvolio being set up for his humiliation in act III scene 4. We have already seen his obnoxious behaviour in Act II scene 3, where he was 'more than a steward'. Now he goes further. It is important that he is allowed to construct his own ridiculous image, so that the audience can see what a loathesome character he is. Malvolio appears (so he thinks) solo strutting around ('practicing behaviour to his own shadow'). This gives the audience empathy with Sir Toby and his cronies who are observers of the scene. Malvolio is further humbled by the comic comments of the other characters and their ribald language i.e. 'Cut (cunt) and P (piss)' note the two key phrases in this scene. Sir Toby's 'overweaning rogue' pinpoints Malvolio's misdeeds and 'I know my place as I would they know theirs' which shows that he is ignorant of his fault.









Save thee         Hello (short for God save you)

Tabor                                  small drum

Live by                           make you living by (Feste deliberately misinterprets)

Churchman                             clergyman

Chev'ril                                    soft goatskin

Nicely                                      finely/precisely

Wanton                                   promiscuous

Warrent                                   grant

Car'st for             cares for (i.e. worries about)

Late                                         recently

Orb                                          world

Pass upon                               make a fool of

Commodity                             shipment

Aside               speaks directly to the audience

Lord Pandarus…Troilus      Pandarus was a go-between for the lovers Troilus and Cressida.

Conster                                     explain

Welkin                                         sky

Craves                                        demands

Haggard                                   wild hawk

Dieu vous garde, monsieur       God save you, sir [French].

Et vous aussi: votre serviteur    and you too, I am your servant.

List                                        destination

Taste                                     try out

Pregnant                       sympathetic/ receptive

Vouchsafed                             selected

Twas never merry world         the world has become a bad place

Feigning                                   lying

His thoughts..                           I wish he thought of nothing rather than think of me

Whet                                         sharpen

Solicit                                        ask for

Music from the spheres         heavenly music

Hard construction                 stern judgement

Cunning                                      trick

None of yours                       not your property

At the stake                                 at stake

Cypress                                      veneer

A degree to                                 a kind of

Grize                                         tiny part

The poor                                  pitiful ones

When wit and youth…harvest  when you come to maturity                                       

You'll nothing                          are you sure you won't say something?

Oh what…noon             love cannot hide itself

Maugre                            despite

Do not extort           don't ask the reason why








Viola goes once again to Olivia's house. Outside the house, shee meets Feste who amuses her with his jokes. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew invite Viola into the house. Viola meets with Olivia in the garden and speaks alone with her. Olivia tells Viola that she is in love with her. Viola says that she cannot return Olivia's love and leaves her. Olivia begs her to come again.









The first part of the scene is a comic episode between Viola and Feste. Underlying this banter is the theme of words being unreliable and false. Note the expressions 'words are wanton', 'grown so false' and 'corrupter of words'. The theme of falsehood continues in the allusion to the beard:-- 'though I would not have it grow on my  chin', where Viola contradicts herself in mid sentence. Note the exaggerated speech where several characters in turn purport to be the other's servant and also the embellished language of 'rain odours', 'pregnant' and 'vouchsafed'. The scene climaxes (lines 148 to end) in a sudden reversal of the theme. The truth is told when Olivia confesses her love and Viola is obliged to reject it. Notice the imagery of integrity in the words 'maidenhead', 'honour', 'truth', 'innocence' etc. but most importantly, these lines are poignantly brought to the audience's attention by the rhyming couplets.







Venom                                  poison  (jokingly)

Argument                             evidence

Grand-jurymen                    judges

Dormouse                            timid

Jests                                     witticisms

Fire new                                newly made

Banged                                 confused

Double gilt                            twice golden (i.e. golden opportunity)

Sailed into the north           gone far away

Laudable                               praiseworthy

Policy                                    diplomacy

Brownist                               Puritan

Curst                                     impolite

Licence of ink                       when writing, you can think about what you are saying more freely than when you are speaking.

Thous't                                  to address him as thou (an insult when addressed to a person you do not know very well)

Bed of Ware      a famous large bedstead

Goose pen                   quill pen--a pun on goose (cowardly)

Cubiculo                               room

Manikin                                 puppet

Two thousand strong          has cost him two thousand

Wainropes                 ropes used to pull a cart

Hale                                       pull

Presage                                 indication

Wren                                      small bird (a reference to Maria's stature)

Spleen                                    laughter

Renagado                        traitor to his religion

Villainously                            horribly

Pedant                                poor school master

New map of the Indies      Tudor map of the East Indies, covered with lines like wrinkles                                       

Forbear                                   stop myself








Sir Andrew wants to go home because Olivia is taking no notice of him. Sir Toby plans to play a trick on him. Sir Toby persuades Sir Andrew that Olivia is flirting with Viola (Cesario) in order to make him jealous. Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew to write a letter to Viola challenging her (him) to a duel. Maria comes and tells sir Toby that Malvolio is looking like a fool smiling furiously and dressed in yellow stockings. They rush off to see what will happen. 








This brief scene examines the isssue of characters being duped. Sir Andrew utters the words 'will you make an ass of me?' and is promptly victimised by Sir Toby. This leads up to the point where it is announced that 'yond gull Malvolio' has fallen for the deception perpetrated in Act II scene 5. Notice how the suckers are victims of their own emotions. We see the imagery of internal body parts, 'liver', 'heart', 'spleen' and 'anatomy'. These organs are mentioned in Act I scene 1 'liver, brain and heart, these sovereign thrones' as the seat of emotions but notice how 'brain' is missing in this scene!







By my will                           willingly

Chide                                   rebuke

Stay behind          remain while you moved on

Not all love to see you        not only because I wanted to see you

Uncurrent pay                      useless reward

Were my worth                     if I were richer, I could treat you better

Relics                                    tourist sites

Renown this city            make the city famous

I did some service              I did a deed that became so noted

Ta'en                                      taken: captured

Scarce be answered I would have no defence

Slew                                  the outside world

Cloistress                             killed

Albeit                                     although

Quality and time of quarrel   the nature of the dispute

Answer'd in repaying      compensation given

For traffic's sake  for the sake of good trading relations

Lapsed                           captured

Elephant                         name of an inn

Bespeak our diet           order our dinner

There shalt                     you will find me there (at the Elephant)

Why I your purse?        Why am I to carry your money?

Haply                              perhaps

Your eyes shall light     you will see

Toy                                  souvenir

Store                               cash you have

Idle markets                spontaneous purchase








Antonio catches up with Sebastian outside the gates of a city. He explains that he is so fond of Sebastian that he wants to travel along with him. Sebastian agrees to this but Antonio explains that he cannot go into the city as he might be recognised and captured by Orsino's troops. He tells Sebastian to look around the city alone while he will go to an Inn, the Elephant, and order rooms and a meal. He gives Sebastian his money in case he needs to by a souvenir and they arrange to meet later at the Elephant.








In this scene we find the theme of loyalty and devotion. Antonio is drawn to follow Sebastian but is not able to provide a compelling reason. Note the metalic imagery:-- 'more sharp than filed steel, did spur' as opposed to the human body organs so evident in previous scenes. This supports the language of inhospitability as in 'rough', inhospitable' and 'danger'. In addition there is the story of the sea battle in which Antonio was in Orsino's words (Act V scene 1) a notable pirate, salt water thief'.


This contrast between devotion and danger is interspersed with rhetoric of repayment in 'answer'd in repaying' and 'shalt pay dear'. Repayment is a recurring   theme in the play as for example Feste's prophesy 'pleasure will be paid' (Act II scene 4) and 'the whirlygig of time brings in his revenges' (Act V scene 1). When finally Antonio lends his purse, the audience is prepared for Viola (Antonio thinks Sebastian) in Act III scene 4.







Feast him                   shall I offer him a meal?

What bestow of him?   what shall I give him?

Youth is bought  young people can be bribed

Manner                           mood

Sure possessed            without doubt mad

Tainted in his wits     his brain has gone awry

Sad and merry madness      to be mad with grief is the same as to be mad and happy

Obstruction in the blood    pins and needles

Shall be executed               will be obeyed

Roman hand                        Italic writing

Nightingales answer daws only nightingales speak to jackdaws (daws) i.e. (to Maria) don't speak to me, I'm of a higher class.

Midsummer Madness    madness at its height

I could hardly                 It was difficult to

Miscarry            die or become permanently ill

Limed                               trapped

Scruple                             tiny part

Drawn in little   painted on a miniature portrait

Legion              the devil and all his followers

Private                          privacy

Defy the devil               renounce the devil

Do you know               You don't know what you are talking about

His water                       a sample of urine

Wise woman      woman who can undo a spell

Bawcock                       my good man

Chuck/ biddy                terms of endearment

For gravity                    a wise judgement

Cherry pit   a children's game i.e. to be friends

Collier                     coalman. The devil is traditionally black as coal.

Minx                               cheeky girl

Element                         social class

You shall….hereafter   you will find out in due course

Genius                             soul

Take air and taint           become public knowledge and spoil

Mad indeed                     truly mad

To the bar                       to the open court

More matter for a May morning    more material for sport

On the windy side          on the right side (seafaring metaphor)

By and by                        soon

Bum-baily                        sheriff's man (delivering writs by stealth)

Draw                              draw the sword

Comes to pass off        often happens

Twanged off                  delivered

Approbation                  repute

Clodpole                        country fool. Lirerally earth-head

Cockatrice                     legendary serpents who killed with looks

Unchary                         lavishly

Potent                            strong, powerful

Havior                            behavior

Goes on my master's griefs    my master feels the same way

Jewel                  bejewelled miniature portrait

What…give                  I'll give you anything apart from my chastity

Nothing but this  I don't want anything except

Acquit                           release

That defence                whatever weapon you have, get it at once

Interceptor                    opponent

Attends thee                 is waiting for you

Dismount thy tuck       draw your sword

Yare                               quick

Betake you to your guard         look to your defence

Opposite                       opponent

Unhatched rapier         unused sword

Carpet consideration   non military matter

Incencement                 rage

Hob nob                        like it or not

Conduct                        protection

Quirk                             character

Competant                    real

Undertake                     make a deal

Meddle                          fight

Forswear to wear iron   give up wearing a sword. Not be a real man

Do me this courteous office     help me out

As to know of              find out

Something of my negligence       something I have forgotten to do

Mortal arbitrement      fight to the death

Wonderful promise     great reputation

Form                             appearance

Bound                          obliged/ grateful

Go with sir priest        my friends are quiet people (like priests)

Mettle                            strength of character

Firago                           warrior

Pass                         quick round of sword play

Stuck in                        strike

Pox on't                        curse it

Make the motion          go to him

Perdition of souls        loss of life

Is as horribly conceited  has a fearful notion

For oath's sake        because he has sworn to

Better bethought him    had second thoughts

Draw for the supportance          Draw for form's sake

By the duello                by the rules of combat

Undertaker                    one who takes up the cause of others

Officers                        Count Orsino's men (some what like the police)

Anon                             soon

At the suit                    in the name of

Favour                          face

Be of comfort              cheer up

Lean and lower ability   the little money I have

Division of my present      half the cash I have with me

Deserts to you         what I deserve from you

Lack persuasion          leave you unmoved

Tempt                           taunt

Unsound                      shabby

Upbraid                        denounce

Image                           appearance

Done good feature shame           discredited your look of innocence

Beauteous evil    good looking but evil people

O'er flourished            painted over i.e. the devil gives them good looks.

So do not I      I'm tempted to believe it myself

Imagination                  Imagination is personified [Appendix]

Whisper…saws           we will talk more sense than these people

Living in my glass       he is the mirror image of me

Still in this fashion      dressed like this

Paltry                            worthless

More a coward than a hare      more cowardly than a hare

Religious in it        as if he practised regularly    









Olivia is expecting a visit from Viola (Cesario). She plans to impress him with a formal dignified meeting. She sends for Malvolio to be with her as he has a serious nature. Malvolio enters smiling and dressed absurdly in yellow stockings. He drops hints that he has received the letter that he thinks Olivia has written. After a comic scene of banter and misunderstandings, Olivia decides that Malvolio is mad and asks for Sir Toby to look after him until he comes to his senses. She goes off to meet Viola.


Sir Toby and Maria pretend that they think Malvolio is mad and take him away to lock him in a dark room. Sir Andrew enters. He has written a silly letter to viola, threatening her (him) and provoking a duel. Sir Toby tells Sir Andrew that he will deliver the letter for him but plans to deliver the message verbally and frighten Viola by saying that Sir Andrew is a fearsome fighter. Viola takes her leave of Olivia who begs her to come again the next day. As viola leaves, Sir Toby confronts her saying that the fearsome Sir Andrew is angry and wants to fight a duel with her. Viola is frightened. Toby leaves her with Fabian and goes to Sir Andrew. He tells Sir Andrew that Viola is a great fighter and Sir Andrew is sure to lose the duel. Sir Andrew is frightened and begs Sir Toby to ask Viola for mercy and he will give his horse as a present. Sir Toby says he will intercede and plans to keep the horse for himself. Sir Toby tells each contestant that the other wants a quick duel for honour's sake but promises not to kill. The two trembling contestants draw their swords and face each other. Antonio enters and sees viola who he thinks is her twin brother Sebastian. He draws his sword and swears to defend Viola/ Cesario /Sebastian. Sir Toby draws his sword and offers to fight but the officers enter and arrest Antonio.


As Antonio is under arrest, he asks viola for his money back. Viola does not know what he is talking about. Antonio curses viola who he calls Sebastian as an ungrateful wretch and is led away by the officers. Viola, being addressed as Sebastian, realises that her brother may be alive. Sir Toby finds himself alone with Sir Andrew and tells him that Viola is an ungrateful person and therefor must be a coward. He tells Sir Andrew to go and punch Viola and then follows him to see what will happen.








We see three characters in turn, Malvolio, Sir Andrew and Viola, brought down by the mischievous Sir Toby. Note the different imagery associated with each character. With Malvolio, it is hellish with 'devil', 'fiend', 'Legion' etc. (also see act IV scene 2 commentary P3).


When Sir Andrew appears, the imagery is foolishness as in 'senseless', 'clodpole' etc.


In Viola's case, we hear of conflict in 'brawl', 'pangs of death', 'indignation' etc. Amidst all this imagery of iniquity, there is a brief scene between Viola and Olivia in which the constant theme of love being offered and rejected occurs once more. Note how this piece poignantly ends with the rhyming couplet concerning the devil.


The scene is completed by a fracas in which all the above evils are mentioned. The most poignant lines, concerning ingratitude, an intense theme of the play, goes to Viola:--

'I hate ingratitude more in a man

Than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness

Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption

Inhabits our frail blood.'









Go to                                go away

Held out                           persisted

Vent thy folly                   practice your jokes

Lubber                             big awkward person

Cockney                           milksop

Greek                               joker

Tarry                                 stay

Worse payment                something worse than money (i.e. a punch)

Go another way to work  find another way

Action of battery             sue for assault

Let go thy hand               (to Sir Toby) do you want to fight?

Malapert                           impudent

Hold                                  stop

Rudesby                           brute

Extent against thy peace     attack on you

Thou shalt not choose   you have no choice

Beshrew                           curse

Relish         taste (i.e. what I am experiencing)

Lethe               legendary river of forgetfulness








Feste meets Sebastian who he thinks is Viola/ Cesario. He tells Sebastian that Olivia wants to see him. Sebastian thinks that Feste is an idiot. He gives him some money and tells him to go away or he will hit him. Sir Andrew enters, sees Sebastian, who he thinks is Viola/ Cesario and punches him. Sebastian punches him back and proceeds to beat him up. Feste runs off to tell Olivia. Sir Toby draws his sword and threatens Sebastian who draws and faces sir Toby. Olivia enters, rebukes Sir Toby as a ruffian and tells him to clear off. She too thinks that Sebastian/ Cesario. She apologises for Sir toby's behaviour and invites Sebastian to come to her house with her. Sebastian willingly agrees.








In this brief scene we see the theme of mistaken identity intermingled with violence which abruptly changes to recognition combined with love. Notice that when Feste mistakes Sebastian for Viola/ Cesario, he is threatened with a cuff. Sir Andrew, making the same mistake, comes to blows with Sebastian and Sir Toby, too draws swords with Sebastian.


The theme abruptly changes when Olivia enters with the lines 'Out of my sight' and 'Rudesby, be gone' thereby expelling disorder from the scene. The non-recognition continues but the two remaining characters are portrayed as lovers as shown by the rhyming couplets of the last eight lines and the shared final line. 


Compare this scene with Act II scene 4 and note the comments in I3 on the contrast between choosing partners and arranged marriages.







Sir Topas                             Tudor priests had the title 'sir' as did knights.

Dissemble                           lie hypocritically

Student                                clergyman

Good housekeeper         man who lives well

Bonos dies                       Good day (Spanish)

King Gondobuc another of Feste's characters

To him                                 go to him

Knave                               confidence trickster

Hyperbolic                           exagerated

Never was man thus wronged     never was there a man so badly done to

Fie                                        shame on you

Barricados                           barricades (i.e. not transparent)

Clerestories                         row of windows high in the wall of a church

South north                         an obvious contradiction. Feste is rambling

Obstruction                        impediment to light

Errest                                   makes a mistake

Egyptians in their fog        the plague of darkness which befell the Egyptians in the Old Testement

Make the trial of it               test it out

Pythagoras                         Greek philosopher

Concerning wildfowl          doctrine of reincarnation

Grandam                             grandmother

Allow thee of thy wits        certify you sane

For all waters                      can perform all kinds of tricks

Go to him in thine own voice        go to him as yourself

Knavery                               trickery

Delivered                             released

I would                                 I wish

As ever…at my hand     if you would like a reward    

How fell you….wits?     how did you come to lose your senses?

Propertied                        treat me like an object or commodity

Face me out of my wits  drive me out of my mind

Advise you                       be careful

Endeavour thyself           try to

Bibble babble                  senseless prattle

Maintain no words          do not enter into conversation

Shent                                rebuked

Well-a-day                        if only

Advantage                        profit

Counterfeit                       pretend

Requite                             pay back













Maria and Feste go to taunt Malvolio who is locked away in a darkened room. Maria gives Feste a clergyman's gown for him to go to Malvolio disguised as the priest Sir Topaz. Feste speaks to Malvolio from outside the room, in a disguised voice, asking him questions to test whether he is truly mad. Although Malvolio pleads that he is sane and answers all the questions rationally, Feste declares him mad and leaves him in despair. Sir Toby now declares that he is tired of this amusement and tells Feste to go to Malvolio as himself and try to find a way to have him released. When Feste goes again, Malvolio begs him to bring pen, paper, ink and a candle so that he can write a letter to Olivia. He promises Feste a large reward. Feste says he will do it and return presently.








Here we find Malvolio at his nadir which is caused, as we know, by his improper pursuit of Olivia. The scene is controlled by the disembling priest, Sir Topaz (Feste). Note how priests are supposed by Feste to lie (I wish I were the first that ever disembled in this gown.) and that Feste disguises himself although it is apparent  that Malvolio cannot see him. The scene is full of hellish imagery in 'fiend' 'Satan', 'devil', 'hell' and the false doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Interspersed with this is the imagery of madness in 'no better in your wits than a fool' and darkness  as in 'ignorance were as dark as hell'. Most importantly in the middle of this imagery there is the song of misplaced love (My lady is unkind … she loves another) in which the devil appears in the final lines.







There he was                  he was lodging there

Credit                              information

Soul disputes….serve   my heart and head are in agreement

Discourse                        thinking about it

Wrangle                           argue

Trust                                conclusion

Sway                                control

Take and give back affairs  conduct business

Deceivable                      deceptive

Chantry                    chapel or part of a church

Plight                               promise

Conceal it                        not tell anybody

Whiles you are willing…bind         until you are ready for our marriage to be publicised









Sebastian is bemused by his kind treatment by Olivia. He realises that she is in love with him but he cannot think why. He is also perplexed as Antonio did not meet him as arranged at the Elephant. Olivia enters with a priest. She asks Sebastian to come with her to the chapel and marry him. Sebastian willingly agrees.








In direct contrast with the previous scene (see commentary P3), we have heavenly imagery in 'sun', 'pearl', 'golden', 'fortune', 'consecrated'  and 'heavens so shine'. The theme of madness is present but it is not malign as in 'error but no madness'. Also there is a priest who 'dissembles' ('he shall conceal it') but not with evil intent. The difference between this scene and the previous one, with its hellish imagery, is that here true love has blossomed while before false love has come to grief.







As thou lovest me   if you are a friend of mine

Grant me another request     do something for me

Give a dog…dog again  to give and take away again

Trappings                        servants

Make it another              give me another coin

Grace                                common sense

In you pocket                  out of sight

Primo, secundo, tertio   first second and third [Latin]

The third pays for all proverb: third time lucky

Triplex                             triple time (music)

Bells of St Bennet          church bells ringing in threes

At this throw                   on this occasion

Bounty                             generosity

Lullaby                            let it take a short nap

Vulcan                      Roman god: a blacksmith

Baubling                          trivial

Unprisable                       not worth capturing

Scathfull                          harmful

Grapple                            fighting

Bottom                             vessel

Envy and tongue of loss    his enemies (i.e. those least likely to speak well of him)

What's the matter?         what is going on?

Fraught                            cargo

Candy                              Candia in Crete

Desperate of shame and state       carelessly undisguised

Brabble                            brawl

Drew on my side             drew his sword to defend me

Put strange speech on me      spoke to me in a strange way

Distraction                       madness

Base and ground            on good grounds

Wrack                               broken wreck

Retention                         holding back

Pure for his love             only on his account

Not meaning…..danger  not wanting to share danger with me

Face….acquaintance        pretend he did not know me

A twenty years removed thing    as if it had been something that had happened twenty years ago

While one would wish  the time taken to wish

Interring not  a minute's vacancy     not a moment

Anon                                later

You did not keep promise with me     what are you doing with Orsino, now that you are married to me?

Good my lord                  asking Orsino to be quiet while Cesario speaks

My master hushes me    my master wants to speak so I must be quiet

Aught to the old tune     the same old story

Fat and fulsome              boring and hateful

Uncivil                              impolite

Ingrate                             ungrateful

Unauspicious                  unwelcoming

Egyptian chief                 a fabled robber who killed his lover when facing death

Instrument                       mechanism

Screws                             deprives

Live you                           I will let you live

Minion                              cherished one

Tender                             hold

In his master's spite       to the annoyance of his master

Jocund                            cheerfully

If I do feign                       If I am lying now may heaven strike me dead

Ay me detested               Alas, I am hated

Beguiled                          deceived

Sirrah          form of address used to a servant

Baseness                         cowardliness

Propriety                         honesty

Take thy fortunes up    acknowledge the truth

Be that                             be the person you are and then you are a match for anybody

I charge thee by thy reverence      I put you on oath by your holy office

Though lately                  the thing that we meant to keep secret but now has to be told before the proper time

Mutual joinder                 joining together

Attested                           sworn to

Holy close of lips            spoken vows

Compact                          contract

Sealed                              performed by me

Dissembling                    lying

Sowed a grizzle        made your hair turn grey

Or will not                        or perhaps your skill will improve so much

That thine own trip         that you will outreach yourself and be overthrown

Hold little faith           keep at least a little faith

A surgeon                        a doctor

Coxcomb                         head

Your help                         help us

I would rather..                I would give forty pounds ($8,000) to be at home

Incardinate                      Sir Andrew's mistake. He means incarnate: in human form

Od's lifelings                  a curse (by god's life)

Bespake you fair            was polite to you

Halting                             limping

Been in drink                   been drunk

Tickled the othergates   done the opposite

Sot                  drunkard (talking to Sir Andrew)

His eyes… he's been drunk since the morning

Passed measures pavin   one who goes dancing (i.e. an idler)

Dressed                           bandaged

Brother of my blood       my own brother

I must have  I could not have done less safely

Throw a strange regard  look strangely

Habit                                 suit of clothes

A natural perspective     like a mirror

How have the hours       I have been miserable

Fears't thou that?        Do you not know that?

Cleft                                 sliced

More twin                         more alike

Do I stand thee?           Is that me over there?

Deity of nature                like a god to be in two places at once

Of charity                        please help me

What countryman?         What country do you come from?

So suited to his watery tomb    dressed like that to his death at sea

Spirits                              ghosts

A spirit..       I am a ghost but have a body too

Were you                         If I were a woman and everything else the same

That record…                  that memory is vivid

Finished indeed              died

If nothing lets                  the only thing stopping us being happy

Usurped                           stolen

Till each….                      Until I look like Viola

Confirm                           prove

Weeds                              clothes

Preserved                        saved

All the occurences         everything that has happened

You have been mistook        have made a mistake

But nature                       nature has worked on your mistake

Betrothed                    engaged to be married

The glass seems true    what seemed to be a mirror trick has proved true

I shall have share           I will benefit from

Shoulds't                         would

Like to me                  as much as you love me

Over swear                      swear again

Orbed continent              sun

Severs                             divides

Action                              court action

In durance                       kept in custody

Suit                                  petition

Follower                           servant

Enlarge                            release

Distract                            mad

Exacting frenzy               a madness which took all other matters from my mind

Belzebub                         the devil

Epistle                             letter

Skills                                matters

Delivers                           acts the part of

Vox                             imitating another's voice [Feste is reading the letter in a 'mad' voice]

Perpend                           stop speaking

Give ear                           listen

Semblance                      disguise/ unusual style of dress i.e. the yellow stockings)

Delivered                         released

Think me well a sister    value me as a sister in law

One day shall crown      get married on the same day

At my proper cost           I will pay for it

Apt                                   willing

Quits                                releases

Mettle                               character

Your hand                       your handwriting

Write from it                   write in another way

Invention                         style

Geck                                fool

Invention                         trick

Taint the condition of     spoil the moment

Wondered at                    marvelled at

Device                              trick

Upon some….parts        because he was stubborn and rude to us

Importance                      urging

How with a sporting malice     the events that followed the marriage (i.e. being beaten by Sebastian) are sufficient punishment

Baffled                             bemused

I was one in this interlude   I played a part in the trick

Whirlygig                         spinning top

Golden time convents    the time is right

For so….man                  I have to call you Cesario while you are dressed as a man

Wife                                  get married

Swaggering                     bullying

Toss-pots                        drunkards (i.e. like other drunkards)







Malvolio has given Feste a letter for Olivia. Fabian wants to see it but Feste will not let him. Orsino and Viola arrive. Feste performs a comic routine for Orsino. Orsino tells him to go and fetch Olivia. The officers bring Antonio before Orsino. Orsino recognises Antonio as an enemy sailor who did great damage to his navy in battle. Antonio admits the fact but pleads that as he was taking part in a just war, his action was not a crime. He recognises viola, who he thinks is Sebastian. He tells Orsino how he rescued Sebastian from the sea and was later treacherously abandoned by him. Orsino says that this is nonsense because Viola has been with him for the last three months. Olivia enters and tells Orsino vigorously that she wants nothing to do with him. Orsino realises that she has fallen in love with Viola/ Cesario and will get his revenge on Olivia by depriving her of her loved one. Viola readily agrees with this. Olivia is aghast that Viola (who she thinks is Sebastian) wants to go with Orsino. She brings in the priest who testifies that they were married two hours ago. Orsino is outraged at this treachery. Sir toby and Sir Andrew enter and say that Sebastian, (who they think is Viola/ Cesario) has beaten them up. Viola denies this. Olivia orders her servants to take Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to the doctor. Sebastian enters and apologises to Olivia for beating her uncle but says he was attacked first. Everybody is amazed when Sebastian and Viola are together as they look so much alike. Sebastian and Viola are reunited and Viola admits that she is a woman. Orsino is amazed and, now realising that Viola is a woman, wants to marry her. Viola agrees. Feste enters with Malvolio's letter and Fabian reads it out. Olivia is angry at the trick that has been played on Malvolio. She sends for him and explains the truth. Fabian announces that Sir Toby has run off with Maria and married her. Malvolio storms off in a rage swearing revenge. Orsino and Viola leave to get married. All the others follow them except Feste who remains to sing a final comic song.








In the final scene, the denouement (Appendix), all the strands of the play are drawn together and all the themes and imagery of the play (madness, love, disguise and misconception etc etc.) are restated.


We see madness in 'my friends tell me I am an ass', 'much distract', 'he holds Belzebub at the stave's end', 'I do but read madness' and, of course, in Sir Toby's drunken behaviour.


There is love in 'now heaven walks on earth', 'the lamb that I do love' and in the rapport between Sebastian and Olivia and between Orsino and Viola.


Disguise and misapprehension are present in 'double dealer', 'masculine usurped atire', 'how I am beguiled' and 'disembling cub'.


Note particularly the oxymoran (Appendix) 'happy wreck' which sums up the play. The play starts with a wreck, continues with disorder and now culminates in a happy but confused conclusion with three marriages and gratification for all except Malvolio whose final exit line 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you' threatens that the stability and orderliness now achieved must be safely guarded, lest chaos starts again.


Look carefully at the final song which sums up the play. i.e.


When I was a tiny boy, a foolish thing was but a toy      A naïve person believes he can get anything he wants


When I came to man's estate, against thieves men shut their gates      As you get wiser you realise that you have to work for  what you want and then look after it.


When I came alas to wive, by swaggering could I never thrive      You cannot get a wife by arrogant behaviour.


With toss pots still had drunken heads      drinking too much is no good.


A great while ago the world begun, But that's all one, our play is done      this play sums up what life is all about!!!

Links to other essays
 American Beauty   the movie.
Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar
John Milton Lycidas
Brian Friel Translations
Shakespeare Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V
Shakespeare Henry VI and Richard III
DrydenAbsolem and Achitophel and other works
Virginia WoolfThe Use of Symbolism
Sir Walter Scott Heart of Midlothian and Waverly
Keats and Shelly Adonais and other works
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice and Emma