Shakespeare in the Park Production at Delacorte Theater. Anne Hathaway and Raúl Esparza.

Summary of Twelfth NightEdit

Globe On Screen Twelfth Night clip-0

Globe On Screen Twelfth Night clip-0

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's comedies about an unusual love triangle. This play takes place in the fictional land of Illyria and begins with Duke Orsino proclaiming his love for the countess, Olivia, who refuses his advances, and the advances of all men, until her seven-year mourning for her dead brother is finished.

Meanwhile, one of the main characters, Viola, is cast ashore to Illyria after she gets in a shipwreck. Believing her twin brother, Sebastian, to be dead, Viola decides to dress as a man and work for Duke Orsino under the alias, "Cesario." She soon gains favor with the duke and he asks her to woo Olivia in his place, and Viola reluctantly agrees as she has fallen in love with Duke Orsino. To make matters more complicated, Olivia falls in love with "Cesario" when he/she brings Olivia the Duke's message of his love.

The subplot of this play is a trick that Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby, and her servants play on Olivia's steward Malvolio, who is an ambitious and intolerable man. They write a love letter to Malvolio claiming to be from Olivia, asking him to wear foolish clothes and act strangely in order to win her affections. Malvolio follows these instructions perfectly, acting so ridiculous that Olivia believes him to be mad, so the conspirators of this joke continue to treat him as a mad man.

Back to the main plot of Twelfth Night, Sebastian has in fact survived the shipwreck, with the help of a sea captain named Antonio, and together they travel to Illyria. Confusion abounds as Viola and Sebastian are continually mistaken for each other, with the result of Sebastian marrying Olivia and the duke believing that Viola has betrayed him. This confusion is soon resolved when Viola and Sebastian reunite and "Cesario" reveals that she's actually a woman. Viola and Duke Orsino get married at the end of the play, the trick on Malvolio is revealed, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Still a Good ComedyEdit

Even though Twelfth Night was written over 400 years ago, many of its comedic aspects are still funny today. In fact, many of our modern movies have the same premise as Twelfth Night does, with a man dressing as a woman or a woman dressing as a man to accomplish some goal. These movies include Mrs. Doubtfire, White Chicks, Mulan, and even She's The Man, which is a modernized version of Twelfth Night. The comedic situations in She's The Man are very similar to the situations that arise in Twelfth Night, so despite the fact that it's been modernized, She's The Man is a great adaptation of Shakespeare's play.

Like Twelfth Night, She's The Man is about a girl, Viola, who dresses as a man at Illyria. While it's not clear why Viola in the play dresses as a man (though it's assumed that she does so for a job with Orsino and her own independence), it's perfectly clear why Viola does this in the modernized movie: to prove that girls are just as good at soccer as boys are. When her girl's soccer team is cut from her school, Viola goes to Illyria, a competing school, impersonating her brother Sebastian, so she can get on the boy's soccer team and beat her formal schoolmates. Just like in Twelfth Night, Viola in She's The Man gets herself into awkward situations because she's dressed as a man, like not fitting in with the other guys in Illyria because "he" is weird, having Olivia fall in love with her because "he's the sensitive type" and falling in love with her roommate, Duke, because she gets to know him in an intimate way as Sebastian. The tagline of She's The Man shows the same complex, and hilarious, relationships that are found in the play it's based off of: "Everybody has a secret... Duke wants Olivia who likes Sebastian who is really Viola whose brother is dating Monique so she hates Olivia who's with Duke to make Sebastian jealous who is really Viola who's crushing on Duke who thinks she's a guy..." [1].

She's The Man stays true to many of the aspects of the original play, and its modernization makes sure that the audience understands the comedy that's found in Twelfth Night. All of the hilarious situations that happen because someone is pretending to be the opposite sex is just as funny today as it was in Shakespeare's time. So don't be intimidated by the fact that Twelfth Night is an Elizabethan play, because it has aged well and can still be enjoyed today.

She's The Man - Trailer

She's The Man - Trailer

Twelfth Night's RelevanceEdit

Besides still being a good comedy, some of the themes of Twelfth Night are still relevant today, particularly the theme that woman have to appear as men to find success in the world. The only reason that Viola gained so much success with Duke Orsino was because she was pretending to be Cesario and she wouldn't have even gotten her position in the first place if it was known that she was a woman. Although progress towards gender equality has increased much in the last couple of decades, sexism is still prevalent in our society today.

Sexism is still a problem in our country today. Women still earn less than men do, getting paid, "77 cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes, according to a recent study from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. That's a difference of more than $10,000 per year on average." Women also have to work harder than men to get paid more, on average have lower paying jobs, and have to face stereotypes at work. Such stereotypes include: "They don't need more money because they're not the primary breadwinners, they can't do certain jobs that are considered 'men's work,' their supposed to act a certain type of feminine in the workplace, they're not committed to their jobs because their the primary caregivers to their kids."[2]

Sexism is not only found in the workplace, but in day to day life as well. BuzzFeed has collected 19 Examples of Everyday Sexism on their site. These examples include, "Medical student, told by a professor that I would cause my future husband 'serious headaches' as I ask too many questions," "Being told, 'I should have been born a man' because I understand and like technology," and, "Whenever my husband and I cash checks at our bank, the male tellers always make a big show of handing ME the money and saying things like, 'We'll just save you the trouble..' to my husband."[ ]

The premise of She's the Man, the modernized movie of Twelfth Night also shows the sexist stereotypes women today have to overcome. In this movie, Viola dresses as her brother Sebastian to prove to her former coach and ex-boyfriend that she's just as good of a soccer player as the boys. When the girl's soccer team gets cut at her school, she pretends to be her brother at the school Illyria Academy while he's away in London. As Sebastian, Viola tries out for the soccer team and, despite many obstacles, she makes the team and proves to everyone that gender doesn't matter when it comes to sports. She's The Man shows that sexist beliefs still cause problems for women today and that they sometimes have to take drastic actions to expel those myths.

Another relevant theme which Twelfth Night explores is, of course, love. Like many other stories, both past and present, Twelfth Night asks the questions humans have been asking themselves since the beginning: "What is love?" "How should I love?" and "Who should I love?" These questions are asked an answered through Duke Orsinio's, Viola's, and Olivia's love triangle in the play.

At the beginning of the play, Orsino has fallen "in love" with Olivia but it's clear from the beginning that it is a very shallow sort of love. Orsino says that "O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,/Methought she purged the air of pestilence!" (1.1.20-21) and this description of his feeling shows that Orsino is merely infatuated with Olivia because of her pretty face and, perhaps, her high social status. Olivia points out to Viola/Cesario the shallowness of Orsino's love when she describes her beauty satirically, the way Orsino does: "I will give/out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be/inventoried, and every particle and utensil labeled to/my will:- as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two/grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one/chin, and so forth," (1.5.246-251). In fact, Orsino and Olivia don't interact at all in the play until the end, when she announces her marriage to Sebastian who she believes is Cesario. While Olivia and Duke Orsino have no interaction in Twelfth Night, he frequently interacts with Viola/Cesario, which is why they get married in the end.

As Cesario, the duke and Viola get to know and trust each other, and that is why they fall in love. Unlike Olivia, who he barely knew, Orsino got to know Viola/Cesario quite well and favored her immediately, so much so that he poured out his soul to him/her: "Cesario,/Thou knowst no less but all. I have unclasped/To thee the book even of my secret soul," (1.4.12-14). As a result, Viola falls in love with Orsino because she truly got to know him through their close relationship. When the duke sent Viola to woo Olivia for him, Olivia falls in love with Viola's love after her famous willow cabin speech in Act 1 Scene 5. When Viola finally reveals herself at the end of the play, Orsino realizes Viola's true love for him that she hinted at throughout the play: "Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times/Thou never shouldst love woman like to me," (5.1.283-285). This close bond that Orsino felt for Cesario turned into love when Viola revealed her true identity and as a result, they got married at the end of Twelfth Night.

Even though this play was written over 400 years ago, it is still relevant because the characters are just as human as we are today. Like us, they struggled with understanding love and Twelfth Night should be read because it shows that true love is formed by trust and action, not through a pretty face. For a visual depiction of the relationships between characters found in Twelfth Night, click on this link: [3].

Viola and the Countess - Frederick Richard Pickersgill

"Viola and the Countess" by Fredrick Richard Pickersgill

Understanding ShakespeareEdit

Even with a basic knowledge of the plot, Twelfth Night, and other works by this famous writer, Shakespeare can still be difficult to read. The website, gives great advice on how to better understand Shakespeare's plays and his other works. Here are their five tips on How to Study Shakespeare:

"1. Read a great plot synopsis.

2. Find an annotated copy of the work you would like to read.

3. Get comfortable and read once through the play.

4. Rent, buy, or borrow from your local library the BBC production of the play.

5. It is time to read the play again."[4]

Some more advice is to read through each sentence slowly and thoroughly to better understand what is trying to be said. Once you take the time you need to read Shakespeare, you may be surprised by how much you understand.

You can also watch BBC's show, Shakespeare Uncovered, which gives more information about Twelfth Night and Shakespeare himself at this link: [5]. This series analyzes some of Shakespeare's most famous plays in each episode, so if you're interested, you can watch the other episodes on this site as well.



Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.