Twelfth Night Summary and Analysis
Act V Summary:
Fabian asks Feste for the letter Malvolio has written; Feste refuses this request, and then Orsino, with Viola, finds them. Feste delays him with a bit of jesting, and gets some money out of him; Orsino asks him to find Olivia, and Feste goes to find her, with the promise of money for the task. Viola points out Antonio, who is being brought to them by officers; Orsino remembers Antonio from a sea-battle, and Viola tries to defend Antonio from charges of crime by noting his kindness to her. Antonio claims that he rescued Viola from drowning, and that they have been in each other's company ever since; Orsino says that this is nonsense, since Viola has been serving him the whole time.
Then, Olivia approaches them, still denying Orsino's love, while admitting her affection for Viola. Orsino becomes angry at Viola, rather than Olivia, because of these developments; he begins to suspect Viola of double-dealings, and out of his anger, he admits his love for Viola, still disguised as a boy. Viola, for the first time, declares her love for Orsino, much to Olivia's consternation; Olivia counters this declaration by divulging that she was married, to Viola as Cesario, she thinks. A priest confirms Olivia's account, and Orsino becomes even more angry at Viola. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby enter, charging Viola with fighting them and injuring them; Viola is again shocked, and confused.
Suddenly, Sebastian dashes in, apologizing for injuring Sir Toby; he expresses his happiness at seeing Antonio again, and acknowledges Olivia as his wife. Viola and Sebastian see each other again, and there is a joyful reunion. Sebastian reveals to Olivia that she married him, rather than his sister in disguise; Orsino swears that he loves Viola, and will marry her.
Then, the action turns to Malvolio's condition; his letter is read, and his condition explained. Malvolio is upset at his mistreatment, and Olivia attempts to smooth things over; Fabian explains his, Sir Toby's, and Maria's part in Malvolio's torment. Then, Feste inflames Malvolio's anger, and he leaves, in a huff.
Orsino pronounces that happiness will stay with all of them, and that his marriage to Viola will soon be performed. Feste closes the play with a song about "the wind and the rain," a reminder that even great happiness is not safe from life's storms.
Act V Analysis:
Feste and Fabian finally meet in Act V; before this, Fabian served as a kind of mid-action replacement for the vanished Feste, although he was less wise and witty than Feste, and of lesser entertainment value in the proceedings. Fabian's learning, unlike Feste's, is not fabricated, however; Fabian makes an allusion to a well-known anecdote about Queen Elizabeth with his "to give a dog, and in recompense desire my dog again," that proves he knows something about happenings that are contemporary to the play (V.i.5-6). The story he refers to was published shortly before the play was finished, and was about a man who gave his dog to Queen Elizabeth per her request, and then asked to have it back.
Feste's behavior to Orsino at the beginning of this scene reveals that Feste has still not forgiven Orsino for dismissing him after his song to Orsino and Viola. Orsino addresses Feste and Fabian as "friends"a term that, considering Orsino's much higher station, is condescending in tone. Not even the Count is free from Feste's goading; Feste immediately sets upon him with the paradoxical premise that his well-being is "the better for [his] foes and the worse for [his] friends" (V.i.10-1). The explanation, which is somewhat facetious in its tone and intent, shows how expectations are sometimes thwarted, and how things can be the opposite of the way one expects.
Feste's great cheekiness, in hustling Orsino for money just as he did to Viola at an earlier point, shows the great contrast between the lives of the two men, who are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Feste must live on these handouts that he squeezes out of people; Orsino has enough money to last his whole life, and is able to engage many people into his service. There is also a contrast between Feste's sharp and sometimes biting wit, and Orsino's more placid, plain-dealing nature, which has been further brought out by his relationship with Viola.
Orsino, at last freed from the love-sickness that has weighed him down throughout the play, shows himself to be more fierce and experienced than he has previously appeared. His recollections of the sea-battle against Antonio show him as a man of action, a military leader with influence outside the narrow sphere of his household. He speaks with great force of remembering Antonio "besmeared as black as Vulcan in the smoke of war" (l. 47); the simile makes Antonio seem sinister again, and raises questions about the duality hinted at in Antonio's nature. The metaphorical relation inherent in the statement, between Antonio and Vulcan, the rough blacksmith of the gods, points toward something more brutal and warlike in Antonio as well.
Orsino's angry, impassioned statement identifying Orsino also foreshadows his even more passionate, and unforeseen, rise to anger against Viola. When Olivia admits her love for Cesario, Orsino immediately suspects Cesario of betrayal, and turns ferocious on his confidante; "I'll sacrifice the lamb that I love," he says of Viola, even when she professes her love for him once again (V.i.126). What is also interesting about this situation is that Orsino finally admits that he loves his pagethough Viola is still Cesario, and has not yet been revealed as a womanand that his affections lie more with "Cesario" than with Olivia. Viola too admits her love for Orsino, which is greater "than e'er [Cesario] shall love wife" (l. 132); this introduces the issue of homosexuality, since Orsino is passionately in love with Viola, thinking she is "Cesario," a boy, and Viola is in love with Orsino, without anyone else knowing that Viola is a woman. These declarations are not treated like they are unusual however, or scandalous; perhaps the quick progression of the action prevents the characters and the audience from dwelling on the issue. This reversal of feelings on Orsino's part makes the conclusion, of Orsino's proposal to Viola after she is revealed, much more natural; Orsino has already given up on Olivia, so he has no hindrances in the end to marrying Viola.
The issue of time surfaces again in this act; Antonio says that Sebastian has been in his company for three months, despite the fact that they landed in Illyria only earlier that day, which he also admits. Orsino echoes this time discrepancy, claiming that Viola has been in his service for three months previous as well. The play appears to take place over a very short span of time, with Viola landing immediately after the wreck, and going immediately into Orsino's service; the three month span appears highly unlikely, and may have just been included to reinforce how the relationships between Sebastian and Antonio and between Orsino and Viola have become close in a very short period of time.
The great amount of dramatic irony in this scene is used skillfully to add tension to Olivia's revelation about her marriage, and of the reunion of the twins as well. The audience is aware that Olivia has indeed married Sebastian, and that both twins are alive and well; yet, there is a sense of suspense with the audience as people wait for the characters to find out the truth and resolve these issues.
In addition, Shakespeare uses the dramatic irony of this scene to provide some humor for the audience, while concurrently wringing some deep emotion out of the characters. Viola's casting off of Olivia, leading to Olivia's claim that she married Viola, is a scene that is humorous because of the oddity of the situation, and the fact that the audience has already figured out what has happened. But this foreknowledge of the resolution of this issue distracts from how greatly upset Olivia is by being brushed off by Viola, Viola's genuine confusion at Olivia's insistence, and Orsino's anger at the suggestion that Viola would do something like that behind his back. The actions being presented are very dramatic as far as the characters are concerned, but comedic for the audience; Shakespeare's doubling of these elements is sound, and is testament to his great skill in blending the elements of tragedy and comedy.
The reunion of the twins is the inevitable climax of the play; before this moment, Sebastian has had no idea that Viola could still be alive, so the disbelief at seeing her again, and dressed to look like him, is acute. Viola is more calm, since her encounter with Antonio led her to believe that Sebastian was still alive and well; yet, there is great emotion on both sides at this lucky reuniting. At last, the theme of mistaken or hidden identity is resolved, with everyone having been revealed as their true selves. This part of the scene also marks the first time that the name "Viola" is used in the play; to a reader of the text, the character is indeed Viola, but to someone watching the play, she is Cesario, but nameless as a woman up until this point. It is fitting, however, that she only regains her name as she sheds her disguise; she finally is able to exchange one name for another, and to act on her love for Orsino. Antonio, baffled at seeing Sebastian and his duplicate, uses the symbol of "an apple cleft in two" to represent their resemblance, and how they are both a part of each other (l. 217).
Malvolio is finally re-introduced into the play, as Viola reveals that Malvolio has imprisoned the sea captain that saved her, and who has possession of her things. This is indeed odd, since no mention has been made of this before, and since Malvolio is only a household steward, with no real authority to make such an arrest. This statement might only have been included so that Malvolio could be reintroduced into the scene, with a smooth transition from one item of business to the next; or, to reduce the amount of sympathy due to Malvolio, since he has still not learned his lessons.
When Malvolio appears again, he speaks with composure, and in verse, for the first time in the play. He is not bewildered, as he had been throughout Act IV, but rather he seeks vengeance for the wrongs that he believes Olivia has done to him. Olivia, however, has done nothing to her steward; she defuses the situation very carefully, promising him justice, and speaking very politely, so as not to inflame him any further.
But it is Feste who explains the situation, and stirs up Malvolio's anger once again. Just as it appears that Malvolio is satisfied with Olivia's pronouncement, Feste mocks what Malvolio had said to "Sir Topaz," and Malvolio's disdainful comments to him after he catches Feste and Sir Toby making a stir at night. Feste airs his resentment of Malvolio before the whole party, and turns it into pointed criticism of Malvolio; Malvolio, in return, is greatly angered, and swears that he will get revenge on Feste and his cohorts for what has been done to him. There is no real closure in Malvolio's situation; he ends the play just as high-strung as he had begun it, and rather than gathering any truths about himself from Feste's statements, places the blame on them and feels pumped up by self-righteousness once again.
At the end of the play, Malvolio still has no knowledge of his failings; although the pranks played on him were meant to punish him for his pride and vanity, he has still not seen the error of his ways, or tried to change himself. Feste's statement about how his enemies "tell me plainly I am an ass, so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself," could be taken as a justification for the whole attempt to bring Malvolio to penance (l. 16). If this declaration was indeed Feste's motivation in tormenting Malvolio, then in retrospect, his actions in Act IV were not as cruel as they seemed to be.
Antonio, also, gains no closure in his situation. It may be that he will be forgiven of his past crimes because of his kindness to Viola and for rescuing Sebastian; but Orsino's last remarks to him denote a lingering anger and a sense of outrage for the sea-battle in which Antonio took place. His relationship with Sebastian is also left unresolved; his case is forgotten in light of the more dramatic events that take place after he is unmasked, with his friendship with Sebastian left hanging. The text is not very specific about whether Antonio is isolated from the group at the endthough Feste, through his own actions, certainly is.
The relationship between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew is also unresolved at the end of the play; their last appearance has Sir Toby swearing at Sir Andrew, and apparently quitting Sir Andrew's company. Whether they are finally reconciled, or whether this rift remains in place, is not certain at the play's end; and Fabian himself stays on after Sir Toby and Sir Andrew exit, and does some rather cut-and-dry explanation of what they did to Malvolio. Fabian is the only supporting character without a fully developed personality; he seems to only exist in order to make explanations and drive the action along, with his personal characteristics remaining rather nebulous and unarticulated.
Viola and Sebastian's remarks surrounding their reconciliation can be construed as almost comical, and certainly they are perfunctory and formal for two people in such an emotionally charged situation; though some productions take the opportunity to use this exchange as an poignant resolution of Sebastian's disbelief. This conversation, as contrived as it may be in its purpose and its language, gives the pair time to accept their reunion, and work through their undoubtedly passionate feelings.
Sebastian's renewed pledge to Olivia, and Orsino's reconciliation with Viola, are expected developments in this kind of romantic comedy. Sebastian and Olivia are already married, and both express their continuing happiness at this development, despite being near-strangers to each other. But although Orsino pledges his love to Viola, and they agree to be married, the union is left postponed at the end of the play. Viola must find the sea captain that has her clothes, and absolve him of whatever charges habe been brought against him, before the wedding takes placeor, at least according to her stated plan.
As in other Shakespeare comedies, like Much Ado About Nothing or Love's Labours Lost, the ending is not simply cut and dry, and wholly happy. Although Orsino closes the action of the play with an optimistic statement about the "golden time" they are all about to enjoy, the play ends with a prologue song by Feste that mars the possibility of a completely happy end (V.i.372). The song's refrain is "for the rain it raineth every day," a final image that casts a pall over Orsino and the others' sunny expectations. Though this play is a comedy, with a good deal of light-hearted wordplay and amusing situations, yet the audience must remember that the play, like life itself, is bittersweet; some people come to happy endings, other people do not, and there is always the possibility that a storm will drive good, innocent people onto a foreign shore, and into different lives.
Twelfth Night Essays and Related Content
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