Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night Summary and Analysis of Act 3

Act III Summary:

Scene 1:

Viola enters, on her way to see Olivia; she comes across Feste, who is full of wit and foolery as usual. Feste expresses his dislike for Viola, which Viola does not take personally; Viola gives him a few coins for his wordplay, and mentions the wit that it takes to act the fool as well as Feste does. Viola runs across Sir Toby and Sir Andrew on her way to visit Olivia; Olivia then comes to meet Viola, and Viola again attempts to make Orsino's suit to Viola.

Olivia apologizes for the confusion she brought upon Viola with sending the ring; then, Olivia confesses her affection for Viola/ Cesario, and begs to know if Viola does indeed feel the same way. Viola says no, then asks again if Olivia will have anything to do with Orsino; Olivia is constant in her lack of response to Orsino, but makes one last attempt to win Cesario over. Viola warns Olivia as best she can, telling Olivia that "I am not what I am," though Olivia does not guess at the statement's real meaning (III.i.139). Of course she is unsuccessful, and Viola leaves‹but not without an entreaty to return.

Scene 2:

Sir Andrew finally comes to his senses, realizing that Olivia favors Cesario far more than she favors him. His friend Fabian tries to convince him that Olivia is only pretending to favor Cesario, in order to make Sir Andrew jealous; his lie is well-intentioned, but does not soothe Sir Andrew's anger. Sir Toby then persuades Sir Andrew that he should challenge Cesario to a duel, and that, if Sir Andrew wins, he will surely gain Olivia's affections. Sir Toby tells him to write a letter of challenge, which Sir Toby will deliver; Toby actually has no intent of sponsoring a duel, but thinks the exercise might cool Sir Andrew off a little. Maria then enters, and begs them all to come see Malvolio, who is acting like a complete idiot in front of Olivia.

Scene 3:

Antonio is slow to leave Sebastian's side, as he fears some accident may happen to Sebastian since he is completely ignorant of the country. Sebastian wants to go about and see the sights, but Antonio tells him that he cannot; Antonio confesses that he was involved with some piracy against Illyria, and that he is wanted by the Count because of it. Antonio proposes that they meet up at an inn in one hour, and that Sebastian can wander about until then; they part, hopeful of meeting up again without accident.

Scene 4:

Maria warns Olivia of Malvolio's very strange behavior; yet, Olivia still wishes that Malvolio be brought before her. Malvolio is wearing yellow, cross-gartered stockings, which Olivia abhors; he is careful to point out what he thinks is his fashionable taste. Malvolio continues his absurdity, making remarks of unwarranted familiarity, and completely baffling Olivia with his misguided attempts to be amorous toward her. Olivia dismisses Malvolio's odd behavior as being some kind of passing madness, and orders that Malvolio be looked after while she sees to Cesario, who has supposedly returned.

Sir Toby, Maria, and Fabian approach Malvolio; they treat Malvolio's case as an instant of witchcraft or possession, and pretend they know nothing of the real cause of Malvolio's strange behavior. Then, their plan takes a more malicious turn; not satisfied with the havoc they have already caused, they decide to make Malvolio go mad, if they can. Sir Andrew returns, with his "saucy" letter for Cesario, and Viola as Cesario appears, having patched up any bad feelings over their last dramatic scene.

Sir Toby conveys Sir Andrew's challenge to Viola, and tries to make Viola shrink from the confrontation by greatly exaggerating Sir Andrew's meanness and anger. Sir Andrew and Viola come close to some sort of reluctant confrontation, when Antonio stumbles on them; Antonio is arrested by officers of the Count, and asks Viola for his purse, mistaking Viola for her brother Sebastian. Antonio is taken aback when Viola will not give him his purse, thinking that she, as Sebastian, is ungrateful for his help; he speaks of rescuing Sebastian from drowning, which lets Viola know that her brother might be alive. Antonio is dragged away, and Viola hopes that what Antonio said is indeed true, and that her brother might have been saved from the wreck.

Act III Analysis:

Scene 1 finally brings Feste and Viola together for an interesting conversation that reveals a great deal about Feste's role in the play. Feste is not just a comic relief figure, like Sir Andrew; he is perceptive when others are not, as Viola notes after the encounter. Feste and Viola actually have a good bit in common; both are paid servants who are much more than they seem to be, and hence present some threat to each other since they search out each others' secrets. Viola knows, unlike Olivia, Orsino, and the others, that Feste is anything but a fool; he "is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well craves a kind of wit," Viola says of him (III.i.59). Feste is a good judge of human nature, as he shows in his correct assessment of Orsino in Act II; and, he might also be the only one in the play to guess at Viola's disguise.

"Now Jove in his next commodity of hair send thee a beard," Feste says to Viola (l. 44); the statement can be taken as proof that Feste knows that Viola is in disguise, and Viola's quick and somewhat agitated reaction supports this claim. That conclusion, however, is uncertain; though Viola does admit that Feste is more perceptive than most of the people she has come across, and by her estimation, should have the intelligence to be able to see through her disguise.

The Viola/ Feste confrontation also brings up the theme of appearance versus reality. Neither of them are quite what they seem, though both of them are able to see through the other's disguise with little problem. Also, Viola speaks of the real divide between wisdom and knowledge; those who appear, or wish to appear as wise, like Malvolio, are often greater fools than Feste, who hides his knowledge behind his shows of foolery. Viola's speech here echoes Olivia's statements, in Act I scene 5, about the deceptive appearances of wisdom and folly.

At one point, Feste openly declares his dislike of Viola; he may see Viola as a rival in the service of both Olivia and Orsino, though their jobs are very different in nature. Feste goes so far as to suggest that Viola herself is a fool; but Viola, who is contrasted with Feste in this scene, says nothing negative about her rival. Viola, however, is more generous in her behavior toward Feste; she gives him money, though they are of similar station, while Feste tries to get even more money out of her. Feste is characterized as a kind of mercenary, while Viola is shown to be even-tempered and slow to anger as well.

Again, Feste continues with his mock-religious tone; he claims that he "live[s] by the church," and though it proves to be a jest, he keeps to his previous attempts to appear as a fake cleric (III.i.3). In Feste's hands, "a sentence is but a chev'rel glove to a good wit" (l. 11-2): Feste's abilities are true to the metaphor, as he is able to exploit the pliable qualities of language, and turn phrases inside out, as easily as he could with a glove made of soft cheverel leather.

Several other literary devices are employed by Feste in his little joust with Viola. He makes a simile that claims "fools are as like to husbands as pilchards are to herrings‹the husband's the bigger" (III.i.33-4). Feste displays a basic knowledge of Elizabethan astronomical beliefs, making mention of how the sun was still thought to orbit the earth, and only fools would think it otherwise. He also displays a knowledge of classical mythology that he is able to employ in his cleverness; he begs for a "Cressida to this Troilus" when asking for additional money from Viola (III.i.51). Shakespeare's own play Troilus and Cressida was written very soon after Twelfth Night was finished, and this allusion means that the story was probably ripening in Shakespeare's mind.

Viola tries her best to cool Olivia's love, even hinting at her secret, as she did with Orsino at the end of Act II. But Olivia does not have the same keen perception that Feste boasts, and so does not pick up on Viola's desired meaning. Once she starts speaking with Viola, Olivia tries her best to steer the conversation toward personal topics; Viola, however, takes this opportunity to adopt a formal tone, to try and cool Olivia down a little. When Olivia asks what Viola's name is, Viola replies with "Cesario is your servant's name, fair princess" (III.i.95); the statement is very impersonal in the way Olivia is addressed, and Olivia's displeased reaction is at least a temporary diversion from the inevitable heartbreak. Viola does well at turning Olivia's questions back to the subject of Orsino; Viola fully adopts the words, manner, and tone of a servant addressing someone of higher rank, though Viola's impersonal replies only make Olivia more determined.

Olivia's language contrasts sharply with Viola's in this scene, further revealing the depth of Olivia's passion. While Viola's replies are clipped and plain, Olivia speaks in poetic verse. Olivia communicates the urgency of her feeling with an image of her "honour at the stake, and baited," recalling the common and cruel Elizabethan practice of bear-baiting (III.i.116-7). When Olivia becomes stirred up by Viola's anger, then she forms her speech into rhyming couplets, which are reserved in the play for statements conveying great emotion or passion. "Love's night is noon," Olivia laments with the statement of a paradox (l. 151); and Viola finally drops her impersonal and formal tone in favor of speech more closely resembling Olivia's own. Viola adopts the form of rhymed couplets as well in her reply to Olivia's entreaty, acknowledging Olivia's passion, but making a kind and plain refusal of Olivia's affections.

Scene 3 shows Antonio and Sebastian becoming closer as friends. Although Sebastian continues to tell Antonio that he no longer needs his companionship, Antonio will not leave him; as Sebastian says, Antonio "makes[s his] pleasure of [his] pains," the paradox bringing attention to Antonio's allegiance to his new friend (III.iii.2). Critics have questioned the relationship between these two, as they seem to be even closer than Orsino and Viola, and with less demonstrated cause; perhaps Antonio feels beholden to Sebastian after rescuing him from the wreck, but the relationship is rather murky. Also murky is Antonio's past, and his admission of being involved in piracy; perhaps Antonio's devotion to Sebastian is designed to show how he has been redeemed, and thus how he is wronged by being imprisoned for crimes he has since repented.

Malvolio, in his zest for making amorous overtures to Olivia in Scene 4, alludes to a few popular, but bawdy Elizabethan-era songs to try and get his point across to Olivia. "'Please one and please all'" he says to Olivia; he is alluding to a song that discussed the sexual desires of women, and the mention clearly upsets Olivia (III.iv.22). Then, he alludes to another rude song; "to bed, ay sweetheart, and I'll come to thee," he tells her, and Olivia truly believes at this point that Malvolio has gone mad (III.iv.28). Malvolio still thinks, at this point, that Olivia is very attracted to him, and these familiar statements are his way of acknowledging the desire he thinks that she has; but they are also the surest way of upsetting her, since Olivia has no idea what is going on. When Malvolio quotes from the letter, she is even more baffled, and worried for his sanity; but still, neither of them have been clued in on the joke yet.

Malvolio's arrogance and long-windedness come in handy in this scene; he reasons aloud about how the letter directs him to act as he does, and his inability to see that he is being tricked means that the joke is played out for full effect. His character is played for the sake of exposition, and through his tendency to talk aloud to himself, he reminds the audience of the contents of the letter, his motivations, and he reveals his character more fully.

Sir Toby, Maria, and company prove themselves as capital jokers, and very ably carry out their prank to its fruition. They begin the second part of their practical joke in scene 4, in trying to persuade Malvolio that he is mad. Each of them begins to toss words relating to witchcraft and devilry around, their tone marked with false concern for Malvolio's well-being. Sir Toby addresses Malvolio with uncharacteristic words of endearment; he calls Malvolio "bawcock" and "chuck," both affectionate names that appear elsewhere in Shakespeare (III.iv.108). But until this point, Malvolio's punishment has been good-humored in nature, and just deserts for his proud and officious meddling; here, the pranks against Malvolio become much more cruel in nature, and are motivated more by a sense of sadistic enjoyment of the proceedings than by a playful wish to see him embarrassed.

Sir Toby and co., excepting Sir Andrew, are more honorable in their intents toward Viola; they bear Viola little ill-will, and certainly do not intend for anything like the incidents of the thwarted duel to take place. Sir Toby tries his best, through vast overstatements of Sir Andrew's prowess to Viola, and of Viola (Cesario's) prowess to Sir Andrew, to get them both to shy away from a confrontation; he adopts a threatening tone to get them the shy away from each other, though the tactic does not work.

Here, Viola discloses that she has modeled Cesario after the likeness and behavior of her brother, Sebastian. Viola might have done this to compensate for the loss of her brother, as has been discussed in a scholarly essay by Joan Woodward; this is a plausible way for Viola to have chosen to deal with her grief, as well as being an excellent comic device in the plot.