Twelfth Night | Synopsis and Story

Twelfth Night | Synopsis and Story

Synopsis of Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Viola and Sebastian, identical twins were separated in a shipwreck during a great storm at sea. Each, thinking the other drowned set out in the world alone. Viola was rescued by the captain of the ship and he told Viola that he saw Sebastian floating in the waves. Both sister and brother were hopeless about their reunion.

The lovely Viola was told by the captain that she was in a country known as Illyria. Viola was nervous about what she would do in this unknown place. She was given to understand that there was a Duke named Orsino and a Countess Olivia by name. It was planned that Viola would dress herself as page boy and take a job in the household of young Duke Orsino. This course of action was decided because there was no chance of any service with the Countess who was in deep mourning over the death of her young brother and lived in seclusion from the sight of any male. So Viola dressed in male attire called herself Cessario and became the personal attendant of the Duke. Orsino who loved the Countess but could not get in touch with the Countess either personally or through his messenger found the charming boy who had good looks and courtly speech a worthy envoy of love to woo the Countess on his behalf.

The wealthy Countess lived in a palace with maid servant Maria, an old uncle Sir Toby Belch and her steward Malvolio and a clown Feste. Sir Toby and Maria were a happy-go-lucky pair who drank and revelled. Sir Toby took money from Sir Andrew Aguecheek by deceiving him into the belief that he would plead his suit of love to his niece Olivia. Thus Sir Andrew supplied him the grog in fond expectation of marriage with the Countess, Malvolio, the steward was a stern disciplinarian and did not look with favour the revelries of these members of the house. He was a puritan and was averse to wine and merriments.

Cesario arrived at the palace of Olivia and insisted on getting into the palace of Olivia. Olivia finally decided to receive a messenger from Orsino. Olivia was immediately attracted to Cesario and she listened to Viola (Cesario) carefully because she was impressed by the loveliness of the boy. When Cesario left, the Countess believed that she was in love with the boy and sent his Steward after him with a ring. When Viola got the ring, she had the shock of surprise and believed that the Countess was in love with her mistaking her for a boy. She knew that her male dress had created the knot and she did not know how the knot would be unraveled.

Meanwhile, Maria with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew decided to stop Malvolio constantly interfering with their revelries. Maria devised a mischievous plan. She would write a letter imitating the handwriting of Olivia and in this letter Olivia would express her love for the Steward. She would ask him to wear yellow stockings tied with cross garters; he would smile constantly in her presence. Thus she planned to gull the over-zealous and conceited Steward. Malvolio discovering the note was overjoyed. He was “sick of self-love” and easily fell into the trap set by the mischievous Maria. He appeared in his strange dress, smiling and bowing before the Countess, Olivia was startled by this peculiar behaviour of her dignified Steward thought that he had gone mad. Much to the satisfaction of the mischief-makers, Olivia had him confined to a dark room.

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As the days went by in the Duke’s service, Viola fell deeply in love with Orsino, but Orsino had his eyes fixed on Olivia and encouraged the boy to plead his suit to Olivia with greater vigour, Olivia openly declared her love for the page Cesario. Thus a love triangle ensued. Viola was in a pretty difficult situation. She could not confess her love to Orsino nor she could reveal herself to Olivia. Sir Andrew who was pressed as a suitor to Olivia by Sir Toby challenged Cesario, his rival in love to a duel at the instance of his naughty advisers. Sir Toby delivered Sir Andrew’s challenge Cesario (Viola) timidly accepted.

Meanwhile, Sebastian, Viola twin brother was rescued by Antonio, a sea captain, and the two became close friends, Sebastian decided to visit the court of Duke Orsino at Illyria. Antonio was at first afraid to accompany Sebastian to the court because he once fought a sea-battle against Orsino’s ships and he might be arrested if he was recognized by Orsino’s men. However he decided to see the lodgings of Sebastian and gave him his purse in case he needed money. They arranged to meet later at an inn called the Elephant and they set off in different directions.

The duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario began but soon Antonio entered the scene. He mistook Cesario for Sebastian and fought in his defence. Sir Toby joined the fight and was wounded. The officers of the guard stopped the fighting, recognized Antonio and arrested him. Antonio still believing that Cesario was Sebastian asked Cesario for his purse because he would need money for his defence. Cesario was amazed at his insistent demand but gave half of ‘his’ money to Antonio. Antonio was surprised at Sebastian’s ingratitude and was dragged away by the officers. Thus the mistaken identities due to the disguise of Viola created comical complications.

The officers were escorting Antonio past Olivia’s house as Duke Orsino accompained by Cesario appeared at the gates. Orsino recognised Antonio and demanded to know why the sailor had returned to Illyria. Antonio explained that he had rescued and helped the Duke’s companion, Sebastian (mistaking Cesario for Sebastian) and accompanied him to Illyria out of friendship for him despite the danger involved. Then pointing to Cesario, he sorrowfully accused Sebastian of violating their friendship by not returning his purse. The Duke protested against this accusation Olivia came there at the time and greeted Cesario as her husband. In the meantime, Olivia mistaking Sebastian as Cesario brought him to her home and married the surprised Sebastian with the help of a priest. The Duke that the page (Cesario) was unfaithful. In pressing his suit to Olivia, he had contracted love and marriage with Olivia

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew came there and criticized Cesario (Sebastian) for his violence to them. Olivia dismissed the two older men quickly. As they left the real Sebastian appeared. Seeing Antonio there he greeted his friend. All were amazed at the sight of the identical twins. Viola revealed her true identity and explained how they were separated, her disguise. The mystery was resolved. Brother and sister greeted each other. The Duke seeing that the page of whom he had grown fond was in reality a woman. He asked Viola to dress again in feminine attire. Viola’s clothes were entrusted to the sea captain. The clothes were recovered. Feste, the clown visited Malvolio in his prison and brought a long letter in which Malvolio explained his strange conduct. The conspiracy against him was revealed and Malvolio was released. Then followed the marriage of Viola and Orsino. Olivia and Sebastian were already married. Sir Toby married Maria. Only Malvolio remained aggrieved and resolved on revenge because he was ‘notoriously abused’.


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