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Twelth Night

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Summary of the plot or story
Shakespeare loved to use the device of mistaken identity, and nowhere does he use this convention more skilfully than in Twelth Night. Viola, surviving a shipwreck, walks ashore at Illyria, and immediately embarks on a gambit to allow her to make her way in a world of men.

Dressed as a man, Viola, now Cesario, insinuates herself into the service of the Duke of Illyria, Orsino. Orsino longs for the love of a neighbouring countess, Olivia , who as she is in mourning for the death of her brother, repels his advances. When Cesario (Viola) undertakes Orsino's bidding and gains admittance to Olivia's chamber, she becomes infatuated with the messenger.

Viola (Cesario) then falls in love with Orsino. To add to the farce Viola's (Cesario) identical twin, Sebastian arrives on the scene. Sebastian has also survived the shipwreck, although Viola thinks he has drowned. Sebastian has been rescued by a sea captain, Antonio. But Sebastian is sad, for he believes his twin sister has drowned. The kindly Antonio gives him money to get along in Illyria but remains behind for the time being because the Illyrians think he is a pirate.

Living in Olivia’s household is her uncle, Sir Toby Belch, a merry character. Belch pretends to promote Sir Andrew Aguecheek as Olivia’s rightful suitor. Belch just wants to use Aguecheeck' money. The steward of the household is the conceited Malvolio. Late one night Belch, Aguecheek and Olivia’s jester, Feste, are drinking and singing as they often do. Olivia's handmaiden, Maria tries to quieten them but they take no notice. Malvolio catches them and blames Maria for allowing them to behave so badly in Olivia's house. Maria and the others plan to gets their own back by forging a love letter from Olivia to Malvolio.

More confusion ensues with jealousy, mistaken Identity and fights and duels. Sebastian and Olivia fall in love and marry. Orsino realises that it is Viola that he loves and she agrees to marry him. Sir Toby Belch and Maria also decide to marry! Twelth Night ends and everyone, except Malvolio, is happy and Shakespeare speaks of the madness of love.

Information provided about the Twelth Night play
William Shakespeare never published any of his plays and therefore none of the original manuscripts have survived. Eighteen unauthorised versions of his plays were, however, published during his lifetime in quarto editions by unscrupulous publishers (there were no copyright laws protecting Shakespeare and his works during the Elizabethan era). A collection of his works did not appear until 1623 ( a full seven years after Shakespeare's death on April 23, 1616) when two of his fellow actors, John Hemminges and Henry Condell, posthumously recorded his work and published 36 of William’s plays in the First Folio. Some dates are therefore approximate other dates are substantiated by historical events, records of performances and the dates plays appeared in print.

Date first performed
The first recorded production of Twelth night February 2 1602. In the Elizabethan era there was a huge demand for new entertainment and Twelth Night would have been produced immediately following the completion of the play.

Date first printed
It is believed that Twelth Night was first printed in 1623 in the First Folio. As William Shakespeare clearly did not want his work published details of the play would have therefore been noted, and often pirated without his consent, following a performance.

The setting for Twelth Night
The setting for Twelth Night is in Illyria, along the Adriatic Coast of Italy

Theme of the drama
The play Twelth Night is categorised as a Comedy

Number of words in Twelth Night
The number of words in Twelth Night, according to the Complete Public Domain Text is 21,467.

Most important characters
The most important characters in Twelth Night are:
Viola, Orsino and Sir Toby Belch

Famous Quotes / Quotations
The quotes from Twelth Night are amongst Shakespeare's most famous including 'some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them'. Details of this famous and other quotes follow, complete with information regarding the Act and the Scene, allowing a quick reference to the section of the play that these quotations can be found in. Please click here for the full text of the script of the play.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - Act II, Scene V

"Love sought is good, but giv'n unsought is better" Act III, Scene I

History of Twelth Night
There is no historical connection to the play, it is all purely fictional.

William Shakespeare's Main Source
Shakespeare's main source for Twelth Night was probably Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581), by Barnabie Riche.

The Cast and Characters
Click the link to access a list of all the cast and characters.

Text - script of the play Twelth Night by William Shakespeare
Cast and characters in Twelth Night, the play by William Shakespeare
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