Shakespeare at Winedale wordmark
Shakespeare at Winedale

Twelfth Night Synopsis

Twelfth Night Graphic

Orsino, the Duke of lllyria, is in love with his neighbor, the Countess Olivia. She has sworn to stay at home for seven years while she mourns the death of her brother, and so rejects Orsino’s suit. Nearby, a young woman, Viola, arrives onshore after surviving a shipwreck. Viola mourns the loss of her twin brother Sebastian, and decides to disguise herself as a boy and become a page to Duke Orsino. 

Despite his rejection, Orsino sends his new page Cesario (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia on his behalf. Viola goes unwillingly, as she has already fallen in love with the Duke. Olivia is attracted by the ‘boy’, and she sends her pompous steward, Malvolio, after him with a ring. 

Olivia’s servant Maria, her fool Feste, her servant Fabian, her uncle Toby Belch, and Toby’s friend Andrew Aguecheek—whose own affections for Olivia are being exploited by Sir Toby in an effort to fleece him of his money—all conspire to destroy Malvolio’s reputation by playing on his infatuation with Olivia. By means of a false letter, they trick him into thinking his mistress Olivia loves him. Malvolio appears in yellow stockings and cross-garters, smiling as they have instructed him in the letter. Unaware of the trick, Olivia is aghast, and has Malvolio shut up in the dark as a madman. 

Meanwhile, Sebastian, who has also survived the shipwreck, comes to Illyria. His sea-captain friend, Antonio, is wanted for piracy against Orsino. Urged on by Toby, the jealous Sir Andrew challenges Cesario/Viola to a duel. Antonio intervenes—mistaking Cesario for Sebastian—and is arrested.  Andrew and Toby fight with the real Sebastian, but Olivia intercedes, and Sebastian becomes betrothed to her.

Cesario is accused of deserting both Antonio and Olivia, when the real Sebastian arrives to apologize for fighting Sir Toby. With both twins onstage together, all is revealed to Olivia and to Orsino. Orsino’s fool, Feste, brings a letter from Malvolio and on his release, the conspirators confess to having written the false letter. Malvolio departs, promising revenge. Maria and Sir Toby have married in celebration of the success of their device against the steward. The play ends anticipating the marriage of the Duke and Viola along with that of Olivia and Sebastian, while Feste’s final song returns us to reality.