Twelfth Night Plot Summary: Act Three, Scene Four–Cross-Gartered and Painful

As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, the fourth scene of Act Three takes us back to Olivia’s estate, where the countess and Maria enter. Even with her waiting gentlewoman, Olivia’s first words are an aside, not to be heard by Maria,

I have sent after him. He says he’ll come.
How shall I feast him? What bestow of him?
For youth is bought more oft than begged or borrowed.
I speak too loud.—
  • III.iv.1-4

She’s a middle-school girl, waiting for her crush to show up at the lunchroom table. To cover this, she asks Maria about Malvolio who is “sad and civil, // And suits well for a servant with my fortunes” (III.iv.4-5). Here, she reminds Maria of how she has been feeling (serious, calm) as well as us the audience of how Malvolio has been regarded up to this point.

Maria responds that Malvolio is on his way but that he’s changed: “he does nothing but smile” (III.iv.10). Maria is convinced that it’s madness, but Olivia wants to see him. While Maria is offstage getting the steward, Olivia states, “I am as mad as he, // If sad and merry madness equal be” (III.iv.13-4). She obviously doesn’t believe Maria’s description of Malvolio, since there is absolutely no way Olivia could be describing as sad her own actions of late. Nope. Olivia has the merry madness.

Malvolio enters, and Olivia’s first words give the actor playing Malvolio direction as to how to appear: “Smil’st thou? I sent for thee upon a sad occasion” (III.iv.17).

And if the audience isn’t at least smiling (if not, out-and-out laughing), over the course of the next 40 lines, something is very wrong with either the audience or the production. He’s in yellow. Cross-gartered. Smiling constantly. Tossing double entendres Olivia’s way. Reciting, by memory, portions of the letter. Over-the-top. Ridiculous. Hilarious. Of course, if I was Olivia, I’d be more than a little freaked out. So needless to say when word comes that Cesario has arrived, she takes no pause to leave the scene, though she does tell Maria to “let this fellow (Malvolio) be looked to” (III.iv.57).

With Olivia gone to see Cesario, and Maria off to get Sir Toby, Malvolio happily reviews how well that encounter went in his mind. He is sure that “nothing that can be can come between (him) and the full prospect of (his) hopes” (III.iv.76-77). Now he just has to “be opposite with a kinsman,” Sir Toby. But he doesn’t get much of a chance to, as Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian, all verbally accost him, with accusations of demonic possession. He leaves them just as he might “wash off gross acquaintance” (II.v.154) off his back, saying to them, “You are idle shallow things; I am not of your element” (III.iv.117-8).

They decide to capture him, bind him, and throw him into a dark room, and there torment Malvolio for their “pleasure and his penance” (III.iv.131). This does not sound like fun.

What is fun, however, is when Sir Andrew arrives with his letter of challenge for Cesario. “Milquetoast” would be overstating its strength. Sir Toby says that he will deliver the letter, and tells Sir Andrew to ready himself draw on Cesario when he next sees him. Sir Andrew exits, and when he is gone, Sir Toby says that he will not deliver the letter because it won’t scare Cesario. Instead, he will orally deliver the message so that both will be so afraid “that they will kill one another by the look, like cockatrices” (III.iv.186-7).

They leave to afford Olivia and Cesario some privacy as the two enter, with Olivia calling Cesario’s a “heart of stone” (III.iv.192), and Cesario still pleading his master’s suit. Even in defeat, though, the countess cannot say goodbye, “Well, come again tomorrow. Fare thee well. // A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell” (III.iv.208).

With Olivia gone, Sir Toby and Fabian return to warn Cesario of the impending fight with the “quick, skillful, and deadly” (III.iv.216) Sir Andrew. Cesario/Viola fears this because s/he is “no fighter” (III.iv.232), saying that any offense take by Sir Andrew was by Cesario’s “negligence and not (his) purpose” (III.iv.244-5). While Sir Toby goes to get Sir Andrew, Cesario asks what manner of man is Sir Andrew, and Fabian cannot paint too macho a picture (since when Sir Andrew arrives, that story falls apart), so what he says is masterful:

Nothing of that wonderful promise, to read him by his form, as you are like to find him in the proof of his valor.
  • III.iv.253-5

Don’t judge a badass book by its weak-looking cover, Fabian tells Cesario.

Meanwhile, Sir Toby has retrieved Sir Andrew, warning him that Cesario’s “a very devil” (III.iv.262). Sir Andrew wants none of it. And when the four are brought together, both combatants are so filled with fear that while there is a drawing of swords, there is no fight.

And then Antonio arrives.

He sees an effeminate young man (?) looking like nothing but the Sebastian he has just left in town. He loves Sebastian, so he enters the fray, saying,

Put up your sword. If this young gentleman
Have done offense, I take the fault on me.
If you offend him, I for him defy you.
  • III.iv.297-9

Sir Toby, his fun ruined, draws on Antonio, but it’s all broken up by a number of officers who rush the stage. They arrest Antonio, whom they recognize even with “no sea cap on (his) head” (III.iv.315). He asks Cesario, whom he thinks is Sebastian, for his purse of money so that he can pay any fine or penalty. Cesario doesn’t give him the purse (because he doesn’t have it since she’s not Sebastian), but does offer to give him half his money, “out of (his) lean and low ability” (III.iv.329).

Antonio is upset with this betrayal in the face of “those kindnesses // That (he) has done” (III.ii.336-7) for the youth. He complains to the officers about how he had snatched this young man “out of the jaws of death” (III.iv.345), and as he’s being led away accuses Cesario, “Thou hast, Sebastian, done good feature shame” (III.iv.351).

While Sir Toby still spoils for a fight between Cesario and Sir Andrew, Viola is lost in thought:

Methinks his words do from such passion fly
That he believes himself; so do not I.
Prove true, imagination, O, prove true,
That I, dear brother, be now ta’en for you!

He named Sebastian. I my brother know
Yet living in my glass. Even such and so
In favor was my brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, color, ornament,
For him I imitate. O, if it prove,
Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love!
  • III.iv.358-61, 64-69

Could it be? Could the long-lost brother not be lost at all? Viola runs off. Sir Toby and Fabian tell Sir Andrew that this is proof of Cesario’s cowardice and that he should follow him. And with that exit, so ends Act Three…

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