Twelfth Night Plot Summary: Act Three, Scenes One through Three–More and Even More Cat-and-Mouse, plus When the Twin Comes to Town

As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, the beginning of Act Three takes us back to Olivia’s estate, where Cesario/Viola has gone to deliver Orsino’s jewel to the countess. Cesario is greeted by Feste, and the scene begins with some witty banter and wordplay about… well, words, which may be made “wanton” (III.i.15) by those who “dally nicely” (III.i.14) with them.

When the clown leaves to let Olivia know that Cesario is there, Viola muses on what wit is needed to “play the fool… a practice // As full of labor as a wise man’s art” (III.i.59, 64-5). The juxtaposition between Feste and Viola’s discussion of playing the fool with the entrance of two stooges, Sirs Toby and Andrew, is striking, and because of it, we see just how witty and smart Viola is.

Hot on the heels of the fools comes Olivia, who immediately sends them off for some private time with — and for the first time, Olivia asks for Viola’s name. That given, Olivia wants no more talk of Orsino and his suit. Instead, she desires Cesario to “undertake another suit. // (She) had rather hear (Cesario) to solicit that // Than music from the spheres” (III.i.107-9). Olivia first admits to the subterfuge with the ring, then asks,

I prithee, tell me what thou think’st of me.
VIOLA
That you do think you are not what you are.
OLIVIA
If I think so, I think the same of you.
VIOLA
Then think you right. I am not what I am.
OLIVIA
I would you were as I would have you be.
  • III.i.137-41

Lovely irony upon irony. Olivia confesses her love for Cesario, knowing there is “no cause” (III.i.153), but love. Or as she puts it, “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” (III.i.155). Even when Viola leaves, saying that no woman will have her heart, only she herself alone, Olivia calls after him, “Yet come again” (III.i.162).

Just as Olivia calls for Cesario to return, at the beginning of Act Three, Scene Two, Fabian and Sir Toby call for Sir Andrew to stay. He wants to leave because he feels that he has no chance to win Olivia’s hand, as he has seen Olivia “do more favors to the count’s servingman than ever she bestowed upon” (III.ii.4-5) him. The two others spin this as Olivia trying to make Sir Andrew jealous and to “put fire in (his) heart and brimstone in (his) liver” (III.ii.18). They convince him to send a letter of challenge to Cesario, and he leaves to do so.

The two then joke, comparing Sir Andrew to Cesario, who “bears in his visage no great presage of cruelty” (III.ii.59-60). These jokes are interrupted by the arrival of Maria, who wants to bring them to see the results of their gulling: Malvolio, in yellow stockings and cross-gartered.

Act Three, Scene Three, sends us back to Sebastian and Antonio, on a street in the Illyrian capital. Antonio followed Sebastian here, as the former’s “desire // (More sharp than filed steel) did spur (Antonio) forth” (III.iii.4-5), and his “willing love… set forth in (Sebastian’s) pursuit” (III.iii.11,13).

Sebastian wants to see the sites and monuments, “the relics of this town” (III.iii.19), but Antonio is more interesting to get lodging. Why? Because Antonio “do(es) not without danger walk these streets. // Once in a sea fight ‘gainst the count his galleys // (Antonio) did some service” (III.iii.25-7). Antonio didn’t kill anyone–the implication is of piracy (“what we took from them” [III.iii.34])–but if caught there, he “shall pay dear” (III.iii.37).

Instead, Antonio gives Sebastian his purse in case his “eye shall light upon some toy // You have desire to purchase” (III.iii.44-5).

And can’t you just see that rearing its ugly head later in the play…

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