Twelfth Night Plot Summary: Act Four–Much Wackiness (and Cruelty) Ensues

As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, Act Four begins at Olivia’s estate, where Feste the clown meets who he thinks is Cesario. Only it’s not. It’s Sebastian. He wants nothing to do with the clown, to which Feste can only list the things he knows to be true, concluding, “Nothing that is so is so” (IV.i.8). The irony is that nothing is what it seems at this point. Sebastian even tries to bribe Feste into leaving him alone, using the money Antonio tried to get returned from Cesario.

When Sir Andrew enters and strikes Sebastian, thinking he’s Cesario, Sebastian strikes him back, and says, “Are all the people mad?” (IV.i.26).

A legitimate question.

Sir Toby tries to restrain Sebastian. Feste exits to tell Olivia. Sebastian breaks free and draws on Sir Toby, who in turn draws. Then Olivia enters.

She reprimands Sir Toby and sends him away, “Out of my sight!” (IV.i.46), then turns toward Sebastian, telling him, “Be not offended, Cesario” (IV.i.47). She implores for him to go with her to her home.

Sebastian turns from wondering if all the people are mad to questioning himself,

Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.
Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep;
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!
  • IV.i.58-60

He goes along with the dream, and leaves with Olivia.

Act Four, Scene Two, takes us into Olivia’s house to a room where Malvolio is being kept and tormented. Maria has Feste dress like Sir Topas the curate, a clergyman. There’s a cynical moment when Feste says,

Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble myself in ’t, and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown.
  • IV.ii.4-6

He wishes that he would be the only one who’s ever lied while in the garb of a pastor, but he (and by implication we) know that isn’t true.

When Sir Topas appears before Malvolio, the steward is grateful and calls for the curate to go to Olivia, his “lady” (IV.ii.24). But Sir Topas turns this request into something unsavory, calling him a fiend, and asking, “Talk’st thou nothing but of ladies?” (IV.ii.26). Malvolio claims that he’s not mad (insane) but rather has been wronged and is being kept in darkness; Sir Topas responds by calling him “dishonest Satan” (IV.ii.31), Malvolio continues to proclaim his sanity, and says that he can prove it if Sir Topas will ask him any “constant question” (IV.ii.48). Instead, Sir Topas twists and contorts all of Malvolio’s words against him.

Sir Toby pulls Feste aside and tells him,

I would we were well rid of this knavery. If he may be conveniently delivered, I would he were, for I am now so far in offense with my niece that I cannot pursue with any safety this sport the upshot.
  • IV.ii.66-70

And this, if it wasn’t already dark, is where it gets really dark. Sir Toby wants to get rid of Malvolio, since they have crossed the point of no return with Olivia, and cannot see any safe outcome.

When Feste (this time as himself) returns to Malvolio, the steward, still lucid, attempts to persuade the clown to allow him to write a letter to Olivia. Malvolio knows what kind of world this is, one of social classes, where one may be “propertied” (IV.ii.91) by another. For taking the letter to Olivia, Malvolio will “requite it in the highest degree” (IV.ii.117), and for the pen and paper to begin the process, “it will advantage (him) more than ever the bearing of letter did” (IV.ii.110-1). Malvolio offers social advancement

In the short last scene of Act Four, Sebastian ponders his state. He knows some things: “This is the air; that is the glorious sun… ‘tis not madness” (IV.iii.1,4). Yet, either he is “mad, // Or else the lady’s mad” (IV.iii.15-6). His rationale for her sanity is interesting: if she was insane, “she could not sway her house, commander her followers” (IV.iii.). In his thinking, she must be sane because she is in charge.

How in charge? A few lines later with a priest, and just as quickly Sebastian and Olivia are off to be married.

And we’re off to the final scene and act.

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