As we begin our second read-through and deeper dive into Twelfth Night, let’s take a moment and take a look at the names. Some are fitting, some not, some seemingly unrelated at all.
This week’s podcast kicks off off our two month-long discussion of the last of Shakespeare’s great comedies with a Twelfth Night plot summary.
As we conclude our Twelfth Night plot summary, the fifth and final act of the play begins at Olivia’s estate with Fabian asking Feste to see the letter from Malvolio. Duke Orsino and his entourage, including Cesario, arrive to speak with Olivia. After a little witty banter between Orsino and Feste, the officers come to the duke with their prisoner, Antonio.
Orsino recognizes him immediately, and magnanimously remembers that “very envy and the tongue of loss // Cried fame and honor upon him” (V.i.55-6). Cesario commends Antonio to Orsino, recounting how Antonio had drawn on his behalf. After Orsino asks the pirate and thief why he has come to Illyria, Antonio refuses those monikers, accepts that of Antonio’s enemy, says that it was “witchcraft” (V.i.73) in the form of “that most ingrateful boy” (V.i.74). He then goes over how he had given over his purse, but then was refused when he asked for it back for his bail.
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.
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,
How shall I feast him? What bestow of him?
For youth is bought more oft than begged or borrowed.
I speak too loud.—
This week’s Shakespeare news review includes The Tempest through the prism of race, Method in Madness tour, Romeo + Julieta by Shakespeare on the Rocks, and “Inebriated Shakespeare.” PLUS our usual recap of this week’s daily highlights in Shakespearean history.
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.
As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, the fourth scene of Act Two takes us back to court of Orsino, where the duke (as he did at the beginning of the play) calls for more music. And as they wait for Feste to arrive to sing, Orsino tells Cesario/Viola,
In the sweet pangs of it remember me,
For such as I am, all true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in all motions else
Save in the constant image of the creature
That is beloved.
As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, entering Act Two, we’re now taken to an Illyrian lodging where we find Antonio and Sebastian, with the former pleading with the latter not to leave. Just as Olivia just a scene earlier said that “Fate (had) show(n) (its) force” (I.v.299), Sebastian fears that staying with Antonio would adversely affect him because of the “malignancy of (Sebastian’s) fate” (II.i.4).
And what’s so bad about what’s happened to Sebastian? He tries to explain:
Sebastian had a twin sister, and while Antonio’s ship saved Sebastian from the ocean, Sebastian’s sister drowned. Interesting. Wait. You don’t think– This couldn’t be– Maybe– Nah, too coincidental.
As we continue our Twelfth Night plot summary, the fifth and final scene of Act One takes us back to Olivia’s estate, where the scene begins much like the earlier scene at the estate, with Maria reprimanding one of the men of the house. In this case, it’s Feste the clown who has been “absent” (I.v.3) from the home and his entertaining duties, and Olivia is not happy about it.
So much so that when Feste greets the countess, she responds, “Take the fool away” (I.v.35). Feste then uses his foolish skills (and I mean that in a good way) to show Olivia the error of her (foolish) ways: Olivia’s brother is in Heaven, so if she mourns for him, then she‘s the fool. By the end of his dissertation, her respect for his skills overrides her earlier anger, as she asks her steward, “What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?” (I.v.69-70).