Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: A city in Illyria, and the sea-coast near it.
Act I, Scene 1: Orsino, duke of Illyria, speaks of his consuming passion for Olivia. His messenger, Valentine, reports that Olivia has turned him away, saying that she proposes to enter seclusion for seven years in memory of her late brother. Orsino marvels at her dedication, hoping it will someday be directed towards himself.
Act I, Scene 2: Viola, shipwrecked but safe, is assured by the Captain that her brother may have been saved also. The Captain informs her that they have landed in his home, Illyria, where the duke, Orsino, is courting a lady who has entered seclusion. Viola decides to become a follower of Orsino and pays the Captain to help disguise her as a man and introduce her to the duke.
Act I, Scene 3: Sir Toby Belch complains of the asceticism of Olivia, his niece, with whom he is living. Olivia's chambermaid, Maria, suggests that he and his visiting friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who hopes to woo Olivia, lead less riotous lives, for her mistress dislikes their drunken behavior. Sir Andrew appears and announces that he will depart, given Orsino's rivalry for Olivia's hand, but Sir Toby assures him that Olivia disdains the duke, and he decides to stay.
Act I, Scene 4: Valentine assures Viola, who is disguised as a boy, Cesario, that Orsino likes 'him'. The Duke appears and sends Cesario to try to persuade Olivia to marry him. Once alone, Viola muses on her distress: she has fallen in love with the man in whose behalf she must woo.
Act I, Scene 5: Maria chastises Olivia's jester, Feste, for his absence from court. Olivia appears with her steward, Malvolio. She is angry with the truant Feste, but his witticisms cajole her into a friendly mood. Malvolio berates Feste, but Olivia accuses the steward of an egotistical dislike of anything contrary to his own grumpiness. Maria announces that a messenger from Orsino has arrived; she and Malvolio are sent to keep him away. Sir Toby has encountered the messenger, but he is too drunk to report on him. Malvolio returns and says that the emissary has refused to depart, describing him as more a boy than a man. Olivia decides to greet this youth, who is the disguised Viola. Cesario speaks for Orsino in poetic terms that charm Olivia. She sends him back to the duke with another refusal, but after he leaves, Olivia confesses to herself that she has fallen in love with him. She sends Malvolio after Cesario with a ring, which she asserts the duke's messenger had forced on her.
Act II, Scene 1: Sebastian tells Antonio, who has saved him from a shipwreck, that his sister died in the same disaster. Now fully recovered, he proposes to visit Duke Orsino. He insists that Antonio not accompany him; he already owes his savior too much, he says, and his own bad luck might prove contagious. Sebastian then leaves alone, but Antonio decides that, although he has enemies at Orsino's court, he will follow his new friend.
Act II, Scene 2: Malvolio gives Olivia's ring to the disguised Viola and departs. Viola realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario. She reflects on the complexity of the situation—she loves Orsino, Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves her—and she observes-that time will have to undo the tangle because she certainly cannot.
Act II, Scene 3: Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste carouse drunkenly in Olivia's courtyard, when first Maria and then Malvolio appear to chastise them. Sir Toby mocks the steward, who departs, including Maria in his threats of reprisal as he goes. Maria proposes revenge upon Malvolio-she will write him love letters in Olivia's handwriting, and he will make a fool of himself when he responds to the supposed love of his mistress.
Act II, Scene 4: Orsino talks of love with the disguised Viola; Cesario speaks of his affection for someone who resembles the duke. At Orsino's request, Feste sings a sad love song. Orsino sends Cesario on another mission to Olivia.
Act II, Scene 5: Maria leaves a spurious love letter to be found by Malvolio. She, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, a fellow conspirator, spy on the steward, who preens himself on Olivia's love. He pictures himself married to Olivia, and he envisions a future when, as her husband, he will chastise Sir Toby; Sir Toby is furious, and his friends must restrain him. Malvolio finds the planted letter and responds as predicted; he will follow the letter's instructions, behaving oddly and wearing peculiar clothes, to signify that he has received the message. Malvolio leaves, and the conspirators rejoice in the success of their scheme.
Act III, Scene 1: Viola, as Cesario, bandies wit with Feste; Sir Toby and Sir Andrew take her to Olivia, whom she is visiting on behalf of Orsino. Olivia confesses her love to Cesario, who rejects her suit, and she accepts rejection as her melancholy lot.
Act III, Scene 2: Sir Andrew, seeing that Olivia favors Cesario, prepares to abandon his suit, but Sir Toby and Fabian reassure him, asserting that Olivia's behavior towards the young man is intended to make Sir Andrew jealous. Sir Toby suggests that Sir Andrew challenge Cesario to a duel; Sir Andrew leaves to write a challenge to the youth. Fabian and Sir Toby chortle over the prospect of watching two cowards—Sir Andrew and Cesario—try to get out of the duel. Maria appears with word that Malvolio is ridiculously dressed, in response to the spurious love letter, and about to meet Olivia. They all run to watch.
Act III, Scene 3: Sebastian thanks Antonio for rejoining him; Antonio observes that, because he had once been an enemy of Duke Orsino's, he cannot afford to be seen in Illyria. He decides to seclude himself at an inn and meet Sebastian there later.
Act III, Scene 4: Malvolio, garishly costumed, leers and flirts with Olivia, who is mystified. When word arrives that Cesario has arrived, Olivia leaves but insists that Malvolio, obviously demented, be treated with care. Malvolio interprets her concern as evidence of her love. Sir Toby and Fabian enter, suggesting that Malvolio may be possessed by the devil; he sneers at them and leaves. The exultant plotters plan to have their victim locked up as a lunatic. Sir Andrew appears with a comical letter challenging Cesario to a duel. Sir Toby sends him to find the youth, then declares that the letter is too foolish to scare anyone, so he will deliver his own version of it directly to Cesario. The plotters withdraw as Olivia and Viola enter. Olivia repeatedly offers her love, and Cesario insists that she should grant it to Orsino. Olivia leaves, and Sir Toby ferociously challenges Cesario, allegedly on behalf of a famous swordsman; Viola, alarmed, attempts to find an excuse to leave. Sir Toby fetches Sir Andrew and tells him that Cesario has responded fiercely; he and Fabian encourage the reluctant duelists to fight. Antonio appears and draws his sword in defense of Viola, believing her to be Sebastian, but two Officers appear and arrest him. He asks Viola to repay an earlier loan, which he now will need, but Viola naturally denies that she knows him. As he is taken away, Antonio accuses Viola of ingratitude and calls her Sebastian. Viola realizes that her brother must be alive, and she departs, ecstatic with hope. Sir Toby and Fabian point out that Cesario is a coward; Sir Andrew takes heart and sets out to resume the duel.
Act IV, Scene 1: Feste mistakes Sebastian for Cesario and is astonished to be treated as a stranger. Sir Andrew enters, and, making the same mistake, he strikes Sebastian, who responds by beating him. Sir Toby intervenes, and he and Sebastian draw their swords, as Olivia appears. Ordering everyone else to leave, she speaks with Sebastian, whom she also believes to be Cesario. She apologizes for the assault and invites him inside; mystified but delighted, he goes with her.
Act IV, Scene 2: Feste disguises himself as Sir Topas, a Puritan clergyman, and visits Malvolio in prison. He insists that Malvolio is indeed mad and denies the steward's complaint that his cell is dark. Sir Toby congratulates the jester on his performance but says that it is time to end the joke, for he is in enough trouble with Olivia already. Feste again visits Malvolio, this time undisguised. Malvolio asks him for pen and paper so that he can write to Olivia about his predicament. Feste teases him before agreeing to help.
Act IV, Scene 3: Sebastian muses happily on the bewildering fact that he is apparently loved by a beautiful noblewoman. Olivia appears with a Priest and suggests that she and Sebastian marry. He agrees.
Act V, Scene 1: Orsino calls on Olivia with Viola and other followers. Antonio appears in the custody of the Officers and is identified as the duke's enemy. He tells of Sebastian's disloyalty, referring to Viola's earlier behavior. Orsino does not believe him because he knows that Cesario has been with him during the time Antonio claims to have spent with Sebastian. Olivia arrives and again rejects Orsino, who responds hysterically that he will kill Cesario, not only because he knows of Olivia's fondness for him but also because he loves the youth himself, and he seeks the pain of sacrifice. Viola declares herself willing to die for the duke, and Olivia cries out to her husband, as she believes Cesario to be. Viola denies this, and Olivia summons the Priest, who testifies to their marriage two hours earlier. As the duke berates Cesario, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby appear, wounded, claiming to have been assaulted by him. They are followed by Sebastian, whose appearance confounds everyone. Sebastian and Viola identify each other and rejoice in their reunion. The duke declares that he will marry Viola. Malvolio is summoned and shows Olivia the letter that he believes she sent him. Olivia realizes that Maria has written it; Fabian defends Maria, saying that the plot was Sir Toby's idea and that Toby has married Maria. Feste teases Malvolio, who storms out vowing revenge. The duke declares that a double wedding shall soon occur, and all go indoors to celebrate, except Feste, who is left alone to sing a song of worldly resignation.
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