Explanation Of Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

  1. If music….odour.

These opening words have been spoken by the Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Duke who is moody, dreamy and in a high fantastical condition of mind, loves to be lost in music. He loves Olivia and wishes to feed his love-lorn feelings with the help of music.

In the vain of a romantic lover, the Duke Orsino craves for the food of music. If music be that on which lovers like to feed their passion, as is generally supposed, the Duke would like to feed his passion on music. Let music be played till he be satiated with the excess of it. He also wishes music to feed love beyond measure, even to a surfeit of itself, so that when it has done all that it can, and love is full-fed, the appetite or desire for music sickens and ceases. However the tune he has heard ended gently. He again wishes to listen to that strain, for its soft lingering cadence breathed-upon his senses like the sweet murmur of the breeze which comes, wafted over a bank, full of fragrant violets and carries away from the bank the sweet smell of flowers.

These opening lines are very significant in the play. They reveal a lot of the character of the Duke. He is a lovelorn romantic amorist’ who is in love with the sentiment or feeling of love rather than his object of love. Olivia, and likes to make a mere show of it everywhere. He is one who does not like music for its own sake, but only as a temporary food.

  1. This fellow……..their wit.

This is the speech of Viola (disguised as Cesario) in Act III scene I of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. After indulging in a brief war of words with Viola, Feste goes in to inform his mistress about his arrival. In the meantime, Viola indulges in a soliloquy about the occupation and calling of a professional fool.

Viola feels that the task of a fool is quite difficult. One must have a certain degree of cleverness to be able to do that properly. A good jester must adapt his quips and witty remarks to the rank and station in life of the people whom he seeks to amuse. He must know when and where to give vent to his jests, the proper seasons and the right persons at whom to aim his witticism. He must find materials for jest in every incident and he must not give the slightest chance of joke to sleep by. In this he must resemble the untrained hawk, which flies after any and every bird, which comes in its way. All this requires as much study as a wise man’s art. He must study and make every effort, as an art pursued by other wise men. In the end Viola observes that the reasonable wit of a wise man is right and proper, but wise men when they betake themselves to folly, cause their reputation for wisdom to be quite tainted. In other words, a fool may without inconsistency show wisdom in displaying his folly, his reputation for folly not being effected by it but when wise men stoop to folly, it discredits their character for wisdom.

  1. O world……wolf!

These words have been extracted from the speech of Olivia in Act III, Scene I of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. When Olivia asks Viola’s opinion about herself, Viola says that she is heartily sorry for her. She also tells that it is a matter of everyday experience that we are often sorry for our enemies. At this, Olivia says that if Viola is so unrelenting in her observation, she should give up her sadness.

Olivia makes a general observation about the people of the world. In this world pride and poverty go together. Here even the low people are sometimes arrogant and treat their superiors with contempt. In fact, here Olivia is referring to the low position of Viola as a page and her haughty rejection of love of the countess. She further says that if ever she should surrender before anyone, it is better she did so to a lion of a man than to a mere wolf among men. In other words, if we allow ourselves to be worsted by anyone, it is much better to fall a victim to a lion who would be generous in his anger, rather than to a wolf, who would allow none of that generosity. A high-born person is likely to be of generous disposition than a mean poor fellow who would naturally be proud.

  1. He is knight……..take’t.

This is the speech of Sir Toby in Act III, Scene IV of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Both Sir Andrew and Cesario have been given an impression that each is a ferocious fighter. The conspirators do so to make the duel more interesting.

Here Sir Toby gives an over-estimated impression of the valour of Sir Andrew. Sir Toby tells about Sir Andrew that he is no soldier by profession. nor a knight baronet dubbed in the field of battle but on carpet consideration at a festivity, or on some peaceable occasion. But though he has not fought in battles or in private quarrels, he is as ferocious as the devil himself. He has killed three persons in duels. Sir Toby also tells Cesario (Viola) that at present the knight is so incensed against him (Cesario) that he cannot be appeased with anything less than his death burial. He is resolved to fight whatever may come out of it.

This speech shows Sir Toby’s sense of fun. He tries to make the situation more interesting by speaking in high terms of each of the two adversaries Le… Cesario and Sir Andrew.

  1. Why, man…Sophy.

This is the speech of Sir Toby in Act III, Scene IV of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Both Sir Andrew and Cesario have been given an impression that each is a ferocious fighter. He tells Cesario about Sir Andrew that thought he is not a soldier by profession, he is as ferocious as the devil himself.

When Sir Andrew arrives after the departure of Cesario, Sir Toby tries to intimidate Sir Andrew by speaking very high of the valour of Cesario. He tells that the young fellow is a perfect devil. He has never come across such a violent person. Then, in order to frighten Sir Andrew all the more, Sir Toby gives an imaginary account of a bout with Cesario. He tells that he had an exchange of thrusts with their rapiers sheathed and he (Cesario) gave him a deadly thrust which no one could escape. He further warns Sir Andrew that if he returned the blow, Cesario’s blow would hit him with as much certainty as that with which his feet touch the ground in walking. Finally, Sir Toby tells that perhaps Cesario had been the Shah’s fencer.

Sir Toby is in the habit of using wrong words. ‘Firago’ is the corruption of ‘Virago’ or a shrewish, hot-tempered and scolding woman. “Virago’ cannot properly be used here, unless we suppose Sir Toby to mean, “I never saw one that had so much the look of a woman with the prowess of a man” (Dr. Johnson). Likewise, ‘Sophy’ is the corruption of the ‘Shah of Persia”.

  1. In nature…..the devil.

These lines have been extracted from the speech of Antonio in Act III, Scene IV of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. When Viola (Cesario) and Sir Andrew are at last goaded on much against their will to the duel and are about to draw swords, Antonio accidentally appears on the scene and immediately intervenes in the quarrel on behalf of Cesario, mistaking her for her brother Sebastian, In the meantime, the Duke’s officers arrive and arrest him. When he is being led away by the officers, he asks Viola (mistaking her to he Sebastian) for the return of the purse, he had given him earlier in the day. Viola is a little surprised and offers the little money she has. This surprises Antonio all the more.

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Antonio feels that he has misunderstood Sebastian and accuses him of ingratitude. Moralizing over the matter. Antonio says that there is nothing bad in nature except a vicious-mind. There is no ugliness or deformity except of hard heartedness. He means to say that physical deformity is meaningless. and real ugliness is hard-heartedness which is against nature. Virtue is the only beauty in the world. Finally he says that those who have a beautiful appearance outside but are really had in their heart, are like trunks which have nothing inside and which are made beautiful from the outside by the devil himself.

Antonio here states a fundamental truth, though in reality, his observation does not apply to Viola. The word “Trunks has contemporary interest. In the time of Shakespeare, trunks which are now deposited in lumber rooms, or other obscured places, were part of the furniture of apartments in which company was received. They were richly ornamented on the top and sides. with scroll worth and emblematical devices, etc.

  1. A contract………..testimony.

These lines have been extracted from the speech of the Priest in Act V. Scene I of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. When the Priest comes in. Olivia demands that he should disclose the events which have taken place and in which she and the Youngman before her have been involved in an interchange of pledges of love.

The Priest tells that an interchange of pledge of eternal love has taken place and been sworn in his presence by these two persons. The bond of eternal love was strengthened and confirmed by the joining of the hands of both the parties. The Priest further tells that the bond was further ratified by the solemn exchange of kisses and by mutual exchange of rings. All these rites were gone through by him in the exercise of his sacred office and established by the testimony of proper witnesses of the ceremony. The Priest means to say that the ceremony has been performed by him, and it is, therefore, valid and legal.

In fact, the Priest is confusing Viola with Sebastian. Olivia, too is misled by Viola’s disguise. She also considers her as Sebastian.

  1. O thou…overthrow?

These words have been spoken by the Duke in Act V. Scene 1. of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Duke has come out in person to pay court to Olivia at long last, accompanied: by Cesario and others. Olivia mistakes Cesario for Sebastian (Viola’s brother) with whom she has entered into a contract of eternal love. When the Duke turns to go, disappointed at the stubborn perversity of Olivia, she addresses Cesario as her husband. The Duke considers Cesario as treacherous.

The Duke is stunned to see the dissembling nature of Cesario. He calls him a dissembling animal. If he is like this in his youth, what depths of wickedness will be found in him when he is no longer a cub but a full-grown animal? If his cunning increases in this manner, it will become the cause of his ruin. The Duke means to say that since he is so wicked in his young age he may perhaps become too wicked and be caught in his own trap of wickedness when he grows old.

The Duke is ignorant of the real situation. He is not at all aware that Viola, disguised as Cesario is no Sebastian and that it is not she who has come into contract of eternal love with Olivia.

  1. A spirit…….. Viola.

This is the speech of Sebastian in Act V. Scene I of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Both Sebastian and Viola, who have hither to believed each other to have been drowned, are surprised to see each other face to face. Viola exclaims that the person standing before her must be a spirit of her dead brother Sebastian.

Responding to the curiosity of Viola. Sebastian says that he can be said to be a spirit, because he has a soul. But at present whatever is spiritual in him is enclosed in that gross shape which he inherited from his mother’s womb at the time of his birth. Full of emotions, Sebastian further says that if Cesario were a woman instead of a young man, and in that respect tallied with what he remembers, as the other circumstances do, he should have no hesitation in accepting it all and in welcoming Cesario as his lost sister with tears of joy.



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