Twelfth Night Reading Questions

Act I:

  1. Orsino receives some “news” in this opening scene. About whom? What does he learn about this person? How does he respond to the “news”?
  2. In 1.2, Viola discovers that she is in Illyria. How did she get there? Where does she think her brother is?
  3. What information does the Captain give Viola about Orsino? About Olivia? Whom does Viola first want to go and serve? Why can’t she?
  4. In 1.3, the scene shifts again, now to Olivia’s household. What relation is Sir Toby to Olivia, and why is Maria (and apparently Olivia) upset with him?
  5. What is Maria’s class position? (use the notes in the Norton to help you). Why is Sir Andrew Aguecheek (one of Shakespeare’s great names!) at Olivia’s?
  6. Look at the stage direction that opens 1.4, and the change of name that accompanies this change. Note, too, how quickly Viola has gained close council with Orsino! What is s/he asked to do in this scene? Why does he think s/he will be successful?
  7. Malvolio’s “put down” of the fool, Feste, is very important (1.5.71-76), so note it well. What is he saying he saw happen to him?
  8. Note the meaning of the name “Malvolio,” given in a note in the Norton. Why is this an appropriate name for this character? What position, according to the Persons of the Play, does he have in Olivia’s household?

Act II:

  1. Although not immediately clear, we learn in 2.1 that Viola’s (twin–“both born in an hour”) brother is alive. How did he escape death? What new information does he tell us about Viola?
  2. Why can’t Antonio join Sebastian at the Duke’s court?
  3. Note the song that Feste sings in 2.4. Why is this song appropriate (or not!) for this moment?
  4. What plan do the revelers hatch (and execute in 2.5) to get back at Malvolio? Why are they targeting him?
  5. Why do you think the plan works so well on Malvolio? What does he “dream” about?

Act III:

  1. Viola and Feste open this Act with some witty word play and banter. What is the subject of their exchange? How is it related to the disguises and deceptions we see in the play?
  2. Fabian and Sir Toby have a plan to help Sir Andrew find his way into Olivia’s heart. What is it? (see 3.4.130 ff. for the letter!)
  3. What does Antonio give to Sebastian before they depart? Why won’t Antonio join Sebastian in town?
  4. Be sure to note Sir Toby’s plan for Malvolio at 3.4.121 ff.
  5. You’ll never see two more unwilling combatants than Viola and Sir Andrew in 3.4–what happens to break up their impending duel? What causes this confusion?

Act IV:

  1. What does Feste do to disguise himself in 4.2? What is a “curate”? During this scene, Feste says “I’ll ne’er believe a madman till I see his brains” (4.2.107). What do you think he means by this?
  2. What does Malvolio ask Feste to bring him? Why does he want it? Do you find anything ironic about how Malvolio wants to communicate with Olivia?
  3. Why does Olivia have a priest with her in 4.3? Note the confusion this causes in act five!

Act V:

  1. What does Orsino say he would do if he had “the heart” at 5.1.113-116?
  2. How were Sir Andrew and Sir Toby injured?
  3. How do we determine, with certainty, that Sebastian and Viola are related at the end of the play?
  4. Viola says that she will not “embrace” her brother until what happens? What does Viola say is preventing this at 5.1.267-70?
  5. At the end of the play, how is Malvolio “put in his place” by Feste, the clown?
  6. Why does Orsino send after Malvolio at the end of the play? What is holding up the anticipated marriage between Orsino and Viola?
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