Twelfth Night Summary

Act 1, Scene 1 At his court, Orsino sick with love for the Lady Olivia, learns from his messenger that she is grieving for her dead brother and refuses to be seen for seven years.
Act 1, Scene 2 On the Adriatic sea coast, Viola, who has been saved from a shipwreck in which her brother may have drowned, hears about Orsino and Olivia. She wishes to join Olivia’s household, but is told that Olivia will admit no one into her presence. Viola decides to disguise herself as a boy so that she can join Orsino’s male retinue.
Act 1, Scene 3 At the estate of Lady Olivia, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s kinsman, has brought in Sir Andrew Aguecheek to be her suitor. Maria, Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, says that Andrew is a fool, and Andrew himself doubts his ability to win Olivia, but Toby encourages him to woo her.
Act 1, Scene 4 At Orsino’s court, Viola, disguised a as a page and calling herself Cesario, has gained the trust of Orsino, who decides to send her to woo Olivia for him. Viola confides to the audience that she loves Orsino herself.
Act 1, Scene 5 Viola, in her disguise as Cersario, appears at Olivia’s estate. Olivia allows Cesario to speak with her privately about Orsino’s love. As Cesario presents Orsino’s love-suit, Olivia falls in love with Cesario. She sends her steward, Malvolio, after Cesario with a ring.
Act 2, Scene 1 A young gentleman named Sebastian, who has recently been saved from a shipwreck in which his sister has been lost, sets off for Orsino’s court. Antonio, the sailor who saved him, follows him, even though Antonio risks his own life to do so.
Act 2, Scene 2 Malvolio finds the disguised Viola and “returns” the ring. Viola, alone, realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario and understands that Orsino, Olivia, and Viola/Cesario are now in a love triangle that she is helpless to resolve.
Act 2, Scene 3 At Olivia’s estate, Toby, Andrew, and the Fool hold a late night party. Maria comes in to quiet them, followed by Malvolio, who orders them to behave or be dismissed from the house. In retaliation, Maria plots to trap Malvolio with a forged letter that will persuade him that Olivia loves him.
Act 2, Scene 4 Orsino asks for a song to relieve his love-longing. In conversation about the capacities for love in men and women, Viola expresses her love for Orsino through a story about “Cesario’s sister.” Orsino becomes curious about this sister’s fate, but then turns back to his own longings and sends Cesario once again to visit Olivia.
Act 2, Scene 5 Maria lays her trap for Malvolio by placing her forged letter in his path. From their hiding place, Toby, Andrew, and Fabian observe Malvolio’s delight in discovering the love letter. Malvolio promises to obey the letter: to smile, to put on yellow stockings cross-gartered, and to be haughty to Sir Toby. Delighted with their success, Maria and the others prepare to enjoy Malvolio’s downfall.
Act 3, Scene 1 Viola (as Cesario), on her way to see Olivia, encounters first the Fool and then Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Olivia, meeting Cesario, sends the others away and declares her love.
Act 3, Scene 2 Sir Andrew, convinced that Olivia will never love him, threatens to leave. Sir Toby persuades him that he can win her love if he challenges Cesario to a duel. Sir Andrew goes off to prepare a letter for Cesario. Maria enters to say that Malvolio has followed every point in the letter and is about to incur disaster when he appears before Olivia.
Act 3, Scene 3 Antonio, having followed Sebastian, explains the incident in his past that keeps him from safely venturing into the streets of Orsino’s city. Giving his money to Sebastian, Antonio sets off to their inn while Sebastian goes off to see the sights.
Act 3, Scene 4 Malvolio, dressed ridiculously and smiling grotesquely, appears before an astonished Olivia. Thinking him insane, she puts him in the care of Sir Toby, who decides to treat him as a madman by having him bound and put in a dark room. Toby also decides to deliver Sir Andrew’s challenge to Cesario in person in order to force the two of them into a duel. Terrified, they prepare to fight. At that moment, Antonio enters, thinks that Cesario is Sebastian, and comes to his defense. Antonio is immediately arrested by Orsino’s officers. Since he is sure that Viola is Sebastian, Antonio is bitter about the apparent denial of their friendship. Viola is herself delighted by Antonio’s angry words because, since he called her Sebastian, there is hope that her brother may in fact be alive.
Act 4, Scene 1 The Fool encounters Sebastian, whom he mistakes for Cesario. When Sir Andrew and Sir Toby attack Sebastian, the Fool fetches Olivia, who again declares her loveā€”this time to a delighted Sebastian.
Act 4, Scene 2 Under directions from Sir Toby, the Fool disguises himself as a parish priest and visits the imprisoned Malvolio. In his own person, the Fool agrees to fetch pen, paper, and a candle for the supposed madman.
Act 4, Scene 3 While Sebastian is sure that neither he nor Olivia is insane, he is amazed by the wonder of his new situation. When Olivia asks him to enter into a formal betrothal with her, he readily agrees.
Act 5, Scene 1 Orsino, at Olivia’s estate, sends the Fool to bring Olivia to him. Antonio is brought in by officers and he tells the incredulous Orsino about Cesario’s treacherous behavior. At Olivia’s entrance, Orsino expresses his anger that Cesario has become Olivia’s darling. Cesario’s expressions of love for Orsino lead Olivia to send for the “holy father,” who confirms Olivia’s claim that she is formally betrothed to Cesario. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby enter with bloody heads, which they blame on Cesario. Sebastian’s entry at this moment untangles a series of knots: Sebastian addresses Olivia with love, greets Antonio warmly, and recognizes Cesario as the image of himself. When Cesario admits to being Sebastian’s sister Viola, Orsino asks Viola to become his wife. On the day that Sebastian marries Olivia, Viola will marry Orsino.

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