Best Twelfth Night Monologues
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most joyous plays. It is a tale of love and loss, set in the mystical land of Illyria. The events of the story take place in the fabled 12 days after Christmas, a time of festivities and mischief.
Whilst there are plenty of fantastic scenes and characters in this play, the monologues are few and far between. Being a comedy, the play is largely about wit and wordplay between characters, and as such there are only a few moments where the characters are given space alone on stage to speak for an extended period of time. That being said, of the few monologues there are, they are CRACKERS. The monologues below are some of the most famous in Shakespeare, and are top choices for auditions for their high stakes, clarity, ‘in the moment’ given circumstances and comedy.
Twelfth Night Characters
Viola – One of Shakespeares Best and Funniest Heroines
The protagonist of this story, Viola, has had to abandon her past life and adopt a new identity here in Illyria – she now dresses as a man and goes by the name Cesario. This is due to her being shipwrecked on the island at the start of the play. In this shipwreck, Viola’s brother Sebastian was lost, and Viola assumes he has died. In the wake of this tragedy, Cesario has pledged her servitude to the Duke Orsino, and in his service Cesario assists with the process of wooing Lady Olivia.
Malvolio – Shakespeares Funniest Villain
Malvolio is the butler/ servingman to the lady Olivia. He is stern and curt, and wants nothing to do with the mischief of the drunk and raucous nobility of Olivia’s house. He does, however, aspire to one day be noble himself. He wishes to command respect. This lower status and stern attitude makes him the butt of the jokes of Toby Belch and Sir Andrew.
Sebastian – The Little Brother to Big Bad Viola
Sebastian is the brother of Viola, who like her assumes that his sister has drowned in the shipwreck at the start of the play. Washing ashore on another part of Illyria, Sebastian’s journey sees him travelling through the land with Antonia to assist him, only to be caught in the bewildering web of the play in the climatic finale of the story. Since his sister is dressed like a man, they both look incredibly alike. The characters of Illyria start to mistake Sebastian for Cesario, throwing Sebastian into encounters of love and combat which he was not expecting.
Best Twelfth Night Monologues
Viola (Act 2, Scene 2)
Cesario (Viola) has just visited Oliva for the first time on Orsino’s behalf. It wouldn’t be Shakespeare if a romance didn’t get complicated: Olivia, (who is not interested in Orsino) has been quite taken by Cesario, and sends her servant Malvolio after her with a token of her appreciation, a ring, which she hopes will force Cesario to return to her. In this monologue, Viola pieces together the story unfolding around her, realising that her manly performance has charmed Olivia. Viola is now stuck between a rock and a hard place!
I left no ring with her: what means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!
She made good view of me; indeed, so much,
That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly.
She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord’s ring! why, he sent her none.
I am the man: if it be so, as ‘tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper-false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we!
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love;
As I am woman,–now alas the day!–
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time! thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!
Malvolio (Act 3, Scene 4)
The subplot of Twelfth Night concerns an elaborate prank played on Olivia’s servingman, Malvolio. The prank is conducted by a number of characters of Olivia’s house, including Toby Belch, Sir Andrew and Maria. In this monologue, the audience witnesses Malviolo being ‘hooked’ by the bait. Maria has written a letter in Olivia’s handwriting, intended to get Malvolio to come to the cryptic conclusion that Olivia is in love with him.
M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and
yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for
every one of these letters are in my name. Soft!
here follows prose.
‘If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon ‘em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is
open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross
acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade
me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;
and in this she manifests herself to my love, and
with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits
of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will
be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and
cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting
on. Jove and my stars be praised! Here is yet a
‘Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.’
Jove, I thank thee: I will smile; I will do
everything that thou wilt have me.
Sebastian (Act 4, Scene 3)
Having arrived in the same part of Illyria as Cesario, Sebastian has been flung into the midst of the climax of this story. Toby Belch has mistaken him for Cesario and assaulted him, and Olivia (who is in love with Cesario) has come to his rescue. Unlike Cesario, who has denied Olivia’s advances, Sebastian is more than happy to welcome them, and in this monologue we see Sebastian trying to make sense of his happy fortune.
This is the air; that is the glorious sun;
This pearl she gave me, I do feel’t and see’t;
And though ‘tis wonder that enwraps me thus,
Yet ‘tis not madness. Where’s Antonio, then?
I could not find him at the Elephant:
Yet there he was; and there I found this credit,
That he did range the town to seek me out.
His counsel now might do me golden service;
For though my soul disputes well with my sense,
That this may be some error, but no madness,
Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune
So far exceed all instance, all discourse,
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust but that I am mad
Or else the lady’s mad; yet, if ‘twere so,
She could not sway her house, command her followers,
Take and give back affairs and their dispatch
With such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing
As I perceive she does: there’s something in’t
That is deceiveable. But here the lady comes.
Relish the wonderful words and circumstances of these monologues. They are wonderful to act and require real skill and commitment from the actor. Though they are comic in nature and will make the audience laugh, for the characters the situations are incredibly serious. Treat them as such and you’re sure to have the audience in stitches, laughing along with your performance!
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