Twelfth Night | Play Synopsis and Character List

Twelfth Night

Written by on | Shakespeare

Alternative Title: What You Will

Play Synopsis

So we’re in Illyria. Don’t go searching through those faded geography class memories; Illyria is a Shakespearean invention. The play begins with Duke Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, telling his attendants of his great love to Olivia, a local countess. Olivia, however, is in mourning for her brother and has vowed to see no suitors for seven years.

Meanwhile Viola has been shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria with her Sea Captain (fittingly named ‘Sea Captain’) and is fearful that her brother (Sebastian) has been lost at sea. She decides to disguise herself as a man named Cesario and goes off to become the Duke’s page. She succeeds and the Duke, believing her to be a man, grows fond of him.

Over at Olivia’s abode Sir Andrew Aguecheek has arrived. He is a friend of Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’ uncle) and has come to try his luck at Olivia’s heart.

The Duke decides to get his new page, Cesario, to tell Olivia of his love. Olivia, however, is unstirred by the Duke’s favour and instead falls in love with Cesario (yes that is Viola—the woman). Viola, however, has fallen in love with the Duke and has no interest in turning her fancies to women. She leaves confused and worried.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby, Maria, Fabian and Feste are getting drunk and partying back over at Olivia’s. Malvolio reprimands them for this rude behaviour and, annoyed at him opposing their fun, plan to get revenge. They manage to convince Malvolio, by way of forged letter, written by Maria, that Olivia is in love with him. However, he must wear ridiculous clothes and smile incessantly to win her over; advice he prudently adheres to. Olivia, thinking him insane, leaves him in the caring hands of his deceivers, who then punish him.

Sebastian arrives on the scene with Antonio, another Sea Captain who for some unknown reason isn’t able to be seen in Illyria without being punished, so therefore the pair separate. Cesario has meanwhile been challenged to a duel by the jealous Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Antonio, mistaking her for Sebastian, stops the duel. Sebastian is likewise mistaken, and Olivia, thinking him to be Cesario, sweeps him away to be married (which he seems unopposed to).

At the end of the play the siblings are reunited and all becomes clear. Orsino proposes to Viola and Olivia and Sebastian, unaffected by the news, remain happily married. Sir Toby and Maria also tie the knot. Malvolio, aware by now of being deceived, swears he will have vengeance.

Character List

Viola, also later disguised as Cesario
Sea Captain
Sebastian: Viola’s brother
Antonio: another Sea Captain

Olivia: a local Countess
Malvolio: Olivia’s Steward
Feste: Clown
Maria: Olivia’s Woman
Sir Toby Belch: Olivia’s Uncle
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: friend of Sir Toby

Duke Orsino: Duke of Illyria
Valentine: Gentlemen attending on Duke
Curio: Gentlemen attending on Duke

About the Author


is Stage Milk's core writer. He is a trained, Sydney based actor who writes the majority of our acting information.

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