Antonio in Twelfth Night: Character Traits & Analysis

Antonio in Twelfth Night: Character Traits & Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
Meet Antonio, the sea captain in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night,' and explore how the text reveals his character. Antonio's essential loyalty, courage, and forthrightness are communicated in every scene he's in.

Antonio's Place in Twelfth Night

Antonio is a secondary character in Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night. Like many secondary characters in romantic comedies, he is more sure of himself and his own feelings than the main protagonists are. Unlike many characters in Twelfth Night, he never wears a disguise, even when his true identity puts him in danger. This says much about Antonio's forthrightness: he's always direct, never disguising who he is or what he feels. The latter is particularly poignant as, along with almost everyone else in the play, Antonio harbors unrequited love.

Antonio's Scenes in Twelfth Night

We first meet Antonio at the beginning of Act II. He and Sebastian (one of the play's twins) enter in mid-conversation. Sebastian, obviously upset, is doing most of the talking, but Antonio gets the first line, asking Sebastian to stay longer - or at least to let Antonio go with him. Antonio has saved Sebastian's life, bodily pulling the shipwreck victim from the sea (II,i,20-22). We learn of Antonio's courage in this act through Sebastian, as the captain is no boaster. Sebastian is distraught because he believes his twin sister to have drowned. Antonio's patient concern for the young man reveals both his loyalty and his love. Sebastian tells Antonio that he'll go alone to the court of Duke Orsino. Left alone on the seashore, Antonio muses that the court is full of his enemies, which would make it unwise for him to follow Sebastian. He experiences a moment of truth when he confronts his own feelings for the other man, concluding:

'But come what may, I do adore thee so
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go' (II,i,46-47).

Antonio's next appearance isn't until Act III, scene iii. Once again, he and Sebastian enter in mid-conversation. Sebastian is saying, apparently for the last of many times, that Antonio really didn't have to go to the trouble of coming with him. Antonio's response is to confess his unrequited love: 'I could not stay behind you: my desire, / More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth' (III,iii,4-5). Also, he adds, he was worried about Sebastian coming to grief in the rough streets of the town. Antonio's touchingly direct confession, no less than his warning, flies right over Sebastian's head: he responds with the Shakespearean equivalent of 'Thanks, man!' (III,iii,14-20).

He also invites Antonio to go sight-seeing with him, an invitation Antonio refuses because he is actually in mortal danger. Antonio confesses that, in a fight against Orsino's ships, he made himself so conspicuous that there's now a price on his head, even though trade relations with Antonio's city have been restored (III,iii,26-39). Orsino tells Sebastian to meet him at a discreet inn later and gives the young man his purse, so that he can buy something if he wants. This generosity is on display in Antonio's next scene as well.

Act III, scene iv is lengthy, and Antonio makes a dramatic entrance toward its end, demonstrating once again his courage and loyalty. Antonio has left the safety of the inn to look for Sebastian, whose arrival is delayed. Antonio, in his searching, comes upon Sebastian about to fight a duel. This youthful recklessness is par for the course for Sebastian. The 'young man' he goes to save is really Sebastian's twin sister Viola, wearing her brother's clothes. Antonio has no way of knowing this, and in his panic, typically direct, he shouts as he rushes into the scene:

'Put up your sword. If this young gentleman
Have done offense, I take the fault on me:
If you offend him, I for him defy you' (III,iv,326-328).

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