Twelfth Night Act 1 Scene 2: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson includes a synopsis and analysis of Act 1 Scene 2 of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night as well as a short quiz to test your comprehension.

Viola Arrives in Illyria

Act 1 Scene 2 of Twelfth Night takes place on the shore of the sea bordering Illyria. There is a captain, several sailors, and a young woman who appear to have just washed up to the land. The woman, Viola, asks where they are. The captain replies that they have arrived in Illyria. Viola says that Ilyria is no good to her and that her brother is probably in Elysium, which is another word for heaven. We learn that they had just survived a shipwreck and Viola got separated from her brother.

She asks the captain if he thinks that there is any chance at all that he may have survived. The captain comforts her, saying that she survived by chance and he probably had the same small chance of survival that she did. He also adds that when her brother was still in sight, he saw him hold tight to a mast and ride the waves, seemingly in control.

Viola is comforted by these words, especially because the captain is more familiar with sailing and the sea, so his words have credibility, or seem believable. She gives some money to him for saying kind words and asks about Illyria.

The Captain Describes Orsino and Olivia

The captain tells her that he used to live several hours away from Illyria and seems to know the area well; he tells her about the duke Orsino, whom Viola's father once knew. He tells her that recently the duke has become interested in Olivia, but Olivia is not interested in suitors, or even leaving her house, because her father died years ago and her brother just died recently.

Viola says that she would like to work for Olivia in some capacity, perhaps as a servant, so that she could remain out of the public eye until she is ready to reveal her identity. The captain thinks that might be difficult because Olivia has told her servants to not allow anyone to speak to her, not even Orsino's messengers.

Viola then decides that she could work for the duke instead. She compliments the captain, saying that she believes he is a good person even though he is handsome; often handsome people are not so good on the inside.

She then asks the captain to help her create a disguise and present her as a eunuch, or a young man who has been castrated or for some reason does not have functional sexual organs. Eunuchs were often held as servants or slaves for noble classes, and as a disguise for Viola, this would account for her higher voice and slightly effeminate behavior. Viola mentions that she can sing and talk about music, which will make her more valuable to the Duke. She says that she can pay the captain for his help if no one finds out who she is. The captain agrees that he will help her with the disguise and keep her secret from everyone in Illyria.

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