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Twelfth Night Act 1 Scene 5: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Katherine Garner

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

This lesson provides a summary and short analysis of Act 1 Scene 5 of Shakespeare's comedy ''Twelfth Night'' as well as a short quiz to test your comprehension.

Introduction of the Fool

At the beginning of Act 1 Scene 5, which takes place in Olivia's house, Maria is scolding the fool, which is like a court jester, for not showing up when he was expected. She says that Olivia may have him executed, or at the very least he will lose his job.

The fool says that these threats do not bother him because if he is executed he will avoid having a bad marriage, and if he is fired, he doesn't mind being homeless in the summer. Maria and the fool continue to argue until they hear Olivia about to enter; Maria warns him that he better think of a good excuse for not showing up to perform when he was supposed to. She leaves and the fool mutters to himself that he hopes he can fool Olivia into thinking that he is witty.

Olivia enters with some servants and Malvolio, her steward, or person who oversees household matters. The fool greets them but Olivia tells her servants to take the fool away. The fool responds that she is the real fool. They argue for a little while over what it means to be a fool and which one of them is more foolish. The fool points out that Olivia has been mourning her brother so intensely even though she believes he is in heaven, which, to him, is extremely foolish.

The fool antagonizes Malvolio similarly to how he did Olivia, calling him the real fool as well. Malvolio, however, takes the insults a little more personally and Olivia tells him that his vanity is getting in the way of enjoying the fool's antics, or silly behavior. The fool is surprised that she would defend him to Malvolio.

A Visitor Requests Entry

Maria re-enters the scene, announcing that there is a messenger who wants to speak with Olivia. Olivia guesses that the messenger was sent by Orsino and immediately asks that he be sent away. She asks that Malvolio go and handle the messenger, who is currently talking to her uncle Sir Toby Belch. She says he can tell him whatever he wants as long as he gets him to leave.

Sir Toby Belch enters and Olivia can immediately perceive that he is drunk. She is disgusted that he is so drunk at such an early hour. She asks him about who the visitor is but Toby will only say that he is 'a gentleman;' he does not really care enough and is also too drunk to give her more information. Annoyed, Olivia tells the fool to take care of her uncle.

Malvolio returns and explains that the visitor will not leave until he gets to speak with Olivia; he does not believe any of Malvolio's excuses about her being sick or asleep. Olivia asks what the visitor is like and Malvolio says that he is very rude, but also young, handsome, and well-spoken.

'Cesario' Arrives

Olivia finally says that the visitor may enter, but requests a veil so that she can cover her face. Viola, dressed as Cesario enters and asks for the lady of the house. At first Olivia pretends to only represent the lady of the house, but Cesario insists that he must speak face-to-face with Olivia because he has a very carefully prepared speech and needs to say it directly to her. Olivia then admits that she is the lady of the house.

Viola, as Cesario, insists that Maria and the servants leave so that she can give the message in private, and goes on to deliver the speech she wrote about how much Orsino loves Olivia. Olivia is skeptical, saying that if it took so long to prepare and memorize the speech then it probably isn't very true.

Cesario complements Olivia's beauty and says it would be such a shame if she kept it to herself and never has a family. Olivia sarcastically responds that she will share her beauty; when she dies she plans to have all of her body parts individually catalogued and labeled. She once again insists that she could never love Orsino.

Cesario says that if he loved Olivia as much as Orsino does, he would not understand why she is treating him that way. She asks him what he, Cesario, would respond to her rejections.

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