Twelfth Night Act 2 Scene 1: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Act 2, Scene 1 sets the stage for the biggest mix-up in Twelfth Night. Sebastian is alive and heading for Duke Orsino's court, where his twin sister is currently residing, dressed like a man. And neither knows the other is alive...

Recap of Act I

In Act I, we learned of Duke Orsino's great love for the beautiful but uninterested Olivia. She's in mourning for her dead brother, and won't consider romance at this time. So Orsino mopes around the house and thinks about ways that he can get Olivia to notice him.

Meanwhile, near the coast, Viola ponders her fate. She's just survived a shipwreck that killed most people on board, and she assumes her twin brother, Sebastian, has died. The captain cautions her about writing him off just yet; he says he saw Sebastian lash himself to the mast, so there is a possibility he survived. Viola shrugs, not wanting to get her hopes up.

Of course, she needs to figure out what to do now. She's stranded miles from home, with no brother to look after her. The captain mentions that she could find work in the house of Duke Orsino. But, since Orsino is a bachelor and Viola's protective of her virtue, she decides to go and try to work for him disguised as a teenaged boy.

We are introduced to Sir Toby, Olivia's drunken uncle, and his friend Sir Andrew, who hopes to win Olivia's heart. She shuts him down.

Viola, who has disguised herself and is going by the name Cesario, obtains a place in Orsino's household and quickly becomes his favorite. Orsino tasks Cesario with delivering his love letters to Olivia. Cesario goes off to bring the letter to Olivia, miserable because she has fallen in love with Orsino.

We're introduced to the servants in Olivia's household: the clown Feste, the witty Maria, and the dour Malvolio. Cesario enters and Olivia falls in love with her.

So at the end of Act I, we're left with this messy love triangle. Orsino loves Olivia, who loves Cesario, who is actually a girl who loves Orsino. Everyone is miserable, and everything is in a mess.

Major Characters

Sebastian is Viola's twin brother. All we know from the text is that they look a lot alike and that their father died years ago, leaving them alone in the world. Sebastian was presumed drowned in the shipwreck, but he survived with the help of his friend Antonio.

Antonio is the man who saved Sebastian. The depth of his care for his charge is revealed when Antonio agrees to follow Sebastian, even though it could cost him his safety.

Summary of Act 2 Scene 1

Two men are walking near the coast of Illyria. One, Antonio, has been letting the other man stay at his home. The other man is Sebastian, Viola's twin, who didn't die after all. Antonia rescued him and has been caring for him since the wreck. As the men's conversation unfolds, so do more details about the men.

Sebastian is preparing to leave. Antonio pleads with Sebastian to let him go, too. Sebastian brushes off this request. When Antonio presses him as to why, Sebastian's family story unfolds. Sebastian tells Antonio about his sister, whom he assumes died in the wreck. Sebastian's devastated because he has no family left.

He tells Antonio it doesn't matter where he is heading, he has nothing left to live for with his family gone. The audience learns that Antonio rescued Sebastian from the shipwreck. Antonio asks again to accompany Sebastian, and Sebastian again says no. Antonio even offers to be his servant.

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