Twelfth Night Act 2 Scene 3: 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 brief analysis of themes of Act 2 Scene 3 of Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, as well as a multiple choice quiz to test your comprehension.

Toby and Andrew Fool Around With the Fool

Toby and Andrew enter at the beginning of Act 2 Scene 3. It is very late and they decide they might as well stay up all night; Toby argues that if you stay up past midnight into the wee hours of the morning, you are actually going to bed early. They call for Maria, the servant, to bring them wine and then the fool, or jester, enters.

They ask the fool to sing for them and Sir Andrew compliments his singing voice and how funny he was the other night when he was performing. The two men give him some money and he asks whether they want to hear a love song or a song about 'good life.' They request a love song and the fool begins to sing. The men compliment the fool again on his singing voice but comment that his breath smells bad.

Andrew and Toby request another song called Hold thy Peace, Thou Knave, which basically means 'Shut Up, you Fool.' They want to sing at the top of their lungs and dance around.

At that moment, Maria, the servant, enters and scolds the men for making such a racket. She says that Olivia has already told Malvolio, the manager of the household, that he should kick them out if they continue to drink and act belligerently late at night. Toby brushes this threat off and they continue to make noise. The fool comments that these men, who are apparently knights and of a noble class, are very good at acting like fools.

Sir Toby Belch in Act 2 Scene 3 of Twelfth Night
Sir Toby Belch in Act 2 Scene 3

Malvolio enters the room, angry at the men for drinking and making noise. He tells Toby that the only reason Olivia is letting him live there is because he's her uncle, but if he continues this behavior she will kick him out.

Toby once again dismisses this threat and begins to sing with the fool to antagonize Malvolio. He says Malvolio is merely a servant and is not as important and powerful as he thinks he is. They make fun of him for being so self-righteous, or always believing that he is morally superior to everyone. They again ask Maria to bring them more wine, and Malvolio scolds Maria for encouraging their bad behavior.

Malvolio leaves and Toby and Andrew begin to think of ways they could torment him. Andrew says he could challenge him to a duel and then not show up. Toby thinks this is a great idea and says that he will either write Malvolio a letter or talk to him face-to-face about the duel.

Maria Devises a Plan

Maria warns them not to do anything to Malvolio right away, especially while so boisterous and drunk, because Olivia has been acting strangely ever since the messenger from Orsino's house came to visit her. She says she knows what to do about Malvolio that will make a fool out of him in front of everyone.

She tells Toby and Andrew that she will write anonymous love letters to Malvolio and drop hints in them to make him think that they are from Olivia. He will be very flattered by this because he is always acting like he is better than everyone and of a higher social class than he really his. She says Toby, Andrew, and the fool can hide in a place near the letters so they can watch Malvolio's reaction when he reads them.

The men love this idea and, after she has exited the scene, praise and admire Maria for being so clever. They change subjects to the fact that Andrew has continued to be unsuccessful at winning over Olivia and he is running out of money. Toby tells him to ask for more to be sent to him; he is sure Olivia will come around eventually. He offers Andrew another drink and, looking at the time, decides it is definitely too late to bother with going to sleep.

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