Twelfth Night Act 2: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson provides a summary of Act Two of William Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, and also provides an analysis of the content. Read the lesson, and test yourself with the quiz.

Crossing Paths

Have you ever been at a party with your friends, and there is a lot going on? You may have one friend chasing after a girl in the library, another friend eating all the Cheetos in the snack bowl, and another friend that is jamming out with a guitar at the front of the room. You cross paths constantly at the party and somehow, you all get back together at the end of the night. In William Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, there are multiple plot points that are all interconnected to add up to one crazy story. In Act Two, characters illustrate this by each pursuing their own ends, but intersecting at various points.

Summary of Act 2

When Act 2 begins, we meet Sebastian, who has washed up on shore and been taken care of by a man named Antonio. Sebastian is understandably upset, due to the fact that he thinks his sister Viola is dead, and has decided to go traveling, stopping at Duke Orsino's court first. Because Antonio has grown attached to Sebastian, he decides to follow him there.

Meanwhile, at Olivia's house, Malvolio is unhappy, due to the fact that he has to deliver a ring from Olivia to Cesario, who is actually Viola in disguise. Malvolio thinks that Cesario/Viola gave the ring to Olivia, but that isn't actually true. Cesario/Viola tells Malvolio Olivia has to keep the ring, but he gets mad and throws it down. Viola realizes that the ring means that Olivia has feelings for her, thinking that she is a man. She feels sorry for Olivia, since there is no way she can be what Olivia wants. At the same time, Viola recognizes the love triangle that exists between Orsino, Olivia, and herself.

At this point, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are drinking with Feste the clown at Olivia's, and having a great time. Maria comes into the room and tells them they are being too loud. Malvolio also comes in, and he threatens the group, telling them he will tell Olivia they are being obnoxious. They begin to make fun of Malvolio, and he storms off in yet another rage. The group, led by Maria, decides to play a joke on Malvolio, writing letters and leaving them everywhere so that Malvolio will find them and think Olivia is in love with him.

The next morning at Orsino's, Cesario/Viola and Orsino discuss love, and Viola confesses she is lovesick, and describes someone like Orsino. After Feste sings about love, Orsino sends Cesario/Viola back to Olivia's to plead his case again, this time with some jewelry. Cesario/Viola tries to tell Orsino that Olivia just is not really into him, but Orsino is having none of it.

While this is happening, back at Olivia's, Maria, Sir Andrew, and Sir Toby have prepared a joke on Malvolio. Maria has written letters in Olivia's handwriting and has left them where Malvolio will find them. The letters talk about Olivia's secret love for someone of lower social ranking, and how she wants him to wear yellow stockings, be a jerk to everyone, and smile like a lunatic. Malvolio is so conceited that he thinks this must be about him, and he decided to do all the things outlined in the letter. However, Olivia hates the color yellow, and is not too fond of people being jolly around her at the moment. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria all laugh about what they have just witnessed, and pat themselves on the back for such a good trick. The prank has made Sir Toby think about Maria in more than just a friendly light, and he may have a crush on her.

Twelfth Night
Title page Twelfth Night

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