Twelfth Night Act 3 Scene 4: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

In 'Twelfth Night,' love is making everyone act crazy, from the Lady Olivia to her steward Malvolio to Viola, who is pretending to be a page named Cesario. Read the lesson, then test yourself with the quiz!

Love, Tricks, and Everything in Between

Can you tell when spring is in the air? Not only are the trees blooming and the grasses growing, but it seems like everything is creation is pairing off -- or wanting to, at the very least. Soon you realize that it isn't just pollen in the air, but love as well! In Act Three, Scene Four of William Shakespeare's comedic play, Twelfth Night, multiple characters are making themselves into fools for love.

Malvolio is exhibiting some strange behavior, and Olivia is noticing it, but not in the way he wants, leading to some hijinks on the part of Sir Toby and Maria. Viola, who is pretending to be Cesario, is feeling the heat from Olivia, but doesn't feel that way about her in return. Sir Andrew, who came to Olivia's home to court her, is feeling slighted, and challenges Cesario/Viola to a duel. In the middle of all of this, Antonio, who has followed Sebastian all the way from his home for love, is arrested, and when he appeals to who he thinks is his beloved Sebastian (but is actually Viola), he is rebuffed and dragged away.

Summary of the Scene

As the scene begins, Olivia is falling in love with Cesario (who remember, is actually Viola in disguise), and she is getting sad because she cannot figure out how to make him love her back. She thinks her steward, Malvolio, can help her out with this, since he is pretty serious himself.

When Olivia meets up with him, however, he is acting crazy. Malvolio is smiling like a loon, he's wearing yellow stockings, and his garters are all crossed up. To make matters worse, he keeps quoting these off the wall statements that Olivia has no idea about. She asks Sir Toby and Maria to find out what is wrong with Malvolio, and to take care of it.

Malvolio acts crazily in front of Olivia
Malvolio acts crazily in front of Olivia

What Olivia doesn't know is that Malvolio thinks she is secretly in love with him, and is quoting the letter that he thinks she wrote but that was actually written by Maria. Instead, Olivia has given Malvolio over to the very people who are playing an epic trick on him! Sir Toby and Maria take advantage of this opportunity -- they lock Malvolio in a dark room and tell him he is crazy, maybe even possessed by evil spirits!

Sir Toby is apparently full of fun pranks like this, and continues to wreak havoc when Sir Andrew writes a letter and gives it to Sir Toby to deliver to Cesario. The letter is challenging Cesario/Viola to a duel, but Sir Toby thinks it would be more fun to go to each man, and tell him that the other is an awesome swordsman, and ready to fight the other. He does just that as Cesario/Viola leaves Olivia's home with the locket she was just given by Olivia as a sign of her love. Cesario/Viola tells Sir Toby that he/she doesn't want to fight Sir Andrew, but Sir Toby isn't okay with that, and induces each side to fight.

As the two draw their swords, Antonio appears on the scene and mistakes Cesario/Viola for Sebastian, who Antonio is in love with. He offers to fight in Cesario's place, but is arrested by officers who were following him. Antonio asks for his money purse from who he thinks is Sebastian so that he can post bail, but Cesario/Viola has no idea who he is! Thinking Sebastian has denied him, Antonio is heartbroken and dragged away by the officers. It suddenly occurs to Viola that Antonio called her Sebastian, and her brother could be alive! She runs away to find him, leaving Sir Toby and Sir Andrew confused.

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