Twelfth Night Act 4 Scene 3: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson provides a brief summary of Twelfth Night IV, iii, in which two complete strangers agree to get married, and explores the implications of the dramatic case of mistaken identity it presents.

Twelfth Night IV, iii: Mad About the Boy

Twelfth Night IV, iii is a brief but pivotal scene. In it, the confusion resulting from the identical twins Sebastian and Viola being simultaneously out and about in the streets of Illyria has its most dramatic result: the lovesick Countess Olivia proposes marriage to Sebastian. From the audience's perspective, they met, at the earliest, a few hours before. At the time, Sebastian was fighting a duel with her cousin. But, in one of the cases of mistaken identity in which Twelfth Night abounds, Olivia assumes that the gorgeous Sebastian was, in fact, the gorgeous 'Cesario' (Sebastian's sister Viola, disguised as a man), with whom Olivia has long been infatuated. Sebastian, having been inexplicably assaulted by a fat man with a sword, viewed the inexplicable invitation of a beautiful woman to accompany her to her house as a distinct improvement. In the 37 lines of Act IV, Scene iii, Sebastian wonders aloud whether he's crazy, and Olivia asks him to marry her.

Twelfth Night IV, iii: Synopsis and Themes

It's a good thing Sebastian's pretty, because Viola definitely got the smarts of this twinset. No protagonist of a zany rom-com was ever more confused than Sebastian is at the opening of Twelfth Night IV, iii. His compact sentences and short words attest to this: 'This is the air; that is the glorious sun. / This pearl she gave me, I do feel 't and see 't' (IV,iii,1-2).

Sebastian's worries are centered on the theme of madness that runs throughout the play. The actions of lovers are often described as mad, and Malvolio is even diagnosed as mad after his bizarre declaration of love for the countess. Sebastian has to reassure himself three times that he's not mad (lines 4, 10, 15). Another disturbing possibility he contemplates is that Olivia herself is mad. But if that were so, he reasons, she couldn't manage her household, and he's seen her doing that (IV,iii,16-21). All this leads Sebastian to the suspicion that, just maybe, there's been a mixup somewhere: 'There's something in 't / That is deceivable' (IV,iii,21-22). This suspicion is vague and is certainly not enough to keep Sebastian from throwing himself wholeheartedly into a relationship with the Countess who is coming onto him.

Olivia, as the audience knows, is not crazy, but she is crazy about 'Cesario'/Sebastian. Having spent most of the play trying to persuade 'Cesario' to return her love, she is overjoyed that this delightful young man has finally stopped putting her off with variations on the 'It's not you, it's me' speech. Shakespeare strongly implies that she and Sebastian have spent the time just before Act IV, scene iii having passionate sex. A pearl, Olivia's present to Sebastian, was symbolic in Shakespeare's time not only of wealth and status, but of a woman's virginity.

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