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Drama: Twelfth Night Learning and Teaching Guide



This material has been written both as a resource for teachers and as a study aid for students working on Unit 2 (Study of a Text in its Theatrical Context) of Higher Drama.
Twelfth Night
Learning and Teaching Guide
David M. S. Roy
Shakespeare’s Life
A Chronology
Section A - Overall directorial interpretation and dramatic commentary
Act One
Act Two
Act Three
Act Four
Act Five
Section B - Directory of acting pieces
This publication has been written as Twelfth Night has replaced The Merchant Of Venice
as the Shakespeare Set Text for the SQA Higher Drama Examination. The new material
has been written both as a resource for teachers and as a study aid for students working
on Unit 2 (Study of a Text in its Theatrical Context) of Higher Drama.
Shakespeare’s World is brief summation of Shakespeare’s life and a context to the time
of the writing of ‘Twelfth Night’. It is to be used to support students’ further study into
the background of Shakespeare and his life. This section also includes a simple
chronology listing of the key events and writings of Shakespeare. It reflects the lack of
agreed specifics that we have on Shakespeare.
Section A provides a list of the features of each key scene in Twelfth Night which would
be important in any production of the play. It also provides space for the student to record
why each key scene would be important in his/her intended production.
Section B provides a directory of possible acting pieces in terms of casting, suitable
length and specific challenges to the actor.
All textual references are to the recommended edition of the text which is published by
Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd under The Arden Shakespeare Series, edited by J. M.
Lothian and T. W. Craik (1975/2005).
Other resources for this unit include the following:
The Arrangements for Drama published in 1997 containing detail of content,
suggested learning and teaching approaches, guidance on assessment and unit
The Subject Guide for Drama, the first instalment of which was published in 1997,
includes guidance on learning and teaching in general, bi-level teaching,
differentiation, workshop approaches to the text, health and safety guidelines,
ensuring appropriate access for students with special education needs.
The National Assessment Bank packages published in 1998, and updated in 2003, for
each unit of Drama include all checklists, task sheets, marking instructions and
guidance necessary to carry out the internal assessment of each unit.
A video published in 1998 exemplifies standards of practical performance for
Investigative Drama (Unit 1), and for Acting in both Study of a Text in its Theatrical
Context (Unit 2) and Contemporary Scottish Theatre (Unit 3).
I must thank the help, comments and advice of Gordon Jarvie of the SCCC, and the
Drama staff and students of Stonelaw High School (South Lanarkshire).
Shakespeare’s work is as insightful today as it was 400 years ago. I dedicate this writing
to my son David Macpherson Roy, whom I hope will learn to appreciate the insight in to
life that Shakespeare has offered myself, and hopefully all others that continue to study,
perform and watch his plays.
Shakespeare’s World
Shakespeare’s Life
Many of the facts about the life of Shakespeare are hazy at best. It is through
historical documentation that we do know many key pieces of information. However
there are large gaps in out knowledge of Shakespeare and his life. Academics have
written many books trying to fill in these gaps of knowledge and the information
contained here is a summation of this, the knowledge gained through anecdotes and
historical context where factual evidence lacks.
William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 to Mary and John Shakespeare, in Stratford-
upon-Avon. He was their first son, but their third child and was baptised on 26th April
1564. Most scholars take the date of 23rd April as his actual birth day, though this may be
because it is exactly 52 years to his death and St. George’s Day.
While William’s early life has little record, his family as a whole was well known in
Stratford-upon-Avon. His father worked with leather goods and eventually became a
involved in local government, eventually becoming a town councillor and having a coat
of arms. While a prominent family, they also probably had Catholic sympathies; which
was important fact, a potential difficulty in the new Protestant England.
As his family had some importance in the town, Shakespeare probably attended Stratford
Grammar School and he helped in the family leather business. The first real record of
William Shakespeare himself is of his marriage to Anne Hathaway when he was eighteen
in 1582. She was eight years older than him and even more importantly three months
pregnant when they married.
He had three children in the 3 years, Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith. What
happened in the next seven years is unknown but he surfaced in London in 1592.
In 1592 Shakespeare is described as an upstart Crow of an actor by Robert Greene. He
also starts to gain some notice as both a performer and a writer, including his play trilogy
Henry VI (Parts I, II and III). Between 1592 and 1598 he gained in status as a playwright,
while continuing to perform in plays as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He
averaged writing about two full plays a year. In 1599 the Globe Theatre was re-erected
and Shakespeare was listed as one of ten “housekeepers”, or shareowners. As he was
already a shareholder in another theatre, he started to earn a good sized income on top of
the money he made writing plays and performing. This is reflected in the property he
started to purchase back in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Around 1600, having mainly written comedies and history plays, Shakespeare started to
write the great tragedy plays such as ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Hamlet’. Even the comedies he
wrote after this time are so dark that it is hard to realise at times they are defined as
comedies (such as ‘Measure for Measure’). It was in 1601 that William Shakespeare’s
father died and whether this was a part of the reason for Shakespeare’s change in writing.
Another factor might be that Shakespeare wanted to be respected more as a playwright
and tragedies were seen as being more important than comedies. However Shakespeare
became even more financially secure when his theatre company became funded by the
new King James I (James VI of Scotland) and renamed the company the King’s Men. He
wrote ‘Macbeth’ for the King who had had an attempted assassination in 1605, a day that
is still remembered through Guy Fawkes.
Around 1608 Shakespeare changed direction in writing, and focussed more on romance.
He also started to share writing with John Fletcher who it is thought co-wrote ‘Henry
VIII’ and ‘The Two Noble Kinsman’. By 1611 Shakespeare had returned to Stratford-
upon-Avon. While we know little about Shakespeare in his final years, he was fifty two
when he died in April 1616.
Seven years later the ‘First Folio’ was published containing thirty six plays of
Shakespeare, many being published for the first time. Although there have been question
as to whether Shakespeare actually wrote the plays or not, what is important is that we
currently attribute authorship to Shakespeare. There are many texts that discuss this that
students can research if they want.
Shakespeare’s Theatre
In the 16th and 17th centuries, 10% of London’s population went to theatre. These plays,
known as Public Plaise, took place every day, except Lent, Sundays and during outbreaks
of the Plague!
This demand meant that there was great pressure for constant new work. This also meant
that they plays were not usually viewed as great literary works. Indeed, Shakespeare's
plays were never edited and collected until after his death - his scripts were worked on
right up until the performance.
Early players toured the country, performing in market places. This happened so much
that in 1572 an Act of law was passed that classed actors as poor as beggars unless they
could prove noble patronage.
As a consequence, many theatrical companies disappeared. Some went to London to
play in the inn yards. However, places on the south of the river were out with the control
of the city officials who didn’t want actors or theatres. And it was in this area that theatre
developed again.
In 1576 the first purpose built theatre was constructed. In 1599 the Globe Theatre was
There are only few historical clues to tell us what the theatre buildings were like. They
were large wooden constructions, open to the air. In Henry V, Shakespeare describes the
theatre as a wooden “O”. A surviving copy of a sketch by a visitor gives an insight into
the kind of construction.
Shakespeare was based at The Globe. Today in London, you can visit a recreation of The
Globe Theatre, which gives you an idea of the size of the theatre, and how plays were put
on there.
Evidence shows that Shakespeare may well have been an original member of the
company based at The Globe both as writer and actor.
Performances in Shakespeare’s time only had male actors. Scripts were written as plays
were rehearsed, and so the scripts changed. Actors tended to be given their lines only and
there were few stage directions. This is one of the reasons that there are different versions
of Shakespeare’s plays now published as actors were often asked to say their lines again
for them to be written down after Shakespeare’s death.
The plays show few stage directions in scripts. There were no scene changes, so the
action was continuous. There were no elaborate special effects. No painted scenery.
Trumpets were blown before a “king” appeared on stage. Drums represented thunder.
Due to this lack of special technical effects, the writers, actors and public had to rely on
their imagination!
Shakespeare’s plays relied on the audience using their imagination!
“And let us, on your imaginary forces work.”
”Suppose within the girdle of these walls are now confined two
mighty monarchies,
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts; Into a thousand
parts divide one man,”
“Think when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their
proud hoofs i' the receiving earth.”
“For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, carry them
here and there; jumping o'er times, turning the accomplishment of
many years into an hour-glass.”
The performances took the whole afternoon - and through these stories, the people
escaped the filth of London. Escaped from their own troubles… and visited far off
countries and lands.
Everyone went to the theatre - no matter their status. Standing admission as 1p, seated
admission was 6p.
Let us take a step back into Shakespearean Times.
The world of Shakespearean England is very different to today. Think of a place where
there are no vans or cars. There are no postal services, no railways. No televisions, no
telephones, definitely no mobile phones. No pre-made breads and products. No
electricity. No gas. No antibiotics. No police. No chocolate.
Let’s visit London in the 1590’s…..
You walk down the street and realise London is a city of loud noises - horses hooves and
raw coach wheels on the cobbles, the yells of traders, the brawling of apprentices…
The streets are narrow, cobbled, and slippery with the slime of refuse. Chamber pots, or
‘jordans’, are emptied out of windows, so you have to watch where you walk. There is
no drainage. Most houses have a refuse heap outside.
The place smells. Not bathing is frequent, clothes are seldom cleaned. No wonder
everyone seems to be wearing heavy perfume! Getting sick is a bad idea. You've just
found out that a "cure" for asthma is to drink wine in which woodlice have been seeped.
Nobody drinks water they've only been drinking ale all day.
Look around and you see that the houses are crammed together, and there are a lot of
furtive alleys where muggers called swaggerers could easily accost you and rob you of
your money; which isn't a lot. You're pockets are empty, and your friend, who is a
servant to a big r, partially because it is dangerous to drink. Ale is the standard tipple,
and it is strong. Ale for breakfast, Ale for dinner, Ale for supper… most of the people
around you, seem to be staggering because a family earns only £2 a year!
Punishment for crimes is severe - torture, the rack, beheadings, dismemberment. In 1590,
with a population of only 5 million, England had 800 hangings.
Great travellers are aware of America, Australia and the Far East, but the common person
doesn't really travel much further than their own little town. Travel is expensive -
difficult if you aren't rich. Domestic travel is also exceedingly difficult… in order to
travel you need money AND a license.
You pass a small building and realise it is a school. In general, only boys go to school. A
girl's education is accomplished at home, although it usually includes reading and
arithmetic. The school day begins at 7:00am in winter or 6:00am in summer. The school
day ends at 5:00 or 5:30pm. There is no standard dictionary - that is 150 years away.
New words were invented all the time... and people spelled words in many different
ways. Shakespeare himself often signed his name differently at different times. This was
a time when words were still being developed - indeed many words which are strange
now, were strange then too!
You cross the Thames normally by boat-taxi, and you notice that there are criminals
chained to the banks of the river, forced to endure the washings of three tides. As you
pass under London Bridge, you spot the freshly-severed heads of criminals.
As peoples’ lives were harsh, plays were liked that made other people targets, to blame,
and allowed the population to escape.
And so all of this is why Shakespeare wrote about foreign places, and women dressing as
men, and his plays had such a bloodthirsty nature and ‘bawdy’ humour. And why there
are strange words.
Twelfth Night
‘Twelfth Night’ is so named after the last day of the Christmas festivities, when
traditionally order and misrule battle it out for control. Like some soap opera, the story
line reflects this. It is more than a boy falls in love with a girl. A girl falls in love with a
girl dressed as a boy. A boy falls in love with a girl dressed as a boy. A girl makes a boy
and a girl fall in love with her. As the title suggests through the festivities, the natural
order of things is turned on its head. The play was given a sub-title of ‘What You Will’
which suggests in itself innuendo.
The play was written as a comedy by Shakespeare, but like many of his works it also
contained ideas and themes that liked closely at the society Shakespeare came from. It
questions the strict morals of the time and poked fun at them through Malvolio’s
character, as well as generally mocking Court life. It portrayed women as strong
characters, such as Olivia and Viola, in a world where women were encouraged to be
seen as subordinate to men.
It was first probably written in 1602, when we do know it was first recorded as being
performed at the Middle Temple. It was the character of Malvolio that seemed to appeal
to the audience more than any other, as a figure of fun to mock. Its’ first publication was
as part of the ‘First Folio’ in 1623.
Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, be was inspired for the story by other sources. It is
thought that while the story originates from the Italian play ‘Gl’Ingannati’, he new the
story from the tale of Apolonius and Silla in Barnabe Riche’s writing ‘Riche Farewell to
Militarie Profession’. Shakespeare also used as an inspiration his own play ‘Comedy of
Errors’, with the confusion of identities and the mistaken requests for money.
‘Twelfth Night’ has remained popular throughout the ages for many of the same reasons
today as it was then. It uses puns and witty language. It has a slapstick humour of
mistaken identity, something that continues today in popular comedies such as ‘Fawlty
Towers’, ‘Blackadder’ and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’. Finally, it makes fun of pompous authority
figures and it has a happy ending, although for Malvolio it is anything but happy.
The largest area for discussion in recent times has been the idea of mistaken identity and
the representation of gender and sexuality. This is an area that all students must consider,
remembering that all the roles were originally played by males. Thus Viola was played
by a man, acting as a woman, pretending to be a man.
A Chronology
Many of the dates listed here are imprecise. When plays were written is uncertain, as the
dates listed sometimes are the first known performance. William Shakespeare’s birth and
death dates are not known definitively, just his baptism and burial.
1564 Shakespeare born 23 April.
Shakespeare baptised 26 April
1582 Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway
1583 Daughter, Susanna, is born.
1585 The twins, Hamnet and Judith, born.
1580’s- 1591 Writes ‘Henry VI (Parts I, II & III)’, and ‘Richard III’.
1592 An actor in London
1592-1594 Writes ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘The taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Titus
Andronicus’. He also writes the poem ‘Venus and Adonis’.
1594 Works exclusively for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. He also writes the
poem ‘The Rape of Lucree’.
1594-1595 Writes ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘Love’s Labour Lost’, ‘Richard II’,
‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’.
1595 Writes ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
1596 His son Hamnet dies.
1596-1598 Writes ‘Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2), ‘Henry V’, ‘King John’, ‘The Merchant of
Venice’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, and ‘Richard II’.
1599 Writes ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’.
1600 Writes ‘Much Ado about Nothing’. First quarto published.
1601 Writes ‘As You Like It’.
1602 Writes ‘Twelfth Night’.
1603 Theatre company named the King’s Men.
Writes ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, and ‘Trolius and Cressida’.
1604 Writes ‘Measure for Measure’ and ‘Othello’.
1605 Writes ‘King Lear’.
1606 Writes ‘Macbeth’.
1607 Writes ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Timon of Athens’.
1608-1610 Writes ‘Pericles’. He completes ‘The Sonnets’.
1611 ‘Cymbeline’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Tempest’ written.
1612-1615 He co-writes ‘Henry VIII’, and ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ with John
1616 William Shakespeare dies 23rd April.
Buried 26th April.
Section A
Act One
(pages 5 - 37)
Why would Act One be important in any production of the play?
Provides context of the play and gives background to the action/storyline
We learn that Orsino is the Duke of Illyria, a historical ancient area opposite Italy, in
the Balkans.
We are introduced to the fact that Orsino is in love with Olivia.
Viola has survived a shipwreck where she believes her twin brother Sebastian is
Viola knows of Orsino.
We meet Sir Toby Belch, uncle to Olivia, and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek who
also wants to marry Olivia.
Viola has disguised herself as a man.
Viola reveals herself to be in love with Orsino, even though she is to be his
representative to Olivia to win her heart.
Olivia is depressed and even her clown cannot cheer her up.
Malvolio is revealed to lack any humour.
Olivia, on hearing Viola’s words, seems to be falling in love with Viola (whom she
believes to be a man.
Begins plot
Orsino declares his love for Olivia, though seems to be more in love with the idea of
Viola has been shipwrecked and decides to disguise herself as a man and enter Duke
Orsino’s service as she has heard good things of him from her father.
She believes her brother to have drowned.
Olivia has no interest in Orsino.
Sir Toby decides to promote Sir Andrew as a suitor to his niece Olivia.
The development of closeness and trust between Viola and Orsino is very clearly
Viola is sent to woo Olivia on Orsino’s behalf.
Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, starts to fall in love with Viola.
Malvolio is introduced and the hints of his own self love are suggested.
Introduces key characters
Orsino is established as the Duke of Illyria. While he claims to love Olivia, as he does
not mention her name until further into his speech. It becomes apparent that Orsino is
more in love with the idea of being in love that with Olivia herself. Is immediate trust
and bond with Viola is also shown, which prepares for the development of their
relationship, for later in the play.
Viola is introduced as an intelligent beautiful woman. It is clear that she has fallen in
love with Orsino, while mourning the presumed loss of her twin brother. She uses
words in a clever way, full of puns which appealed to the audience of Shakespeare’s
Olivia is eventually introduced in Scene 5, after being mentioned in the previous three
scenes. While other think of her as a recluse, she is shown to be strong willed and
clever in her wordplay. She is more complex than others think, possibly using her
‘mourning’ to deter the advances of suitors, such as Orsino. She is also attracted to
the intelligence and youthful beauty of Viola, whom she believes to be a man. This
also suggests a form of narcism which will be developed by many of the characters
throughout the play.
Malvolio is introduced as a person who dislikes fun and laughter; though we are only
revealed a part of this aspect of him in Act I. He is a cold character.
Feste, the clown, a contrast to Malvolio is introduced and the dislike between Feste
and Malvolio is introduced.
We are also introduced to Sir Toby, who carries much of the comic element of the
play. He reveals in pleasure and self-gratification. He too is shown to have selfish
motives and reflecting the ideas of festive energies.
Sir Andrew also is a comic character, almost the second half of a comic duo with Sir
Toby. He is described by Maria as ‘a very fool’, and is used as a figure of fun.
Establishes central themes and issues
Excess is a theme which ties to the title of ‘Twelfth Night’. The play is reflects the
idea of passions and in Act I, Olivia is described as having an excess of mourning,
while Orsino wishes an excess of music. Orsino seems to love the idea of love to
excess. Of course there is the obvious excess of food and drink which consumes Sir
Toby and Sir Andrew..
Love and self-love is a theme in its own right in ‘Twelfth Night’. Orsino’s passion for
Olivia is more about him being a lover. Malvolio is described as having a self-love
and importance. Olivia herself is more concerned with image and beauty than actual
love. Her mourning is seen as almost self-obsessed and indulgent.
Why might Act One be important in your production of the play?
As a director, how will you ensure that your audience understand the
background to the play? Are they familiar with the conventions and attitudes of
Shakespeare’s time?
How will your production establish a setting other than 16th/17th Century
Italy/Balkans where Illyria was thought to be?
What are your directorial concepts? How will Act One introduce them?
How do you want you audience to feel towards Orsino? How will this affect the
acting of his character?
How do you want you audience to feel towards Viola? How will this affect the
acting of her character?
How do you want you audience to feel towards Sir Toby and Sir Andrew? How
will this affect the acting of their characters?
How do you want you audience to feel towards Olivia? How will this affect the
acting of her character?
How do you want you audience to feel towards Malvolio? How will this affect the
acting of his character?
What kind of relationship between Orsino and Viola do you want to create?
What kind of relationship between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew do you want to
What kind of relationship between Olivia and Malvolio do you want to create?
What kind of relationship between Viola and Olivia do you want to create?
What attitudes towards Malvolio do you want Feste and Olivia each to show?
Act Two
(pages 38 - 73)
Why would Act Two be important in any production of the play?
Development of plot
Sebastian is introduced. He is Viola’s twin brother and also survived the shipwreck.
He decides to go to Orsino’s court.
His new found companion is Antonio, who declares that even though he is in an
enemy land, he will stay with Antonio as he ‘adores’ him.
Viola discovers Olivia has fallen in love with her (disguised as Cesario).
Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria decide to trick Malvolio into thinking Olivia is in
love with him. This is after Malvolio threatens them over their drinking and
Orsino and Viola discuss love, with Orsino arguing that woman cannot love as strong
as men and Viola (as Cesario) talking of her sister (really herself) having a passionate
requited love (for Orsino).
Malvolio finds a letter written by Maria, and is fooled into believing it is from Olivia.
He believes mistakenly that Olivia loves him decides to do all she asks of him the
letter, such as wear yellow garters. Malvolio does not realise that this will make
Olivia dislike him even further, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria all watch with
laughter, setting up events for later in the play.
Further illustration of themes and issues
The theme of love and self love is further developed. This is through Feste’s cynical
view on love in Act II, scene 3. Malvolio’s self-love is further explored with the
comic characters punishing him with a cruel trick. Orsino and Viola discuss the
differences of attitude to love they believe that both men and women have. In
comparison to this the one selfless love of the play that Antonio has for Sebastian is
introduced. There is a suggestion that Antonio’s feelings for Sebastian are more than
just friendship.
Gender as a theme is explored though it is always ambiguous. Does Orsino have
feelings for whom he believes to be a young boy; Viola? Viola’s own disguise allows
her to explore romance and love while not challenging masculinity. There is the
question of whether this challenges or actually re-enforces the question of gender.
Shakespeare seems at this point of the play, to use gender to explore other themes
without making any concrete explorations of it in itself.
Development of character and relationships
Sebastian is introduced, and the high regard he is held in by Antonio.
The comic relationships between Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew are further
developed. There are also hints at a future relationship between Sir Toby and Maria.
Malvolio’s character of Puritanism is revealed and the dislike he is held for by other
Viola realises that Olivia has feelings for her (as Cesario).
The feelings of love that Viola has for Orsino are shown, through her telling of a
fictional sister who is in reality herself.
Malvolio’s hidden feelings for Olivia are outwardly shown, though it is Malvolio’s
own ego that is flattered rather than true feelings for Olivia, reflecting his own self
Why might Act Two be important in your production of the play?
How does this act develop your overall directorial interpretation?
How do you want the audience to feel towards Antonio? How will this affect the
acting of the character? How will this also affect the acting of the character of
How do you want the audience to feel towards Malvolio? How will this affect the
acting of the character?
How do you want the audience to feel towards Viola? How will this affect the
acting of the character?
What relationship do you want to create between Sebastian and Antonio? How
will this be shown in performance?
What relationship do you want to create between Orsino and Viola? How will
this be shown in performance?
What relationship do you want to create between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and
also between Sir Toby and Maria?
What impression of Malvolio do you wish to show at his reaction to the finding
of the letter in Act II, scene 5? How will this be shown in performance?
Act Three
(page 74 - 115)
Why would Act Three be important in any production of the play?
Development of plot
Feste reveals he knows more about the situation that others realise
Olivia declares her love for Viola (Cesario).
Sir Toby convinces Sir Andrew to challenge Viola to a duel.
Antonio follows Sebastian but later gets arrested, accused of theft, when rescuing
Viola from a duel with Sir Andrew.
Antonio believes Viola to be Sebastian, giving Viola hope that her brother Sebastian
is still alive
Malvolio dresses in yellow stockings and cross-gartered, following the letter’s
Olivia thinks Malvolio is mad.
Further illustration of themes and issues
Love is further developed in this Act, in particular the way language is used to
express love. Shakespeare uses a variety of forms through Olivia and Viola’s
meetings to reflect love and their feelings.
The idea of madness and excess is sharply shown through Malvolio’s new
appearance. Olivia refers to Malvolio as having a ‘very midsummer madness’.
Antonio’s capture reveals his almost excess love for Sebastian with words such as
‘idol’ and ‘god’ expressing his feelings.
A side theme that links to excess is that of time. Time is forever running out, with
references to clock ticking; and of time passing. This has been read as clear reflection
of the title ‘Twelfth Night’ when the festivities of Christmas and excess finish. It is as
if this period of madness and fun must come to an end. In addition the play has been
seen as reflecting Shakespeare’s end of writing romantic comedies and preparing for
his new period of work, the tragedies.
The role of Gender is further explored with Feste’s comments that could be
interpreted as knowing who or what Viola really is. Indeed Viola herself makes a
rude aside that she lacks a ‘little thing’.
Development of character and relationships
Viola and Olivia’s relationship meets its most intense her, and they will not be seen
alone together after this Act.
Viola’s strength in character and mind is shown. She matches Feste in wordplay. She
is able to equal and surpass Sir Toby and Sir Andrew in their verbal attacks on her.
She also reveals the reason she dressed so similar to Sebastian, to keep his memory
alive. She uses puns to suggest to the others she is not what she seems and is able to
counter Olivia without hurting her.
The cruelty of Sir Toby is shown, not only in his encouragement in Malvolio’s
mistreatment, but in his attitude to Sir Andrew. He encourages the fight and yet
makes it clear his friendship with Sir Andrew is monetary based.
Sebastian shows his acceptance of Antonio, even though Antonio is slightly
ambiguous about why he is a wanted man in Illyria.
Antonio shows the depth of care he has for Sebastian.
Malvolio owns sense of self importance sets himself upo for the mocking he shows
in this Act. However while he may be seen as dislikeable, he shows a strength of
purpose in how he acts. It is also revealed how much Olivia actually depends on him
to run her house.
Why might Act Three be important in your production of the play?
How does this act develop your overall interpretation of the play?
How will you build up dramatic tension in the episode? Do you want the
audience to find humour in Olivia’s misconceptions about Viola?
There are a variety of different situations Viola finds herself in this act. How do
you want Viola to be portrayed in her meetings with Feste, Sir Toby and Sir
Andrew, Olivia and Antonio?
Although Malvolio has appeared as overbearing so far, do you want the
audience to feel any sympathy or not for him? How will you achieve this?
What to you want to convey about the relationship between Sebastian and
How will you want Olivia to act towards Viola, and in contrast towards
How will you show the relationship between Antonio and Viola; and Viola’s
reaction to hearing her called Sebastian?
Act Four
(page 116 - 130)
Why would Act Four be important in any production of the play?
Development of plot
Sebastian is mistaken for Viola (Cesario) by Feste, then Sir Andrew and Sir Toby,
and finally by Olivia.
Sebastian beats Sir Andrew in a fight that Sir Andrew starts. Sir Andrew wants
Sebastian arrested.
Olivia takes Sebastian to a priest to be married and Sebastian readily agrees.
Feste tries to convince Malvolio that he is mad, in a cruel, darkening of the joke on
Sir Toby, worried that he has offended his neice Olivia, tells Feste to end the joke.
Malvolio decides to write a letter to Olivia explaining his behaviour and that he is not
Further illustration of themes and issues
The idea of excess, and time ending , is further explored through Sebastian and
Olivia’s quick meeting leading to Olivia’s proposal to marriage.
Madness is referred to a great deal in this Act. Sebastian questions if he is mad with
quickness of his acceptance of a relationship with Olivia. Also questions if it is she
who is mad. Malvolio claims to not be mad, and Feste accuses him of this. With
Malvolio, the idea of madness is more that a metaphor, he is pushed close to a
breakdown by Feste, revealing the darker side to the comedy in the play.
Development of character and relationships
Sebastian’s character is revealed in greater part. He is flattered by Olivia and could be
seen to to easily agree to marriage.
His need for advice and support fro Antonio reveals how isolated both he and his
sister Viola are in the play.
Olivia is seen as almost rash in her actions.
It is Feste, in this Act that reveals are cruelty to his intelligence that has previously
not been shown. This is through his treatment of Malvolio, both in disguise as Sir
Malvolio’s strength of character is shown through his refusal to believe the
accusations of madness and his decision to write to Olivia.
Why might Act Four be important in your production of the play?
How does this Act develop your overall directorial interpretation?
How will you stage the tormenting of Malvolio by Feste?
How do you want Feste to be portrayed and acted? Do you want him to be seen
as cruel or have the audience the humour in his actions?
How do you want Malvolio to be acted? How do you want the audience to feel
about him at this point?
How do you want Sebastian and Oliviato be acted? How do you want the
audience to feel about them at this point?
Act Five
(page 131 - 156)
Why would Act Five be important in any production of the play?
Development of plot
Antonio is brought to Orsino and revealed to be an enemy of Illyria.
Viola is accused of betraying Antonio, whom she does not know, of attacking Sir
Toby and attacking Sir Andrew.
Olivia arrives and claims, with the priest as evidence, that she is married to Viola.
Orsino feeling betrayed by Viola threatens to kill her.
Sebastian arrives, admits his love for Olivia, and his friendship with Antonio.
Viola and Sebastian realise they are sister and brother. And are re-united.
Orsino, having realised what has happened and that Viola has always loved him asks
Viola to be his mistress, and presumably his wife.
Sebastian and Olivia have been married
We discover that Sir Toby has also married Maria.
Malvolio is brought in and the trick played on him is revealed.
Malvolio swears revenge.
Further illustration of themes and issues
The theme of love is most clearly shown through the re-union of the two twins
Sebastian and Viola. The idea of them representing the union of souls is also
suggested. This seems to be more important than the worldly joining of people in
marriage, such as Sebastian and Olivia, Toby and Maria and Orsino and Viola. Love
is only mentioned in the marriage of Viola and Orsino. Even then Shakespeare is
daring in that Orsino continues to refer to Viola as her male identity Cesario. To add
to this Viola never changes costume out of her male alter-ego thus leaving a homo-
erotic suggestion.
Development of character and relationships
All the character strands are resolved.
Orsino and Viola claim their affection for each other, as do Olivia and Sebastian.
Sebastian and Antonio’s friendship is resolved.
Viola and Sebastian are re-united.
Malvolio is betrayed by all and swears revenge. This is the only really unresolved
element of the play.
Why might Act Five be important in your production of the play?
How does this act conclude your overall directorial interpretation?
How do you want Viola’s confusion to be acted to? Will it be humorous or
How do you want Olivia and Orsino to be acted? Will they be shown to be
betrayed and angry? How will you show their sudden acceptance of each other?
How do you want Viola and Sebastian’s relationship to be acted?
How do you wish to portray Viola and Orsino’s relationship through out the
whole Act, and the changes it undergoes?
How will you show Malvolio’s reaction to the deception he has had?
How do you want the other characters to treat Malvolio and how will you show
How do you want the audience to feel at the end? What message do you want
them to take away?
How will you interpret the use of songs throughout the whole play?
Section B
Acting Roles
Viola is often thought of as the emotional heart of the play. Viola’s role is to allow the
other characters to escape from the circumstances in which they have been trapped. She
is herself remains trapped in the role she adopts as Cesario. While she might appear wit
and light-heartedness, she is a serious character. She moves from playfulness to torment
and eventually farce. There is forever a bitter-sweet edge to her character that is never
satisfied. Even though she finally is paired with Orsino her love, and reunited with her
brother Sebastian, she seems unable to stop being Cesario, and remains in costume, a
woman seen as a man. She is alone in the play, a go-between for Orsino, always
misunderstood. She never even confides in audience as she has a lack of asides or
soliloquies. She remains hidden and it is only at the end of the play that she is finally
called her own name, by her brother, and Orsino continues to call her Cesario. It is a
rewarding role to play as it is all about disguise; however it can challenge to a performer
to bring out a real sense of sympathy for such a closed character.
Olivia is a almost a balance to Viola. On the surface she moves from mourning through
to happiness and marriage. Yet this is counter balanced in that where Viola is emotional,
Olivia is withdrawn. When Viola engages with other, Olivia removes herself. She has a
passion in her that is restrained. It is both these similarities and contradictions that give
her scenes with Viola an emotional energy. The difficulty for the actor is making her
extreme reactions believable in unbelievable and contrived circumstances. She is beauty
to be adored by all those around her, yet she gets few opportunities to show her qualities
of others admiration.
Orsino’s love is self absorbed. He seems to not know the person he loves and offers
clichés and overtly romantic ideals. For all that he is a leader, he is easily swayed by
Cesario, and it is suggested that it is the feminine boy Cesario that he loves, more than
the actual woman that Viola is. The actor playing Orsino has some beautifully poetic
speeches. The challenge is to make this character more than a metaphor to discuss love
and to play other characters against.
Malvolio is the character to whom audiences have always enjoyed watching. In a comedy
he is the figure we delight in seeing falling especially as it is through his own arrogance
and hypocrisy that this happens. The role is possibly one of the most enjoyable to play as
he is the villain of the piece and yet has some of the most humourous aspects of the play
to show, while attempting to retain his dignity. He is the one character who is not
educated out of his mistakes but punished and finishes the play leaving a darker note on
this romantic comedy. The actor must decide on how far to attempt to gain the audience’s
sympathy. Is Malvolio a puritan, trying to hinder any enjoyment of the others; or does he
only try to do his job as the steward of Olivia’s household which should still be in
Sir Toby
Sir Toby is a character around whom the farcical elements of the play revolve. He
represents excess in all its forms. Yet while a character who drinks and seeks fun, he is
entirely selfish. He seems to live off his Niece, and he encourages the fighting for pure
spectacle. He seems to have little care for others and only wishes to stop the maltreatment
of Malvolio in case he has offended Olivia too much. The actor must find the balance
between the loud, comic characterisation and the selfish aspects to the character.
Sir Andrew
Sir Andrew is the comic partner to Sir Toby. He is continually in the shadow of Sir Toby
and Orsino. He is an effeminate man, in contrast to Cesario the actual feminine man. He
is seen as a fool throughout the play yet there is a suggestion of being once loved. The
actor’s challenge is make him more than a device for the other characters to reveal
themselves and offer the audience a means to engage with him as an individual rather
than just as Sir Toby’s foil.
The Clown is the character that leads the audience through the play. He acts in many
ways as a Greek Chorus, commentating on the events as well as participating in them.
The actor in this role must show a great variety of skills. He uses language cleverly to
offer truths in the play, is witty and yet has beauty in the songs he sings. The performer of
the role must find the humour and lightness in the character while also being able to
suddenly show Feste’s cruelty in the manner he baits Malvolio.
Sebastian has limitations to his characterisation as he used more as a plot device. The
actor will struggle to find depth in the role, with the scene between Sebastian and Olivia
perhaps being the greatest opportunity. Sebastian can be seen as having a shallower side
than his sister, through the apparent ease he decides to accept Olivia’s flattery and offer
of marriage.
Maria is a character who is used by Shakespeare to make commentary on others around
her and to move the plot forward. She has insight to others and it is this aspect along with
her intelligence and scheming in Malvolio’s downfall that the performer needs to focus
on developing.
Antonio has an interesting role in that he develops an instant devotion to Sebastian. The
actor must decide clearly the relationship Antonio has towards Sebastian. Antonio’s
feelings about the country of Illyria and his meeting with Orsino allow for further depth
in the character, as do his mistaken feelings of betrayal by Viola.
Recommended acting pieces
Page reference: 11 - 18 (Act One Scene 3)
Opening line: ‘What a plague means my niece,...’ line 1
Closing line: ‘...Ha, higher! Ha, ha, excellent!’ line 139
Casting: 2 male and 1 female
Characters: Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew
Approximate length: 6 minutes
Comments: This scene is one of immense physical humour as well as word play. It is
key for showing the relationships between the three characters who will be the co-
conspirators against Malvolio. It is easy to play the characters as drunken stereotypes.
However comedy is often one of the hardest aspects to play. The status between the three
characters must be clearly shown. This includes Maria as a servant, Air Andrew
weakness and Sir Toby’s immaturity and dominance. Consideration must also be given to
the tunes of the song
Page reference: 32 - 37 (Act One Scene 5)
Opening line: ‘The honourable lady of the house,...’ line 169
Closing line: ‘What is decreed, must be: and be this so.’ line 215
Casting: 2 female, plus two supporting roles
Characters: Viola, Olivia, Maria and Malvolio
Approximate length: 5 minutes
Comments: This scene is mainly between Olivia and Viola. It is difficult as Viola must
be convincing as a female pretending successfully to be a man. Olivia must also be
convincing in changing form being distant to Viola to falling becoming smitten with her
as Cesario. Olivia must show a wide variety of emotional changes throughout the scene
so that the audience can accept her role. While the audience has knowledge of the real
identity of Viola and can find humour in the scene, it is important that they accept the
seiousness of the scene as well.
Page reference: 55 - 62 (Act Two Scene 4)
Opening line: ‘Give me some music.’ line 1
Closing line: ‘My love can give no place, bide no denay.’ line 125
Casting: 1 male, 1 female and 2 supporting roles
Characters: The Duke, Viola, Curio and Clown (Feste)
Approximate length: 6 minutes
Comments: This scene is important as it establishes Viola’s feeling for Orsino clearly,
and yet he is oblivious as to her true identity. It is a scene that is challenging for the
performer playing Viola as the audience must be able to understand the strength of love
she has for Orsino and yet sympathise in the irony of her position as Orsino talks of
women and Olivia. Orsino must establish his ability to be an authority figure in this
scene. The supporting role of Feste is a challenge, in that he has to be convincing as a
singer and entertaining in his wordplay.
Page reference: 74 - 78 (Act Three Scene 1)
Opening line: ‘Save thee, friend, and thy music!’ line 1
Closing line: ‘But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.’ line 69
Casting: 1 female and 1 male/female
Characters: Viola and Clown (Feste)
Approximate length: 4 minutes
Comments: While a shorter scene it is a very strong scene for Feste and Viola. Feste
here is shown to be more than just a comic foil, but almost a commentary for the
audience and showing a depth of wisdom as a character. The dialogue must be quick,
with timing be the key to a successful performance for both the actors. Viola also reveals
her own quick wit in this scene and her matching intelligence to Feste must be clearly
demonstrated. It is a scene which allows for an interesting balance between the two
characters in how they use the performance space.
Page reference: 79 - 84 (Act Three Scene 1)
Opening line: ‘My duty, madam, and most humble service.’ line 96
Closing line: ‘That heart which now abhors, to like his love.’ line 166
Casting: 2 female
Characters: Viola and Olivia
Approximate length: 5 minutes
Comments: An outwardly simple scene where the conversation is full of hidden
meanings that each character fails to understand. Each character reflects the others speech
patterns and a closeness between the two characters is suggested. Viola hides the truth of
her character with half-truths that the audience only have a full awareness of. This is an
intimate scene which will be a challenge to some performers in front of an audience,
where the audience have to suspend disbelief to allow it to work.
Page reference: 92 - 97 (Act Three Scene 4)
Opening line: ‘I have sent after him, he says he’ll come:’ line 1
Closing line: ‘ Well, Jove, not I, is the doer of this, and he is to be thanked.’ line 84
Casting: 1 male, 1 female and two supporting actors
Characters: Olivia, Malvolio, Maria and Servant
Approximate length: 5 minutes
Comments: This is one of the most visually funny scenes in the play. It is important that
Malvolio wears the yellow stockings. The actors have to remember that while this scene
is very funny, the characters have no realisation of the humour and are serious in their
roles. This is a wonderful scene for the actor playing Malvolio to real use their stage
Page reference: 120 - 128 (Act Four Scene 2)
Opening line: ‘Nay, I prithee put on this gown, and this beard;’ line 1
Closing line: ‘Adieu, Goodman devil!’ line 132
Casting: 1 male and 1 male/female and two supporting actors
Characters: Maria, Clown (Feste), Sir Toby and Malvolio
Approximate length: 7 minutes
Comments: This is a difficult scene in that the performers must consider carefully how
to stage it. Malvolio is in a darkened room but does not appear at the start of the scene. In
particular the difference in role between Feste and Malvolio allow the actors great scope
to show a variety in their performances. Again this is a scene that allows for a great deal
of comedy. However there is a cruelty in Feste’s treatment of Malvolio and a strong
performer should be able to reveal this subtlety.
Page reference: 136 - 140 (Act Five Scene 1)
Opening line: ‘ Here comes the Countess: now heaven walks on earth.’ line 95
Closing line: ‘ Hold little faith, thou hast too much fear.’ line 169
Casting: 1 male, 2 females and one supporting actor
Characters: Duke, Olivia, Viola and Priest
Approximate length: 4 minutes
Comments: The confusions of the whole play build to a climax in this scene. For the
actors, their reactions to each other are as important as the lines they speak. Viola’s
confusion and fear over how Orsino feels about her after Olivia’s pronouncements are a
challenge. It is important that the performers do not descend to simple stereotyping of the
characters. However it is a scene that allows the performers to emote their emotions
strongly on stage.
Reference Texts
There are a plethora of Shakespeare texts available, and every month more are added. I
enclose here only a small selection that I find useful for myself and students in the
teaching of Shakespeare in Drama. There is no particular order of preference as they are
listed in alphabetical order by author.
Ackroyd, Peter; ‘Shakespeare: The Biography’, Chatto and Windus, 2005.
Very easy to read, it gives an interesting historical life tale on Shakespeare and his world.
It is written in a flowing style and does not attempt to be too literary.
Burgess, Anthony; ‘Shakespeare’, Jonathan Cape, 1970.
A very readable biography that is well researched but not too long in detail.
Clayburn, Anne, ‘The World of Shakespeare’, Usborne, 1996.
A children’s book which is clearly written. It has excellent and useful illustrations and
photographs. It is written with a clarity that many ‘adult’ texts fail to have.
Dickson, Andrew (ed); ‘The Rough Guide to Shakespeare: The Plays, The Poems, The
Life’, Rough Guides, 2005.
A good users guide to works of Shakespeare including modern film and audio
Howard, John; ‘Twelfth Night: Cartoon Shakespeare’, Can of Worms Press, 2005.
One in a series, of the plays adapted into comic strip form. Very easy access to the
convoluted story, for beginners.
Kermode, Franke; ‘Shakespeare’s Language’, Penguin Books, 2001.
This text gives clarity to the writing style of Shakespeare and explains in detail the
meanings that different forms of writing in the plays have for the characters, when they
speak them.
McDonald, Russ; ‘The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare’, Bedford, 1996.
A book of immense detail, covering the cultural life and literary world of Shakespeare. It
contains documentary evidence and all the reference material needed to anyone who
wishes to have a deeper understanding of the works of Shakespeare.
Shapiro, James; ‘1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare’, Faber and Faber,
A fantastic telling of the details of London life in one of the most important years in
history during Shakespeare’s lifetime. This is an exciting read as well as being crammed
full with insight and understanding. It is very accessible for all readers.
Tillyard, E. M. W.; The Elizabethan World Picture’, Chatto and Windus, 1943.
While an older text, this gives a context to the attitudes and place in society of
Elizabethan England.
Wells, Stanley; ‘Shakespeare For All Time’, Macmillan, 2002.
A text that explores the writing, life and lasting effect of Shakespeare. An invaluable
reference and resource.
The World Wide Web.
One of the dangers of the World Wide Web is that anyone can say whatever they please
about anything at all. It is an unregulated mass of opinion, some wonderfully academic
and scholarly, some woefully shoddy and infantile.
Websites have a nature of changing addresses, changing names, changing content, or
disappearing completely. This is the nature of the internet. This bibliography offers some
sites as examples of what existed at the time of going to print. Offered, is as brief a
commentary as possible. Some sites may be unavailable for purely temporary technical
reasons. Many sites have a better visual content, rather than textual. Dive in, and ‘surf’
around. There is a lot of waste product but there is also a great deal to admire and enjoy.
Searching for ‘Twelfth Night’ or William Shakespeare on the web leads you to a lot of
sites that have little information, are adverts for video/DVD sales, book companies, or
want to sell essays about English Literature responses.
Often theatre companies have images available from past productions.
It is still of more use to read a good book rather than a limited website for research. The
best reference material to use is of course the work of William Shakespeare himself.
‘Twelfth Night’ : The Text
An excellent resource. This site looks at all aspects of the play from a literary viewpoint.
An intelligent, Shakespeare fan’s site. This has useful information and even more useful
links and pictures. It is from the USA and so has a bias to USA productions.
Good general site if fairly basic. It is useful for introducing students to the text.
A basic education site. It contains quizzes and summaries of the scenes and characters.
A site analysing the form and structure of the play. It is aimed at a literature based study
of the play.
the web site enotes, is an online essay site. That said there is some useful information on
the play here.
An excellent site, with particular emphasis on characterisation. It is again aimed at the
English literature student.
Student character revision notes.
‘Twelfth Night’ : Productions
A fantastic series of images from past RSC productions of ‘Twelfth Night’.
Review of the Theatre Royal Plymouth production starring Matthew Kelly that toured the
UK in 2005.
An interesting site on the production from The Marlowe Society.
Review of the West Yorkshire Theatre production.
Review site of the award winning 2002 production at the Globe, London.
Unique documentation of the process of the above Globe production.,3858,5003653-110430,00.html
Review of the 2004 Albery Theatre, London production. They transposed the play to
modern India.
Detailed reviews of the 1966 RSC performance.
Review of the film version of Kenneth Branagh’s original stage performance in 1988.
A simple Shakespeare resource site, with basic information, background and context.
The website of Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.
General Shakespeare information.
Official site for the Globe Theatre.
The Stratford-upon-Avon site, with some good pictures as well as brief information on
the world Shakespeare grew up in.
Excellent general Shakespeare site.
A great site with lots of fun and silly Shakespeare activities.
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