Notes on Characters from Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night Major Characters

Orsino, Duke of Illyria: A rich duke in love with the countess Olivia. He lets his passions control him: he refuses to believe that Olivia could not love him, since he loves her so much. He tries to force her to love him, ignoring her requests to be left alone. However, like most of the other characters, he does not seem to truly be in love, but only infatuated. He is happy to marry Viola, when only a moment before he thought she was a man. Though his central characteristic may be his love for Olivia, this love does not seem to be based on anything--he is not even allowed to speak with her during most of the play!

Olivia: An intelligent and solitary woman, who has devoted herself to her dead brother. She jokes expertly with the clown. She stands firm against the Duke, even when he tries to force her to love him. However, as soon as she meets 'Cesario' she falls hopelessly in love. She rashly sends her ring after him. Like Orsino, she does not really seem to love too deeply: once she finds out 'Cesario' is a woman, she quickly falls in love with 'his' twin brother.

Viola: Independent and strong like Olivia, Viola decides she would enjoy pretending to be a man ('Cesario') for a time, and without any hesitation, dresses up as one. She is intelligent and warm: she thoughtfully considers whether her beloved brother could still be alive. However, like most of the other characters, she falls in love easily, and as soon as she is in love she is dependent on the Duke. Nevertheless, she bravely persists in pretending to be Cesario, even when she is forced to woo a woman for the man she loves, or even fight a duel.

Sir Toby Belch: The most intelligent prankster of the group. Toby loves to stay up late and drink, but he is more of a con man than a fool: he drinks with Andrew's money, not his own. He is uncontrollable: he does not heed Olivia's wishes, ignores Malvolio's warnings, and almost gets himself and Andrew killed. He enjoys nothing more than a good joke, and particularly likes clever ones. Thus, when Maria comes up with the elaborate plan of writing a letter to make Malvolio think Olivia is in love with him, Toby is thrilled. He loves the idea of cleverly impersonating someone else in a letter. He even marries Maria, apparently because of this trick.

Maria : Olivia's maid. Just as intelligent as Olivia but far less serious. Maria loves jokes as much as Toby, but sometimes scorns his drunken parties. She likes to punish people who deserve it. She gets annoyed with Malvolio's superior attitude, so she decides to teach him a lesson. She can be as cruel as the others--she sits by as Malvolio is institutionalized--but she is not a fool.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: The most foolish character in the play, despite what people might call the clown. He spends his money freely on people who are obviously taking advantage of him, believes Olivia loves him when there is absolutely no evidence of this, and only wants to fight with people as weak and cowardly as he is. He is constantly trying to appear wise and gentlemanly and is constantly failing: his confused speeches are a major source of comedy for the play.

Feste the Clown: Though his job is to entertain the court, he is much more intelligent than he at first appears. Everyone clearly respects him for it: they do not generally treat him as a fool. They talk seriously with him, sometimes ask for his advice, enlist him in their pranks, give him money, and compliment him. Though usually his philosophical speeches are comical and light-hearted, he sometimes makes coherent points. For example, he tells Olivia to stop pining over her brother and get married while she is still young.

Malvolio: Olivia's servant. A pompous, holier-than-thou Puritan, Malvolio is disliked by nearly everyone. Sir Toby and his friends hate him for disdaining their drunken parties. Maria hates him for being so arrogant. Olivia likes him, if only because his solemn, stuffy attitude appeals to her melancholy mood. He cannot take a joke, and believes himself to be above his station. He is vain: he assumes Olivia must be in love with him. He falls for a ridiculous trick, thinking that Olivia wants to see him smiling like a fool and wearing garish clothing.

Sebastian: Viola's brother. He looks exactly like her, and she thought he drowned during a storm. In fact, he was rescued by Antonio and became friends with him. When he comes to court, Sebastian causes great confusion, because everyone thinks he is Cesario (Viola disguised as a man). Olivia assumes he is Cesario, who she loves, and though he doesn't understand why she is treating him as if she knows him, he loves her too, and agrees to marry her.

Minor Characters

Captain: Viola's servant. He disguises Viola as Cesario, and agrees to keep quiet about it. Later, it is discovered that Malvolio has done something with him, though exactly what is never revealed.

Antonio: Friend of Sebastian, who rescued him from the storm. He was Sebastian's closest friend for three months, and when Sebastian left for Orsino's court, Antonio could not help but follow him, even though he was, in the past, an enemy of Orsino and was therefore taking a risk by going. He gives Sebastian his money, and when he meets Cesario and, mistaking him for Sebastian, asks for his money back, he is shocked that Cesario acts as if he doesn't know him. Antonio clearly loves Sebastian dearly, and is deeply hurt by this 'betrayal.'

Fabian : Member of Olivia's court, and friend of Sir Toby. He participates in the joke on Malvolio, and finally tells the truth about the joke to Olivia and the others at the end. He explains that although their joke was cruel, they were injured because of it also, so they should not be further punished.

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