Twelfth Night Plot Summary
Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is in love with Olivia, a countess. She has refused his love for a long time, because she is still mourning the death of her brother. Viola, a young woman, comes to Illyia after her own brother, Sebastian, drowns. When she hears that Olivia has withdrawn from the world, she decides to do the same, and dresses like a man, calling herself Cesario, to disguise herself. She finds work as a page for the Duke, who quickly comes to favor her above all other servants and friends. Meanwhile, Olivia's courtiers and her relative, Sir Toby Belch, get drunk and have long parties. He and her maid Maria are especially well-educated, and enjoy making jokes together. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a fool, but they keep him around because he is rich. The Duke asks Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf, but Cesario finds that "he" has fallen in love with the Duke! Olivia's clown, Feste, sometimes plays the part of a fool but often reveals himself to be quite intelligent. He makes complicated, cynical jokes that Olivia, in her melancholy state, can appreciate, but Malvolio, her servant, is too self-important to enjoy the clown's humor. Cesario comes to court on behalf of Orsino, and though Olivia rejects Orsino's love, she suddenly falls in love with Cesario. She gives Cesario a ring. When Cesario realizes that Olivia loves him, he has no idea what to do--his master loves Olivia, and "he" is a woman!
Sebastian is, in fact, still alive: he was rescued by Antonio, who has been his closest friend ever since. Sebastian prepares to go to Illyria, and Antonio follows him, even though he was once at war with the town and thus has many enemies there.
Andrew, Toby and Maria love to drink and have fun, so when Malvolio tries to get them in trouble with Olivia over their parties, they decide to punish him. Maria decides to write a letter in Olivia's handwriting and leave it where Malvolio will find it. The letter will make Malvolio believe Olivia loves him. She will instruct him to dress and act in a way that will annoy Olivia. The men go off to watch Malvolio discover the letter. While Cesario/Viola tries to keep her love for the Duke a secret, the pranksters meanwhile gather to watch Malvolio with another friend, Fabian. Malvolio falls for the trick, and the men laugh uncontrollably. They go with Maria to see Malvolio make a fool of himself in front of Olivia. Meanwhile, Olivia tries to convince Cesario to love her, but he says he cannot. Sebastian and Antonio arrive in town, and Antonio gives Sebastian his money and tells him to meet him at their inn later. When Olivia sees how strangely Malvolio is acting, she tells Toby, Fabian and Maria to deal with him. They put him in a prison, and everyone assumes he has lost his mind. Andrew wants to challenge Cesario to a duel (he loves Olivia, so he sees Cesario as a rival.) Fabian and Toby talk separately with Cesario and Andrew, making each of them absolutely terrified of each other--when, in fact, Andrew is a coward and Cesario, being a woman, doesn't know how to fight. Antonio comes upon the impending duel and tries to rescue Cesario, believing him to be Sebastian. Cesario, of course, has no idea who Antonio is, so when Antonio asks for his money back, Cesario ignores him. Antonio is arrested and taken away, believing Sebastian has betrayed him. Meanwhile, Sebastian is discovered by the clown, who believes he is Cesario and tries to take him to Olivia. Just then, Andrew and Toby arrive too, and begin beating Sebastian, also thinking he is Cesario. Olivia arrives and rescues her "lover," and Sebastian, though confused, falls in love with her and agrees to marry her. Olivia is overjoyed that "Cesario" has changed his mind about her. They marry in a secret ceremony. Meanwhile, the jokers tease Malvolio. Furious and afraid, he writes a letter to Olivia and gives it to the clown to take to her. Everyone arrives at court at once. Olivia is angry with Cesario for breaking the promise of marriage that Sebastian made. The Duke angrily realizes that Olivia loves Cesario. Cesario admits that "he" loves the Duke. Finally, Sebastian comes in, and everyone is shocked at the identical twins. Cesario reveals that he is actually Viola dressed like a man. Olivia agrees to marry Sebastian, and Orsino agrees to marry Viola. When the clown brings Malvolio's letter to Olivia, Olivia realizes that he is not crazy, and summons him. When he gives her the letter he thought she wrote, she sees it was written by Maria. Furious, Malvolio storms out. Everyone else, however, is overjoyed at the way things have turned out.