English 201: English Literature to 1700 (Prof. Boyer)
Reading Questions for Twelfth Night
The best beginning procedure is always to familiarize yourself with the cast of characters and then to read the play (or at least an act or a scene) all the way through so that you know what's happening. If possible, read the whole work first. The notes can help if you're stuck, but try to get the big picture of the play (or act, or scene) before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to read the work closely with these questions in mind. (In the discussion below, page and line numbers in parentheses refer to The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th ed., vol. 1 or 1B [2000] unless otherwise indicated.)

A note on line numbering in Twelfth Night: it is traditional to refer to plays by act, scene, and line numbers rather than page numbers. (Thus Orsino first speaks at 1.1.1; Curio first speaks at 1.1.16.)

Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Act 4
Act 5
Return to list of English 201 reading questions

 

ACT 1 (pages 1045-1060)

1.1

1.

What is Duke Orsino like? Why does he feel this way?

2.

Why is Olivia in mourning and how long will it last (1.1.25-31)?

1.2

1.

What has just happened to Viola? Whom does she think of first (1.2.3-4)?

2.

Why does Viola want to serve Olivia (1.2.32-40)? What does she finally decide to do?

1.3

1.

Who is Sir Toby and what is his relation to Olivia? What is his attitude toward life?

2.

Who is Sir Andrew Aguecheek and why is he there? When he appears at line 41, does he fit the description given of him earlier? What does he plan to do (1.3.84-85)? Why doesn't Sir Toby want him to leave? (Hint: see 1.3.20.)

1.4

1.

Who is Cesario and what is his relation to Duke Orsino? What is Cesario being sent to do?

2.

What does Orsino think he sees when he looks at Cesario (1.4.30-34)? What does he really see without knowing that he does?

1.5

1.

Why is Feste (the Clown) in trouble and how does he get out of it?

2.

From what we see of her up to 1.5.93, how seriously is Olivia mourning?

3.

What does Malvolio think of Feste (1.5.78-84)? What does Olivia think of Malvolio and Feste (1.5.85-91). What is an "allowed fool" (line 89)?

4.

How does Maria describe the young man at the gate (1.5.94-98)? How does Sir Toby describe him (lines 111-123)? How does Malvolio describe him (lines 133-155, especially 150-155)? Have any of them seen who is really there? Have any of them come close? (Remember Orsino at 1.4.30-34.) Who is "the young man at the gate"?

5.

Read the scene between Olivia and Viola/Cesario carefully (1.5.160-276). What happens in it? Try to break the scene into segments; what happens in each? What has happened to Olivia (1.5.277-286)? What does she tell Malvolio to do? What does Olivia see when she looks at Viola/Cesario?

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ACT 2 (pages 1060-1074)

2.1

1.

Who is Sebastian? Given what he says in 2.1.13-28, what do you expect will happen when he goes to Orsino's court (line 38)?

2.

Who is Antonio? Why shouldn't he go to Orsino's court, and why will he (2.1.40-43)?

2.2

1.

What does Viola/Cesario learn from her/his encounter with Malvolio? How will she solve it? (Note especially 2.2.39-40.)

2.3

1.

What time is it? What are Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste doing? Why does Sir Toby think he can get away with it (2.3.71-75)?

2.

What is Malvolio's response to them? How does Sir Toby treat him? (Note especially 2.3.106-108.)

3.

How does Maria describe Malvolio (2.3.137-143)? What is Maria's plan (2.3.145-165)? From what we have seen, does Malvolio deserve to have a trick like this played on him?

2.4

1.

Who sang for Orsino? (See 2.4.8-11.) Is this in conflict with 1.2.53-55?

2.

According to Orsino, should the man or the woman be older? Does he hear what Viola/Cesario is saying in 2.4.22-27? How willing (or able) is Orsino to listen to other people's ideas?

3.

What is Feste saying in 2.4.72-77? To whom is he saying it?

4.

What issue does Viola/Cesario raise in 2.4.86-87? How does she/he develop the idea in lines 88-91? How does Orsino answer her in lines 92-102?

5.

What happens to Viola/Cesario at line 2.4.102? Does Viola almost give herself away? How does she cover herself in lines 105-106?

6.

What is Viola feeling as she/he tells the sister's story (2.4.107-121)? Is she trying to make Orsino see who she really is (consciously or unconsciously)? If she keeps going, will even he figure it out? Is that why she asks the question in line 122, to get his mind onto something else?

7.

Does Orsino change his behavior during Viola/Cesario's story about "his" sister (2.4.107-121)? Notice that his questions respond to what she has said. Has he ever truly listened to anyone this way before? What do his lines 109 and 119 suggest? What does he feel at line 122?

2.5

1.

How big is Maria? (See 2.5.11 and other references.) If you have read A Midsummer Night's Dream, what part did this actor probably play in it?

2.

What is Malvolio doing before he finds the letter (i.e., in 2.5.21-78)? What does this tell us about him? (Of course, we might note lines 21-22; perhaps the plot has already begun.)

3.

How does Malvolio read the inscription (2.5.79-133)? How does he read the body of the letter (lines 134-162)? How does he read the postscript (lines 163-168)? How will he appear when we next see him? How will Olivia respond? (See lines 187-194.) Does he deserve to have this trick played on him?

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ACT 3 (pages 1074-1090)

3.1

1.

How does Feste fare with Viola/Cesario (3.1.1-58)? Why does Feste mean when he says he is Olivia's "corrupter of words" (lines 34-35)? What is he trying to accomplish when he talks about Cressida, Troilus, and Pandarus (lines 42-58)?

2.

What is Viola/Cesario saying about Feste in 3.1.59-67? How well does Viola understand Feste?

3.

What happens when Olivia meets Viola/Cesario (3.1.92-161)? Does Olivia understand who this person really is who says "I am not what I am" (line 138)?

3.2

1.

Why is Sir Andrew leaving (3.2.1-6)? How does Sir Toby get him to stay? What will Sir Andrew do instead of leaving?

2.

What does Maria tell them to come and see (3.2.62-76)?

3.3

1.

Why won't Antonio go with Sebastian to view the town (3.3.25-37)?

2.

What does Antonio give Sebastian and why?

3.4

1.

What does Malvolio look like when he enters at 3.4.15? What does he think he is saying in lines 38, 40, 42, 44, 46-47, 49, 51-52, and 54? Does he expect Olivia to recognize the statements? Does she recognize them? What does she think he is saying, especially at 3.4.51-52? How does she diagnose what is wrong with Malvolio (3.4.55)?

2.

Does Malvolio realize that anything is wrong? Should he respond as he does in 3.4.64-82?

3.

How do Sir Toby, Fabian, and Maria treat Malvolio (3.4.83-122)? What do they assume (at least to him) is the nature of his madness? How do they propose to treat it? (See 3.4.132; this is the normal treatment at the time for madness.)

4.

What is the effect of Fabian's statement at 3.4.124-125?

5.

How good is Sir Andrew's challenge (3.4.138-176)? How does Sir Toby plan for the encounter to take place (3.4.177-188)?

6.

How is Olivia's suit to Viola/Cesario going (3.4.193-208)?

7.

Read the "duel" scene carefully (3.4.209-297). How eager are Viola/Cesario and Sir Andrew to fight? How are Fabian and Sir Toby helping matters along? Is the scene funny? Consider how you might stage the scene.

8.

What happens when Antonio and then the Officers appear (3.4.298-319)?

9.

How does the play change at 3.4.320? What plot complication now needs to be resolved? What happens when Antonio asks for his purse at line 323? What should Viola learn from what Antonio says in lines 346-357? Does she learn anything? (See lines 360-371.) Does anyone else learn anything or even recognize what has happened? Has Sir Toby understood anything (3.4.372-375)? Do you recognize anything familiar in line 376?

10.

What is Sir Andrew going to do next? Why? (See lines 377-381.)

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ACT 4 (pages 1090-1096)

4.1

1.

How well do Feste and Sebastian get along (4.1.1-22)?

2.

What happens when Sir Andrew attacks the person he thinks is Cesario (4.1.23-42)? Who wins?

3.

What happens when Olivia interrupts them at line 43? How does Sebastian respond to Olivia? What does she think is happening?

4.2

1.

How do Sir Toby, Maria, and especially Feste treat Malvolio? Does Malvolio still deserve the treatment he receives? Note Sir Toby's change of heart at 4.2.66-71.

4.3

1.

What is Sebastian's response to what has happened? How does 4.3.4 (and Sebastian's speech in general) connect this scene to 4.2?

2.

To whom does Olivia think she is talking? What does she want Sebastian to do? Will he do it?

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ACT 5 (pages 1096-1105)

5.1

1.

How successful is Feste in dealing with Orsino (5.1.7-44)? Why is the Duke there?

2.

What happens when the officers bring Antonio to Orsino (5.1.45-92)? How long ago did the ship carrying Viola and Sebastian sink (5.1.90)? Does this amount of time match what you feel has happened in the play?

3.

What do you expect will happen when Olivia enters at 5.1.93? What happens to Olivia as she and Orsino talk (5.1.97-113)? Why might she be surprised at Cesario's answers? What does Orsino threaten (5.1.114-117)? What does he threaten to do to Viola/Cesario and why (5.1.118-128)? How does Viola/Cesario respond (lines 129-130)? But what has Orsino revealed that he has not said (or perhaps realized) before (lines 123 and 127-128)?

4.

How does line 140 change the situation? What has happened to Viola's hopes for Orsino by line 168?

5.

Based on what Sir Andrew says when he enters at line 169, what has happened offstage? What revelation can we expect soon? But first, what happens between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew at lines 201-204?

6.

What happens when Sebastian enters at line 206? Who first recognizes him? Whom does he first recognize?

7.

How long does it take for Viola and Sebastian to recognize each other? Why doesn't she just say who she is at line 240? Is it really taking this long, or are they playing it out?

8.

How does Sebastian explain what almost happened to Olivia (5.1.257-261)?

9.

What's going to be the problem in getting Viola dressed like a woman? (See lines 251-253 and 271-276.)

10.

How is Malvolio's situation resolved? How is the captain's situation resolved? Is Malvolio placated?

11.

How does Feste explain his part in tricking Malvolio (5.1.366-372; compare 1.5.78-84)? What does Feste mean by lines 371-372?

12.

What weddings will take place, and where? (See lines 314-322 and 377-380–but also note line 360.)

13.

What characters are left out of the happiness?

14.

Is Feste's song (lines 384-403) a fitting conclusion to the play?

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