Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 1, Scene 5 | Summary



Maria brings the Fool to Olivia. The Fool tries to cheer Olivia up, but Malvolio complains his jokes are weak. Malvolio tells Olivia a messenger from Orsino waits at the gate and will not leave before he sees her. Olivia, putting on a black mourning veil, says the messenger may enter.

The messenger is Cesario. Cesario makes an eloquent speech and, out of curiosity, asks Olivia to remove the veil. Olivia does so, and Cesario responds with such beautiful language that Olivia falls in love with him. She rejects Orsino's suit, but tells Cesario to come back again. After Cesario leaves, Olivia summons Malvolio and sends him after Cesario with a ring, on the pretense Cesario left it with her.


Two more characters are introduced in this scene: the Fool (Feste) and Malvolio, Olivia's steward. Like all Shakespearean clowns, the Fool is actually wiser than most of the other characters in the play. He demonstrates this when he tells Olivia that mourning for her brother is foolish because her brother is in heaven. While Olivia seems to appreciate Feste's humor, Malvolio does not. He is self-absorbed, gloomy, and grumpy at all times. His name even comes from the Latin malus, meaning "bad." Malvolio wants to get rid of the Fool, but Olivia comes to the Fool's defense.

Olivia, for all her sadness, is apparently eager to let go of her vow to mourn her brother for seven years. It doesn't really take much persuasion to get her to see Orsino's messenger, and Cesario doesn't have to beg Olivia to take off her mourning veil. Olivia may already be regretting her promise. She seems ready for something new, and she finds it in Cesario.

Cesario was not instructed to ask to see Olivia's face. Viola is understandably curious about the woman Orsino loves, and she is clearly impressed by Olivia's beauty: "'Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white / Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on." Olivia is not impressed by compliments or by Cesario's descriptions of Orsino's passion for her, though she notes Orsino's many good qualities. Olivia is only emotionally affected when Cesario shifts into blank verse for the "Make me a willow cabin at your gate" speech. She immediately asks about Cesario's parentage and sends a message to Orsino: "I cannot love him. Let him send no more— / Unless perchance you come to me again / To tell me how he takes it." She is already creating a reason to see Cesario again, as she continues to do when she sends a ring via Malvolio. No sooner does Cesario leave than Olivia raves enthusiastically over the boy she just met and notes, "Even so quickly may one catch the plague." Act 1 ends with a complication neither Viola nor Orsino expected.

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