Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



Viola (as Cesario) has gone to see Olivia again. She is greeted by the Fool, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew. Impressed by Cesario's turn of phrase, Sir Andrew tries to take notes on how Cesario speaks to Olivia, but Olivia sends them all away so she can speak to Cesario privately.

Olivia tells Cesario of her love. She acknowledges the awkward position she is in because of the stratagem of sending Cesario a ring, and she invites Cesario to respond. Viola tries to be gentle with her, but Olivia interprets gentleness as affection, so Viola has to be clear: "I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth, / And that no woman has, nor never none / Shall mistress be of it, save I alone." She promises never to visit Olivia again, but Olivia encourages her to return.


Viola has an entertaining conversation with the Fool in which they trade witticisms and play with the meanings of words to comic effect. She seems to be able to keep up with him verbally and intellectually in a way Olivia was not. After the Fool leaves, Viola says, "This fellow is wise enough to play the Fool, / And to do that well craves a kind of wit." Through the character of the Fool in this scene, Shakespeare builds on the theme of the topsy-turvy world. The Fool is wise. In fact, Shakespeare's fools are often wiser than the other characters; they are willing to accept the world as it is, even when the world is crazy.

The world continues in topsy-turvy mode when Olivia dismisses her entire household so she can be alone with Cesario and almost immediately announce her love for him. The language of the play at this point quickly shifts into blank verse: Olivia wants to talk of love, and Viola matches her, though Viola wants to speak of Orsino's love for Olivia in order to fulfill her duty to him. Although their language is in harmony stylistically, Viola (as Cesario) appears cold—even stern—to Olivia. She says she pities Olivia because the latter has debased herself by stooping to "shameful cunning" in her pursuit of love, but when Olivia wants to interpret that as a type of love ("That's a degree to love"), Viola contradicts her: "No, not a grize, for 'tis a vulgar proof / That very oft we pity enemies."

Olivia does not misunderstand, and a few lines later she says, "Be not afraid, good youth, I will not have you." She is rejecting something Cesario never offered. Cesario looks like a very young man, which is another reason why he would be an inappropriate match for the older Olivia. Yet just a few lines later Olivia pleads her case again, this time in rhymed couplets: "I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide." Viola also responds in rhymed couplets, swearing she does not love Olivia.

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