Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Sebastian is confused but delighted by his new situation. He's not sure whether he is mad or Olivia is mad, but he accepts his good fortune. Olivia shows favor toward him and has given him the present of a pearl. He wishes he could find Antonio so he could ask him for his advice. Olivia appears with a priest. She asks Sebastian to marry her, and he agrees.

Analysis

Shakespeare develops the theme of madness through the situations of Malvolio and Sebastian. After a scene about Malvolio's sanity, the audience sees Sebastian wondering about his own (and Olivia's) sanity. Sebastian's confusion is understandable: he and Olivia have never met before, but she is being very affectionate and generous. Sebastian tries to get his bearings by grounding himself in real things: "This is the air; that is the glorious sun. / This pearl she gave me, I do feel 't and see 't ... / 'tis not madness."

Sebastian wishes for Antonio's advice, reinforcing their father-son bond. He had already looked for Antonio before Olivia found him. Antonio's assessment of Sebastian was correct: he did not abandon Antonio, and he probably wants to return Antonio's money purse.

Sebastian concludes Olivia is sane because she manages a large estate and her servants obey her commands. Of course, Olivia is mad with love—a different type of madness.

Olivia proves her love-madness by appearing with a priest and asking Sebastian (who she thinks is Cesario) to marry her on the spot. This goes against all Elizabethan ideals of how marriage should be initiated, but Olivia is eager to go through with the ceremony before Cesario rejects her again. Throughout this entire scene she never calls Sebastian "Cesario"—if she did, he would surely object, and the mistaken identity would be revealed. Instead she speaks directly to him without using his name. In the topsy-turvy world of Twelfth Night, Olivia has no idea she is marrying a man about whom she knows nothing, not even his name. Sebastian, on the other hand, is perfectly aware of what he is doing. But if a beautiful, noble, generous, and obviously wealthy young woman proposes marriage, many single young men would probably agree without a moment's hesitation, just as Sebastian does.

Shakespeare's language again shows Olivia and Sebastian are meant to be together. After an entire scene in blank verse, both Sebastian and Olivia end their lines with rhymed couplets. A rhymed couplet used at the end of a Shakespearean sonnet usually contains a powerful message to wrap up the poem. In this case, Sebastian's and Olivia's concluding couplets function almost as wedding vows, as their marriage ceremony occurs offstage.

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