Act I, Scene 1
Duke Orsino wants to hear music to fuel his passionate love and hopefully kill it through excess. (Yeah, that’s how that works) Just kidding, he doesn’t want to hear any music. It doesn’t make him as happy as before. Orsino reflects on the ever-shifting nature of love, which may remind us of his ever-changing attitude toward music.
His servant, Curio, asks if he intends to go deer hunting. Deer are often referred to as harts, so now we have the set-up for a perfect love pun and you know Shakespeare isn’t going to miss the opportunity for a good pun. Orsino explains that he is already hunting hart because when he saw Olivia for the first time, he turned completely into a heart and his desires have been hunting for it ever since.
Valentino comes in. He has been to Olivia’s house and is nervous now to deliver a message to his lord. Olivia will be grieving the loss of her brother for seven years and will not see any suitors in that time. Orsino immediately recognizes her ability to love so deeply that losing her brother has caused her to abandon all other thoughts of love.
Act I, Scene 2
Viola has shipwrecked in Illyria. She despairs over the thought of her brother, who likely drowned. She has hope though that he survived the shipwreck. The Captain gives her further hope by explaining that he saw her brother strap himself to the mast of the ship as it broke apart. Viola appreciates the Captain’s optimism and rewards him with gold. (Kudos to Viola for holding on to her money during a shipwreck)
Viola questions the Captain about what he knows of Illyria, providing all of the exposition needed to kickstart this story. The Duke Orsino rules over Illyria. He’s unmarried, but pines for Olivia. Olivia lost her father last year and was left in the charge of her brother, who also died. She now mourns her losses and refuses to see anyone, especially any suitors, especially Orsino. Viola at first hoped to be in Olivia’s service, but since she won’t see anyone, Viola will disguise herself as a man and serve Orsino. The Captain agrees to help her with this task after Viola promises to give him a lot of money.
Act I, Scene 3
Sir Toby can’t believe that his niece is taking the loss of her brother this hard. She can’t stay single forever. Maria, Olivia’s lady, begs Sir Toby to start acting more respectably and not go out drinking all night every night. Sir Toby has no intention of doing so.
Maria turns her attention to the ridiculous suitor that Sir Toby is parading in front of Olivia, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He’s rich and tall, but Maria figures he won’t live long keeping company with Sir Toby. He likes to quarrel, but is a coward. Sir Toby is offended on his friend’s behalf. Maria goes on to say that getting drunk with Toby does not help Sir Andrew. Toby explains he gets drunk by drinking toasts to Olivia’s health, as should everyone in Illyria.
Sir Andrew enters and clumsily attempts to get on Maria’s good side. Unfortunately for Sir Andrew, he’s awkward and it doesn’t go very well for him. Maria quickly leaves, but not before getting in some sweet digs that Sir Andrew doesn’t completely understand. (Hint: as with much Shakespeare, it’s a dirty joke)
Sir Andrew is pretty sure that his penchant for beef has made him dumber. Also, he’s going to go home. Toby asks why, but in French, which confuses Sir Andrew. Sir Andrew laments the fact that he didn’t spend more time studying. Sir Toby agrees, the studying probably would have improved his hair. The hair talk continues until we get to another dirty joke, but Sir Andrew will still go home. Olivia won’t see anyone and even if she would, she would probably rather have Orsino. Sir Toby assures him that Olivia will have none of Orsino. Sir Andrew agrees to stay another month because he loves parties so much. He shows off his sweet dance skills at Sir Toby’s encouragement.
Act I, Scene 4
Valentino remarks on how quickly Viola (disguised as Cesario) has come into the Duke’s favor. In only three days time, she has earned his complete trust. Viola worries this means that Orsino is quick to bestow favor and then take it away. Valentino assures her that the Duke is constant in his love.
Orsino comes in with a very important task for Cesario. He has completely opened up his heart to Cesario. He is surprised at how quickly he opened up. Since Cesario (Viola) knows everything he is going to send him to woo Olivia on Orsino’s behalf. Orsino is pretty sure that Olivia will be more receptive to Cesario because of his gentler, more feminine, physique. Viola reluctantly agrees. However, she would rather be marrying Orsino than wooing for him.
Act I, Scene 5
Maria chides the Clown for his unexplained absence. She warns that he will either be hanged or turned away. The Clown doesn’t seem to worried about it and the two banter back and forth until Maria leaves. The Clown explains that he would rather be a witty fool than have a foolish wit.
Olivia enters and demands that her guards take the fool away. The Clown tells the guards to obey orders and take the lady away. She insists that she doesn’t want to see him because he is dry and dishonest. He says that is easily remedied by drink and mending. He tells the guards to take her away.
She explicitly states that she wanted him taken away. He takes offense at that and asserts that he can prove she is the one who is, in fact, a fool. She doubts it, but lets him try. He asks why she is mourning and she explains it is for her brother. He assumes her brother must be in hell then. This makes her very upset because she knows he is in heaven. The Clown explains that only a fool would mourn for a soul in heaven and so bids the guards to take the fool away.
Olivia asks Malvolio if he thinks the Clown has successfully mended things. Malvolio reluctantly agrees that he has, but he doesn’t understand why Olivia finds such delight in the Clown. He never had much taste for such fools. Unless you are laughing at them and giving them attention, they don’t know what to do.
Maria explains that there is a young man at the gate who wishes to see her. Olivia asks if he is from Orsino, but Maria doesn’t know. Sir Toby is speaking with him. Olivia insists that Sir Toby be taken away immediately. She sends Malvolio to send the young man away.
Sir Toby comes in, already drunk. Olivia is too frustrated with his drunken state to deal with him. He leaves and the Clown goes after to take care of him.
Malvolio returns to explain the the young man at the gate is from Orsino, but he insists on seeing Olivia. He will not accept any of her excuses and is determined to wait until she will see him. Olivia tells Malvolio to send in Maria and then the young man. Olivia puts on her veil.
Viola enters, but isn’t sure which of the ladies is Olivia. Olivia says she will speak on her behalf. Viola starts her love-filled speech, but stops because she has to know which is the true Olivia. After some insistence, Olivia finally reveals herself. Viola really wants to continue with her speech because it’s just so well written. Olivia doesn’t really care. She just wants Viola to get to the point. She only admitted Viola to wonder at the young man that was so saucy at her gates. Maria tries to kick Viola out, but she demands to be heard, to speak to Olivia alone.
Olivia eventually dismisses her attendants. Viola attempts to speak, but Olivia quickly shuts her down. She’s heard it all before from Orsino. Viola asks to see Olivia’s face, which she obliges. Viola tells Olivia she is selfish for not sharing her beauty with the world by making babies. Olivia retorts that she will take an inventory of her beauty for the world to read and appreciate. Viola cannot comprehend why Olivia does not requite Orsino’s love. If she were Orsino and her love was so shunned, she would build a cabin at Olivia’s gate, singing her praises at all hours until she was moved with pity.
Olivia asks about Cesario’s (Viola’s) parentage. She says she is a gentleman. Olivia sends her away to tell Orsino that Olivia can never love him and to stop sending messengers of love…unless Cesario wants to come back….he can come back.
After Viola leaves, Olivia chides herself for asking about his parentage. She thinks that Cesario (Viola) is God’s gift to women. She sends Malvolio with one of her rings under the guise that it’s Orsino and she wants it returned. She will explain her reasons for not loving Orsino if Cesario comes back tomorrow.
Act II, Scene 1
Antonio wants Sebastian to stay with him awhile longer, but Sebastian insists that he is too dangerous to be around. Ill fortune seems to hang over him. He explains that he is the son of a well-known noble and had a twin sister. Unfortunately, his sister drowned in the shipwreck that Antonio saved him from. Antonio asks to be his servant, but Sebastian won’t have it. He is headed to Orsino’s court. Antonio decides to follow him despite the many enemies he has there.
Act II, Scene 2
Malvolio tries to return the ring to Viola. When Viola tries to explain that she didn’t give Olivia a ring, Malvolio refuses to believe it. He tosses the ring back and leaves. Viola wonders what this could mean. She reflects on what happened and how Olivia acted. She realizes that Olivia is in love with her (Cesario). She has no idea what to do, so she leaves it up to time to fix.
Act II, Scene 3
Sir Andrew and Sir Toby return from a night of drinking. Sir Toby figures that if they just stay up all night, it’s like they got up early. Sir Andrew doesn’t follow the logic. The Clown enters. Sir Andrew remarks on what an excellent fool he is with such a lovely singing voice. They pay him for a love song, which he sings. Then they decide to be super loud and sing in a round, which they do.
Maria storms in to tell them to be quiet. She warns Sir Toby that Olivia is threatening to kick him out. He’s not too worried about it. They all start loudly singing again.
Malvolio storms in and demands that the men explain themselves because surely they have lost their minds to be singing so loudly. Malvolio warns Toby again that Olivia will throw him out if he doesn’t start behaving better. Toby has no intention of behaving better and makes that very clear. Malvolio leaves in frustration but not before condemning Maria for being civil to the men.
Maria has had enough of Malvolio, so she decides to exact revenge. She knows that Malvolio thinks so highly of himself that he assumes everyone must love him. She will use that to her advantage. You see, she can write almost exactly like Olivia. She will write up a note to make Malvolio think that Olivia is in love with him. The men bow to Maria’s brilliance before everyone goes to bed.