Twelfth Night is a lighter piece by William Shakespeare, and a good break from the usual tragedies and histories he is most well-known for. The play challenges the traditional gender roles of the time by putting a woman (Viola) into a very convincing man’s disguise. She is so convincing that Olivia falls in love with her and Orsino never notices. The play also follows a subplot which finds Malvolio questioning his sanity in a dark room while wearing yellow stockings. Students are likely to laugh at this play, be intrigued by the themes of deceit, disorder, madness, the triviality of love, and wonder at the implausibility of such a case of mistaken identity ever happening today!
5 Act Structure Twelfth Night | Five Act Structure Twelfth Night
ACT 1: EXPOSITION
ACT 1: CONFLICT
ACT 2: RISING ACTION
Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia, who is in mourning for her recently-deceased brother. Olivia refuses to marry anyone for seven years, but Duke Orsino is determined to win her over. Meanwhile, Viola, a beautiful aristocrat, is shipwrecked on the island of Illyria, and she believes her twin brother Sebastian has likely drowned.
ACT 3: CLIMAX
Viola disguises herself as a man and calls herself Cesario, and begins to serve in Duke Orsino’s court, where she ends up falling in love with Duke while still in disguise as a man. The Duke sends Cesario as an envoy to Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia ends up falling in love with “Cesario.”
ACT 4: FALLING ACTION
Sebastian is actually very much alive, and staying with a man named Antonio on another side of the island. Meanwhile, members of Olivia’s court conspire to make Malvolio think that she has fallen in love with him. They deliver a letter in her handwriting telling him to act and dress strangely to prove his love for her.
ACT 5: DENOUEMENT
Sir Toby convinces Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel in order to win Olivia’s heart. Antonio tries to stop them and is dragged away. Malvolio’s behavior alarms Olivia, so Maria, Sir Toby, and Fabian take the opportunity to lock Malvolio up.
Meanwhile, Sirs Toby and Andrew come across Sebastian nearby, and mistake him for Cesario. Andrew attacks Sebastian, and Olivia arrives, She asks Sebastian to marry her, and he happily agrees. Feste, the Fool, disguises himself as a priest and messes with Malvolio, making Malvolio begin to wonder if he is crazy after all.
Antonio is brought in to Orsino. Olivia comes in and greets Viola, thinking that she is the man that she just married. Sebastian arrives, and Viola reveals her true identity. Orsino comes to realize that he’s in love with Viola. Malvolio is released from his prison when it is revealed that the letter was a forgery; he swears his revenge.