Twelfth Night condensed

The play opens in Dubrovnik, in a country then known as Illyria. Illyria was a nation located in southern Europe on the rocky eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Illyria is now known as Croatia.  Viola, the play’s heroine, a quick-thinking young lady with class and style, finds herself in Dubrovnik, having survived a shipwreck. Her twin brother Sebastian was also on the ship, but she doesn’t know if he survived the wreck. We think the play earned its name by being first performed on a January sixth, the last night of the Christmas season.

Act 1. Orsino, the duke of Illyria, is in love.  He opens the play with his famous line “If music be the food of love, play on.”  He has fallen for Olivia, the beautiful and wealthy young countess, but she has decided, as a tribute to her recently deceased brother and father, to deny herself of the company of men for seven years.  Viola asks the sea captain “who governs here?”  He lets her know that Orsino is the duke. She tells the captain “conceal me what I am. I’ll serve this duke. Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him.”  She commands the moment and she’s good. Orsino immediately puts her (now Cesario) to work:  Her mission: woo Olivia on his behalf.  Orsino is all business. Olivia’s fool thinks she’s a fool for pledging to forsake the company of men for seven years. Viola, masquerading as Cesario, visits Olivia. Olivia, taken by the charm and persuasiveness of Cesario, falls for him, to Viola’s dismay. When Cesario steps up his sales pitch, Olivia flat out says “I cannot love him,” referring to Orsino.

Act 2. Sebastian arrives in Dubrovnik with his good friend Antonio, who in the shipwreck had saved him. Antonio has a checkered history in this city, so he quietly slips off to their hotel, leaving his wallet with Sebastian.  Viola has just left Olivia’s home. Love-struck Olivia gives her aide a ring to give to Cesario. The aide runs down Cesario and gives him a ring, claiming Olivia said he had left it behind.  Viola as Cesario gets the message.  By this time we learn that Viola has fallen for Orsino. When Viola tells Orsino that she didn’t have much success on her visit with Olivia, Orsino philosophies about the nature of women, oblivious to Viola’s interest in him, and demands he return to Olivia and try harder. 

Act 3. On her way to revisit Olivia, Viola as Cesario encounters an aide to Olivia who challenges Cesario to a duel. With few options, Viola as Cesario draws her sword. Antonio, out for a walk, thinking she Sebastian, comes to her defense.  Trying to quell the scuffle, the police recognize Antonio as a person on their most wanted list and arrest him. Antonio asks Cesario for his wallet, but Viola of course pleads innocence of the request, but offers to lend him money. Antonio shouts “will you deny me now?” calling Viola Sebastian. Viola notes the comment.  He’s taken away.  The aide, who had slipped away, then sees Sebastian, who is out for a walk, thinking he is Cesario and attacks him. 

Act 4. Olivia happens by, and seeing her aide in a fight with Sebastian cries out “Hold, Toby!” Olivia’s presence calms things. Toby slips away. Olivia declares her love for Sebastian, thinking he Cesario, encouraging him to come home with her.  He does, instantly falling for her.  They begin to make plans to marry.

Act 5. Orsino and Cesario are on stage together as Antonio is led in by officers.  Orsino recognizes him as the man who crippled his nephew years ago. Olivia enters. Orsino lets her know how angry he is that she has fallen for his aide, Cesario. Viola uses the occasion to let Orsino and Olivia know that she is a she and that she loves the duke.  Olivia is bewildered, believing, of course, that her new husband-to-be is Cesario. Sebastian enters. The brother and sister, the twins, enthusiastically greet each other. Sebastian lets Olivia know how much he loves her. Olivia recovers. Orsino announces that he and Viola will marry on the same day that Olivia and Sebastian marry, and that Viola will reign in Illyria as his queen.