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Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house
. . .
Cry out “Olivia!”. . .
In Olivia’s house, Maria talks with Feste, Olivia’s clown. Feste has been away for some time, it seems, and nobody knew where he was. Maria tells Feste that he will be in trouble with Olivia and that Olivia is likely to fire him. But, despite her threats not to stick up for him, Feste refuses to tell Maria where he has been.
Olivia arrives with Malvolio, the steward of her household. As Maria has anticipated, Olivia orders her servants to put Feste out of the house. But Feste, summoning up all his wit and skill, manages to put Olivia into a better mood. He asks her why she is mourning, and she answers that she is mourning for her brother. He says that he thinks her brother’s soul is in hell, and she replies that he is in heaven. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven,” he says, and she responds approvingly (I.v.61–62). But Malvolio does not like Feste and asks coldly why Olivia wishes to keep a servant around who has no function except to poke fun at her. Olivia rebukes Malvolio for his “self-love” and says that Feste’s insults are only “birdbolts” that do no damage (I.v.77–79).
Maria arrives with the message that there is a young man at the gate to see Olivia. (We know that this must be Viola, disguised as Cesario, bringing the message that Orsino gives her in Act I, scene iv.) It turns out that Sir Toby is currently talking to the young man, but Olivia sends Malvolio out to receive the messenger. Sir Toby comes in, obviously drunk (despite the early hour of the morning), and Olivia criticizes him for his alcoholism. Sir Toby goes out, and Olivia sends Feste to look after him.
Malvolio comes back, reporting that the young man refuses to leave the house until he has spoken with Olivia. Olivia asks Malvolio what the young man is like and receives the report that he is very young, handsome, and delicate-looking. Olivia is intrigued, and she decides to let the boy speak with her.
Viola, disguised as Cesario, is let in to see Olivia. Viola begins to deliver the love speech that Orsino gave her, but Olivia refuses to hear the memorized speech. Viola is eloquent enough to make Olivia pay attention to her, though, as she praises Olivia’s great beauty and virtues to the skies. Olivia, increasingly fascinated by the messenger, begins to turn the conversation to questions about Cesario himself. Asking him about his parentage, she learns that Cesario comes from an aristocratic family (which, technically, is not a lie, since Viola’s family is noble).
Olivia sends Cesario back to Orsino to tell him that Olivia still does not love him and never will. But she tells the young man to come back, if he wishes, and speak to her again about “how he [Orsino] takes it” (I.v.252). Then, after Cesario leaves, she sends Malvolio after him with a ring—a token of her attraction to Cesario—that she pretends Cesario left with her. Olivia, to her own surprise, finds that she has fallen passionately in love with young Cesario.