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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare

Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

full title  · Twelfth Night, or What You Will

author  · William Shakespeare

type of work  · Play

genre  · Comedy

language  · English

time and place written  · Between 1600 and 1602, England

date of first publication  · 1623, in the First Folio

publisher  · Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount

tone  · Light, cheerful, comic; occasionally frantic and melodramatic, especially in the speeches of Orsino and Olivia

tense  · Present (the entire story is told through dialogue)

setting (time)  · Unknown

setting (place)  · The mythical land of Illyria (Illyria is a real place, corresponding to the coast of present-day Albania—but Twelfth Night is clearly set in a fictional kingdom rather than a real one)

protagonist  · Viola

major conflict  · Viola is in love with Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who is in love with Viola’s male disguise, Cesario. This love triangle is complicated by the fact that neither Orsino nor Olivia knows that Viola is really a woman.

rising action  · The mounting confusion, mistaken identities, and professions of love leading up to Act V

climax  · Sebastian and Viola are reunited, and everyone realizes that Viola is really a woman

falling action  · Viola prepares to marry Orsino; Malvolio is freed and vows revenge; everyone else goes off to celebrate

themes  · Love as a cause of suffering; the uncertainty of gender; the folly of ambition

motifs  · Letters, messages, and tokens; madness; disguises; mistaken identity

symbols  · Olivia’s gifts; the darkness of Malvolio’s prison; changes of clothing

foreshadowing  · The role of love and use of disguises; patient love vs. fickle love; arrival of Sebastian, mistaken identities, and the reunification of the twins.