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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
Main Ideas

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.