Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house
. . .
Cry out “Olivia!”. . .
See Important Quotes Explained
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.
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.
At the beginning of Act I, scene v, we first meet Olivia’s clown, Feste. (Feste’s name is mentioned only once in the play; the stage directions usually refer to him simply as “Clown,” while other characters call him “clown” or “fool.”) Many noble households in the Renaissance kept a clown, and Shakespeare’s comedies usually feature at least one. The fool’s purpose was to amuse his noble masters and to tell the truth when no one else would think of telling it. The dual nature of the job meant that fools often pretended to be simpleminded when, in fact, most of them were skilled professionals and were highly intelligent.
Feste embodies this duality: he spends much of his time making witty puns, as is expected, but he also has a sense of professionalism and of his own worth. As Feste says to Olivia when she orders him to be taken away, “Lady, ‘Cucullus non facit monachum’—that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain” (I.v.
In this scene, we also meet both Olivia and her steward, Malvolio, for the first time. Malvolio has become, over time, perhaps the most famous character in Twelfth Night. He plays a small role in this scene, but he immediately attracts our attention because of how out of place he seems. In a comic play filled with ridiculous characters, Malvolio is serious and sour, with a distaste for amusement and laughter of any kind, as we see in his reaction to Feste. As the play goes on, the conflict between his temperament and that of the other characters—especially Sir Toby and Sir Andrew—comes out into the open, with extreme consequences.
Malvolio seems oddly matched with his mistress, given Olivia’s emotionalism and her wild mood swings. When we first meet her, she is deep in mourning, but by the end of the scene, her grief gives way to a powerful infatuation with Cesario. In part, Shakespeare uses Olivia to portray romantic love as a kind of sickness that strikes people without warning. Love cannot be controlled; instead, it controls people. Olivia’s sudden attraction to Cesario recalls the way Orsino talks about his love for Olivia in Act I, scene i. There, Orsino speaks of love as if it were a sickness that has overcome him, and then says that he has turned into a deer and “my desires, like fell and cruel hounds / E’er since pursue me” (I.i.
Olivia’s language, like Orsino’s, reflects Renaissance ideas of courtly or romantic love: Olivia’s and Orsino’s descriptions of love—as a hunter, disease, or something willed by fate—echo ideas about romance that were common in Shakespeare’s day. The same can be said of the language that Viola uses to describe Orsino’s love for Olivia. For instance, Viola tells Olivia that Orsino loves her “[w]ith adorations, fertile tears, / With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” (I.v.
Yet even as the play operates within the bounds of this tradition of courtly love, it also subverts it by showing how ridiculous it can be. After all, Viola’s pretty speeches do not reflect her own thoughts but instead those of Orsino—and Orsino is really more in love with himself and his own inner life than he is with Olivia, as later scenes make clear. Furthermore, Olivia falls in love with Cesario after a few pretty speeches—but Cesario is really a woman who has herself fallen in love with Orsino in a matter of days! Thus, the play suggests that we should not take the various characters’ romantic obsessions too seriously—they seem to come and go quickly and to be based less on real attraction than on self-indulgent emotionalism.