Sir Toby and Sir Andrew stay up late drinking in Olivia’s house. Feste appears, and Sir Andrew compliments the clown on his singing. Both noblemen encourage Feste to sing another song. While he sings, Maria enters, warning them to keep their voices down or Olivia will call her steward, Malvolio, and tell him to kick them out. But the tipsy Sir Toby and Sir Andrew cheerfully ignore her.
Malvolio comes into the room. He criticizes the men for being drunk at all hours of the night and for singing so loudly. He warns Sir Toby that his behavior is intolerably rude and that, while Olivia is willing to let him be her guest (since he is her uncle), if Sir Toby does not change his behavior, he will be asked to leave. But Sir Toby, along with Sir Andrew and Feste, responds by making jokes and insulting Malvolio. After making a final threat, this one directed at Maria, Malvolio leaves, warning them all that he will let Olivia know about their behavior.
Sir Andrew suggests challenging Malvolio to a duel, but Maria has a better idea: to play a practical joke on him. As she explains to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, Malvolio is a puritan, but at the same time his biggest weakness is his enormous ego: he believes that everybody loves him. Maria will use that weakness to get her revenge on him for spoiling their fun. Since Maria’s handwriting is almost identical to Olivia’s, Maria plans to leave letters lying around that will appear to have come from Olivia and will make Malvolio think that Olivia is in love with him.
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are amazed by Maria’s cleverness, and they admire the plan. Maria goes off to bed, planning to get started on her joke the next day. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, deciding that it is now too late to go to sleep, head off to warm up more wine.Read a translation of Act II, scene iii →
There is no woman’s sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart. . . .
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The next day, at Orsino’s house, Orsino discusses love with his young page, Cesario (still Viola in disguise). Orsino tells Cesario that he can tell by looking at him that Cesario is in love. Since Viola is really in love with Orsino, Cesario admits that Orsino is right. When Orsino asks what the woman he loves is like, Cesario answers that she is very much like Orsino—similar to him in age and features. Orsino, not picking up on his page’s meaning, remarks that Cesario would be better off loving a younger woman, because men are naturally fickle, and only a younger woman can keep them romantically satisfied for a long time.
Meanwhile, Orsino has sent for Feste, who apparently moves back and forth between the houses of Olivia and Orsino. Feste sings another very sad love song (this one about someone who dies for love), and, afterward, Orsino orders Cesario to go to Olivia again, pleading Orsino’s love to her.