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Teaching Twelfth Night

Resources from Folger Education

This page contains resources for teaching Twelfth Night, a dazzling comedy with hilarious (and recognizable) characters. Below you'll find links to resources from Folger Education that include Twelfth Night-related teaching tools, language guide, and more.

Teaching Modules

Folger Education offers teaching modules on Shakespeare's frequently taught plays, as well as modules on introducing Shakespeare. Try the modules below, or, for more modules for Twelfth Night, visit the Teaching Modules Archive.

Character Found Poems: Investigating Language in Twelfth Night

The language that Shakespearean characters use is key to understanding their motivations, preoccupations, and desires. In this lesson, students will analyze and review the characters after reading Act 1 of Twelfth Night by creating a found poem from the character dialogue. Students will be able to identify, compare, and analyze key imagery and the kinds of language that the characters use.


"O Time, thou must untangle this:" Tangling up the Love in Twelfth Night

While reading Twelfth Night, students will discover that the characters in the play have as much trouble with love (and often times, more) as they do. This lesson allows students to toy with the theme of love and explore the different characters' opinions about love before they begin the play. Students will have a chance to play with language before the play begins.


Teaching Tools

The  Folger edition  of  Twelfth Night includes facing-page notes and illustrations throughout the play; background information on the play, Shakespeare's life, theater, and times; notes on unfamiliar language, or words that meant something different in Shakespeare's day; and a scholarly assessment of the play in light of today's interests and concerns. Request a desk copy of this edition from Simon & Schuster


Curriculum Guides lay out everything you need to teach this play for the first time: an introduction to the play, character connections, synopsis, teaching modules, suggested scenes for performance, fun facts, and familiar quotes.

Shakespeare Set Free , a groundbreaking curriculum on performance-based teaching, includes a unit on teaching Twelfth Night.


Other Resources

Colorful Character Connections offer an at-a-glance map of character relationships, an introduction to the plot, and important quotes to look and listen for.


Archived study guides from past Folger Theatre performances provide activities and discussion questions for students to consider before seeing a performance or as they rehearse scenes from this play.


Audio and Video Resources

Seeing Shakespeare performed, or performing Shakespeare, can help students feel confident reading and understanding Shakespeare's language. To see performance-based education strategies for your classroom, check out our clips on YouTube here.

Join teachers Sue Biondo-Hench and Chris Shamburg as they illustrate Interpreting Character and Re-mixing Shakespeare for the classroom.

Click  here  to go to the Folger Shakespeare Library's YouTube channel, with video resources on introducing performance-based teaching in your classroom.


For many students today, reading Shakespeare's language can be a challenge. Things to pay attention to in  Twelfth Night:

  • unfamiliar words or words whose meanings have changed
  • unfamiliar word order

Some of Shakespeare's words are no longer used. For example, in the opening scenes, you'll find "coistrel" (a low-born fellow), "barful" (filled with obstacles) or "indue" (bestow upon). Words whose meanings have changed might be more problematic, such as "validity" used to mean "worth," "surprise" when we say "overcame," and "fell" when we might say "fierce." Both kinds of words are explained in notes in the Folger Editions. 

Shakespeare uses language to build dramatic spaces within the play: Orsino's court is decked in the language of romantic love as found in mythology. On the other hand, Olivia's court is filled with a variety of characters (a drunken uncle, foolish suitor, witty waiting ladies, and pompous butlers to name a few), and is transformed by Cesario's language when messages from Orsino are delivered. Together, these defined areas make up the Illyria all of the characters inhabit.


In  Twelfth Night Shakespeare often uses sentence structures that separate words that normally appear together, most often the subject and verb. This is often done to create a particular speech rhythm, or emphasize a certain word. Occasionally, words are ommitted to create iambic pentameter lines.


Puns are frequently used in Twelfth Night, especially for the character of Feste the Fool. A Pun is a play on words that sound similar, like "hart" (a deer) for "heart" (where one feels love); or "knot" for "not." Metaphors, in which an object or idea is expressed as something else, are also frequent for the romantic language of the play. Orsino states: "If music be the food of love, play on" (as if the longings of love were actually hunger), and Olivia shows her face to Cesario saying, "We will draw the curtain and show you the picture," (as if one's face could be considered artwork.)

About the Play 

Twelfth Night was first printed in the  First Folio  text of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623.

To learn more, explore our Discover Shakespeare online resource, including the sections highlighted at right. 


Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

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Related Items

Study Guide: Twelfth Night

Curriculum Guide

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