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Shakespeare's Works
• The Plays
Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night

If music be the food of love, play on.
Act 1, scene 1, line 1

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
Act 2, scene 3, lines 114–115

She sat like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.

Act 2, scene 5, lines 126–127

Named for the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the Christmas season, Twelfth Night plays with love and power. The Countess Olivia, a woman with her own household, attracts Duke (or Count) Orsino. Two other would-be suitors are her pretentious steward, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Onto this scene arrive the twins Viola and Sebastian; caught in a shipwreck, each thinks the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a male page and enters Orsino's service. Orsino sends her as his envoy to Olivia—only to have Olivia fall in love with the messenger. The play complicates, then wonderfully untangles, these relationships.

Shakespeare probably wrote Twelfth Night in 1601–02; its earliest recorded performance was in February 1602. It appears in the 1623 First Folio. Sources include Plautus's Menaechmi and "Apolonius and Silla” in Barnabe Riche's His Farewell to the Military Profession.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1993 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Emma Fielding. Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Actors on Shakespeare series. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

Irene G. Nash. Women's Worlds in Shakespeare's Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997.

James Schiffer, ed. Twelfth Night: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Bruce R. Smith, ed. Twelfth Night or, What You Will: Texts and Contexts. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Twelfth Night (1996, BBC Films, Circus Films, Fine Line Features, Renaissance Films, and Summit Entertainment). Directed by Trevor Nunn. Cast includes Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Nigel Hawthorne, Mel Smith, Richard E. Grant, and Ben Kingsley.

Related movie
She's the Man (2006, DreamWorks Pictures, Lakeshore Entertainment, and Donners' Company). Directed by Andy Fickman. Cast includes Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, and David Cross.
Twelfth Night

William Hamilton. The carousing of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Oil on canvas, 1792.

Folger Theatre

On Stage: Twelfth Night

Inside the Collection

Folios from the Collection: Twelfth Night

Read the Play

Folger Digital Texts:
Twelfth Night

Teacher Resources

Teaching Twelfth Night

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