Skip to main content
Shakespeare's works /

Twelfth Night

A scene from Twelfth Night

Introduction to the play

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.

Read full synopsis

Read the text
Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Twelfth Night

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

Twelfth Night in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Twelfth Night. Find more in our digital image collection

E.H. Sothern as Malvolio
Brooklyn, NY, Columbia Theatre. Miss Marlowe in Twelfth Night. Playbill, 27 March 1893
Charlotte Cushman as Viola. Watercolor, 1893
Act 2, scene 3: At Olivia’s estate, Toby, Andrew, and the Fool hold a late night party. By Henry J. Haley.

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Twelfth Night

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Twelfth Night

Early printed texts

Twelfth Night appeared in print for the first time in the 1623 First Folio, and that text is the basis for all subsequent editions.