full title Twelfth Night, or What You Will
author William Shakespeare
type of work Play
time and place written Between 1600 and 1602, England
date of first publication 1623, in the First Folio
publisher Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount
tone Light, cheerful, comic; occasionally frantic and melodramatic, especially in the speeches of Orsino and Olivia
tense Present (the entire story is told through dialogue)
setting (time) Unknown
setting (place) The mythical land of Illyria (Illyria is a real place, corresponding to the coast of present-day Albania—but Twelfth Night is clearly set in a fictional kingdom rather than a real one)
major conflict Viola is in love with Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who is in love with Viola’s male disguise, Cesario. This love triangle is complicated by the fact that neither Orsino nor Olivia knows that Viola is really a woman.
rising action The mounting confusion, mistaken identities, and professions of love leading up to Act V
climax Sebastian and Viola are reunited, and everyone realizes that Viola is really a woman
falling action Viola prepares to marry Orsino; Malvolio is freed and vows revenge; everyone else goes off to celebrate
themes Love as a cause of suffering; the uncertainty of gender; the folly of ambition
motifs Letters, messages, and tokens; madness; disguises; mistaken identity
symbols Olivia’s gifts; the darkness of Malvolio’s prison; changes of clothing
foreshadowing The role of love and use of disguises; patient love vs. fickle love; arrival of Sebastian, mistaken identities, and the reunification of the twins.
Take a Study Break
Every Shakespeare Play Summed Up in a Quote from The Office
Every Marvel Movie Summed Up in a Single Sentence
Macbeth As Told in a Series of Texts
QUIZ: Is This a Great Gatsby Quote or a Lorde Lyric?
QUIZ: Which Coming-of-Age Trope Will You Experience This Summer?
QUIZ: Are You a Hero, a Villain, or an Anti-Hero?
Pick 10 Books and We'll Guess Whether You're an Introvert or an Extrovert