Twelfth Night Characters. Female roles: Viola- A young woman of aristocratic birth, and the play’s protagonist. Washed up on the shore of Illyria when her ship is wrecked in a storm, Viola decides to make her own way in the world. She disguises herself as a young man, calling herself "Cesario," and becomes a page to Duke Orsino. She ends up falling in love with Orsino—even as Olivia, the woman Orsino is courting, falls in love with Cesario. Thus, Viola finds that her clever disguise has entrapped her: she cannot tell Orsino that she loves him, and she cannot tell Olivia why she, as Cesario, cannot love her. Her poignant plight is the central conflict in the play.
Olivia-A wealthy, beautiful, and noble Illyrian lady, Olivia is courted by Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, but to each of them she insists that she is in mourning for her brother, who has recently died, and will not marry for seven years. She and Orsino are similar characters in that each seems to enjoy wallowing in his or her own misery. Viola’s arrival in the masculine guise of Cesario enables Olivia to break free of her self-indulgent melancholy. Olivia seems to have no difficulty transferring her affections from one love interest to the next, however, suggesting that her romantic feelings—like most emotions in the play—do not run deep. Maria- Olivia’s clever, daring young waiting-gentlewoman. Maria is remarkably similar to her antagonist, Malvolio, who harbors aspirations of rising in the world through marriage. But Maria succeeds where Malvolio fails—perhaps because she is a woman, but, more likely, because she is more in tune than Malvolio with the anarchic, topsy-turvy spirit that animates the play.
Male Roles: Orsino- A powerful duke in the country of Illyria. Orsino is lovesick for the beautiful Lady Olivia, but becomes more and more fond of his handsome new page boy, Cesario, who is actually a woman—Viola. Orsino is a vehicle through which the play explores the absurdity of love: a supreme egotist, Orsino mopes around complaining how heartsick he is over Olivia, when it is clear that he is chiefly in love with the idea of being in love and enjoys making a spectacle of himself. His attraction to the ostensibly male Cesario injects sexual ambiguity into his character.
Sebastian-Viola’s lost twin brother. When he arrives in Illyria, traveling with Antonio, his close friend and protector, Sebastian discovers that many people think that they know him. Furthermore, the beautiful Lady Olivia, whom he has never met, wants to marry him. Sebastian is not as well rounded a character as his sister. He seems to exist to take on the role that Viola fills while disguised as Cesario—namely, the mate for Olivia.
Malvolio The straitlaced steward—or head servant—in the household of Lady Olivia. Malvolio is very efficient but also very self-righteous, and he has a poor opinion of drinking, singing, and fun. His priggishness and haughty attitude earn him the enmity of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria, who play a cruel trick on him, making him believe that Olivia is in love with him. In his fantasies about marrying his mistress, he reveals a powerful ambition to rise above his social class.
Male or female roles Feste - The clown, or fool, of Olivia’s household, Feste moves between Olivia’s and Orsino’s homes. S/He earns his living by making pointed jokes, singing old songs, being generally witty, and offering good advice cloaked under a layer of foolishness. In spite of being a professional fool, Feste often seems the wisest character in the play. Sir Toby Belch/ Dame Belch- Olivia’s uncle. Olivia lets Sir Toby Belch live with her, but she does not approve of the rowdy behavior, practical jokes, heavy drinking, late-night carousing, or friends (specifically the idiotic Sir/Dame Andrew). Belch also earns the ire of Malvolio. But he has an ally, and eventually a mate, in Olivia’s sharp-witted waiting-gentlewoman, Maria. Together they bring about the triumph of chaotic spirit, which Belch embodies, and the ruin of the controlling, self-righteous Malvolio. Sir Andrew Aguecheek/ Dame Aguecheek- A friend of Sir Toby’s. Sir Andrew Aguecheek attempts to court Olivia, but s/he doesn’t stand a chance. S/He thinks that s/he is witty, brave, young, and good at languages and dancing, but s/he is actually an idiot. Fabian: member of Olivia’s household who has lost her lady’s favor due to Malvolio. Ends up in the scheming of Malvolio with Belch and Aguecheek.
Antonio/a - rescues Sebastian after his shipwreck. Fond of Sebastian. Valentine/a: Servant to Orsino sent to Olivia as a messenger of love. But was not allowed to speak to her Curio/a: Servant to Orsino tries to distract Orsino. First Officer: arrests Antonio. Sometimes doubled with Valentine/a Second Officer: arrests Antonio. Sometimes doubles with curio/a Priest/ Reverend: marries Olivia and Sebastian
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