Come on,’ said Fabian, ‘if you’re my friend, let me see his letter.’

‘My dear Mr Fabian,’ said Feste, ‘grant me another request.’

They had met at the gate in front of Olivia’s house.

‘Anything,’ said Fabian.

‘Don’t ask to see this letter.’

‘That’s like giving someone a dog and then, in recompense, asking for it back again,’ said Fabian.
Some people were approaching. Fabian and Feste were amazed to see that it was the Duke Orsino himself, accompanied by the highly respected Curio and the duke’s young gentleman, Cesario.

‘Are you the Lady Olivia’s people, friends? the duke said.

‘Yes, sir,’ said Feste. ‘We are part of her trappings.’

Orsino recognised him and smiled. ‘I know who you are,’ he said. ‘How are you, my good fellow?’

‘To tell you the truth, sir,’ said Feste, ‘all the better for having enemies and all the worse for having friends.’

Orsino laughed. ‘It’s the opposite.’ he said. ‘The better for your friends.’

‘No, sir, the worse,’ said Feste.

‘How can that be?’

‘Well, sir, they praise me and make an ass of me. Now, my enemies tell me plainly that I’m an ass, so that, sir, I learn something about myself from my enemies, while I’m deceived by my friends, so that, comparing conclusions with kisses, if four negatives make two affirmatives, why then, I’m worse off having friends and better off having enemies.’

Orsino clapped. ‘Why, this is excellent!’ he said.

‘Upon my word, sir, it isn’t,’ said Feste, although you’re kind enough to consider yourself my friend.’
Orsino laughed again. He untied his purse strings. ‘You mustn’t be out of pocket because of me,’ he said. ‘Here’s gold.’

Feste took the coin. ‘Except that it would be double dealing, sir, I wish you would give me another.’
‘Oh, you’re giving me bad advice,’ said Orsino.

‘Just for this once, put your pride in your pocket and follow your instincts,’ said Feste, holding his hand out.

‘Well.’ Orsino gave him a second coin. ‘I’ll sin so much as to be a double dealer. Here’s another.’
Feste rattled the coins. ‘Primo, secundo, tertio, is a good start,’ he said. ‘and there’s an old saying: “third time lucky”. He held up three fingers. ‘Three-time is a good dancing rhythm, sir, or the bells of St Bennet’s church, sir, might remind you – one, two, three…’

‘You can’t fool any more money out of me at the moment,’ said Orsino, but if you’ll tell your lady I’m here to speak to her, and bring her back with you, it might reawaken my generosity.’

‘Well, sir. Let your generosity sleep till I get back.’ Orsino made scooting gestures and Feste turned again. ‘I’m going, sir, but I wouldn’t want you to think that my desire of having is the sin of covetousness.’ When Orsino took a step towards him he ran off. ‘But as you say, sir, let your generosity take a nap. I’ll wake it up presently.’

Viola tugged on Orsino’s sleeve. She pointed to the end of the street. ‘Here comes the man who rescued me, sir,’ she said as Antonio and his guards approached.

The duke watched as they came near then an expression of surprise came over his features. ‘I remember that face of his well,’ he told her, ‘but when I last saw it it was smeared as black as Vulcan’s with the smoke of war. He was captain of a cheap boat, small and not worth much but he used it to grapple with the best ship in our fleet, so bravely that even those who most despised him gave him full credit for it. What’s the problem?’ he asked the officer.

‘Orsino,’ the officer replied, ‘this is the Antonio who captured the Phoenix and her cargo at Crete. The one who boarded the Tiger when your young nephew, Titus, lost his leg. We arrested him here in the streets, engaged in a personal brawl, not caring what anyone thought, and disregarding the dangers.’

‘He did me a kindness, sir,’ said Viola. ‘He took my side and drew his sword to help me. But afterwards he said some strange things to me: I could only assume he was mad.’

‘Notorious pirate!’ said Orsino. ‘You salt water thief! What foolhardiness brought you to the mercy of those you’ve made your enemies with your violence?’

‘Orsino, noble sir,’ said Antonio ‘Allow me to deny these names you call me. I’ve never been a thief or a pirate, though I confess I’ve been your enemy – with grounds enough. A kind of witchcraft drew me here. I pulled that most ungrateful boy at your side from the rude sea’s angry, foaming mouth. He was a wreck past hope. I gave him his life and added my friendship, without conditions or reservations. It was for his sake that I exposed myself to this hostile town. When he was attacked I drew to defend him and when I was arrested, his false cunning, not wanting to share the danger with me, made him deny our friendship. In the time it takes to wink he had distanced himself some twenty years. He denied me my own purse, which I had given him the use of not a half an hour before.’

Viola looked at him in bewilderment. ‘How can this be?’ she said.

‘When did he come to this town?’ said Orsino.

‘Today, my lord,’ said the officer.

Orsino lost interest as he caught site of Olivia, hurrying towards them. ‘Here comes the countess!’ he exclaimed. ‘Now heaven walks on earth!’ He swung round to Antonio. ‘As for you, fellow. Fellow, what you say is madness. This youth has served me for the last three months. But more of that later. Take him aside.’
Olivia marched right up to Orsino. Not taking her eyes off him,she exclaimed: ‘What does my lord want, apart from that I can’t give him?’ She suddenly became aware of Viola. ‘Cesario! You’re not keeping your promise to me!’

‘Excuse me?’ Bewilderment showed in Viola’ seyes.

‘Gracious Olivia…’ began Orsino.

‘What did you say, Cesario?’ interrupted Olivia. Orsino opened his mouth but she stopped him: ‘Wait, my lord.’ She looked at Viola for a reply.

‘My lord wants to speak,’ said Viola. ‘My duty silences me.’

‘If you’re harping on the same old string, my lord, it is as pleasing to my ear as howling is after hearing music.’

Orsino shook his head sadly. ‘Still so cruel?’

‘Still so consistent, lord.’

‘To what? Perverseness? You uncivil lady, at whose ungrateful and ungiving altars my soul has uttered the most faithful offerings of devotion.’ He sighed. ‘What am I going to do?’

‘Whatever my lord wants to do will be suitable.’

‘Why shouldn’t I, if I had the courage to do it, kill the one I love, like the Egyptian thief who, when dying, tried to take his loved one with him? A savage jealousy that had a taste of nobility. But listen to me, since you refuse to consider my love and because I think I know who has pushed me out of my proper place in your favour, you can keep on being the marble-hearted tyrant that you are. But this favourite of yours, whom I know you love, and whom I swear by heaven I dearly value – I’ll tear out of that cruel eye where he sits crowned in my place.’ He turned angrily to Viola. ‘Come with me boy: my thoughts are full of violence. I’ll sacrifice the lamb that I love to spite the raven’s heart that exists in a dove’s body.’

He turned and Viola turned with him. ‘And I will happily die a thousand deaths to give you peace of mind,’ she said. She set out after Orsino.

‘Where are you going, Cesario?’ cried Olivia.

‘After the man I love more than my eyes, than my life, more than anything, more than I will ever love a wife. Witness, gods: if I’m pretending punish me with death for trifling with my love.’

‘Oh, God!’ Tears flowed from Olivia’s eyes. ‘How I am hated! How I’ve been deceived!’

Viola stopped. ‘Who’s deceived you? Who’s done you wrong?’

‘Have you forgotten yourself? Was it such a long time ago?’ She nodded to a servant. ‘Call the holy father.’
Orsino came back and took Viola roughly by the arm. ‘Come! Let’s go!’

Olivia took hold of Viola’s other arm. ‘Where to, my lord? Cesario, husband, stay!’

The duke let go of Viola’s arm. ‘Husband?’ he said.

‘Yes! Husband! Can he deny that?’

They were both glaring at Viola. ‘Her husband, my man?’ said Orsino.

‘No my lord, not I!’

‘Alas,’ said Olivia. ‘Cowardly fear is making you deny your own condition. Don’t be afraid, Cesario. Seize your fortunes. Be what you know you are, then you’ll be as great as the one you fear.’

The priest arrived and Olivia greeted him with relief. ‘Oh, welcome father! Father, I ask you as a holy man to reveal, although we intended to keep secret what has now come out before its time, what you know has just occurred between this youth and me.’

‘A contract of the eternal bond of love,’ said the priest, ‘confirmed by the joining of your hands, sealed with a holy kiss, strengthened by the exchange of rings and all this concluded by me as a priest and a witness. This, according to my watch, was two hours ago.’

‘Oh you deceitful cub!’ exclaimed Orsino. ‘What will you be like by the time your hair becomes grizzled? Or will your craftiness develop so fast that you’ll trip yourself up before then? Farewell, and take her, but make sure our paths never cross from now on!’

‘My lord, I swear…’ began Viola.

‘O do not swear!’ Olivia shook her head vigorously. ‘Keep some dignity, even though you’re so afraid.’
They were interrupted by the spectacle of Sir Andrew, running towards them, waving his thin arms.
‘For the love of God,’ he cried, ‘a surgeon! Send one to Sir Toby straight away!’ He clutched his head.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Olivia.

‘He’s cracked my skull and given Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb too! For the love of God, help us! I’d give forty pounds to be at home!’

‘Who has done this, Sir Andrew?’ said Olivia.

‘The count’s gentleman, that Cesario. We took him for a coward but he’s the devil himself!’

Orsino looked incredulously at Viola. ‘My gentleman, Cesario?’

Sir Andrew hadn’t noticed her but he suddenly let out a scream and tried to hide behind Olivia. ‘Oh my God! There he is!’ He peered round from behind Olivia and shook his fist at Viola. ‘You broke my head for nothing!’ he exclaimed. ‘and I was put up to what I did by Sir Toby!’

Viola looked around at them all as they stared at her in disbelief. ‘Why are you speaking to me?’ she said. ‘I haven’t hurt you. You drew your sword on me without reason, but I was courteous to you and I didn’t hurt you.’

‘If a bleeding head is a hurt then you have hurt me,’ said Sir Andrew, wiping his hand over his head and showing the blood. ‘I suppose you consider a bleeding head to be nothing.’

Sir Toby, drunk, weaving and limping was coming through the gate, helped by Feste.

‘Here comes Sir Toby, limping’ said Sir Andrew. ‘I’m sure he’s got something to say about it. If he hadn’t been drunk it would have been a different story!’

‘Good morning, sir,’ said Orsino. ‘How are you?’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ slurred Sir Toby, who had a bandage around his head. ‘ ‘S’hurt me and that’s all there is to it. Sot, have you seen Dick Surgeon, sot?’

‘Oh, he’s drunk, Sir Toby,’ said Feste. ‘For an hour. His eyes were glazed over at eight this morning.’
‘Then he’s a rogue, and a staggering villain. I hate a drunken rogue!’

‘Take him away,’ said Olivia. ‘Who has made this mischief with them?’

‘I’ll help you, Sir Toby,’ said Sir Andrew,’ because we can have our wounds dressed at the same time.’
He went to him and took his arm but Sir Toby lashed out at him. ‘You help me?’ he shouted. ‘An Ass head? Fool! Idiot! A thin-faced idiot! A moron!’

Sir Andrew stepped back and stared at his friend in astonishment.

‘Get him to bed and make sure his injuries are attended to,’ said Olivia.

The group of conspirators limped away, looking a very sorry sight. Then Viola drew her breath in suddenly, making the remaining people look at her. All the colour had drained from her cheeks and she was pointing to a figure who was emerging from Olivia’s gates.

It was Sebastian. He rushed up to them and threw himself down on to his knees in front of Olivia. He took her hands and looked up at her.

‘I’m sorry, madam, I have hurt your uncle,’ he said, ‘but even if he had been my own brother I would have had to do it for my own safety.’ She was looking at him in astonishment and he let go of her hands and stood up. ‘You’re looking at me in a strange way – I can see it has offended you. Forgive me, sweetheart, because of the vows we made to each other just a while ago.’

No-one spoke. Antonio, Orsino, Olivia, all stood transfixed. Viola rubbed her eyes.

Then Orsino spoke. ‘The same face, the same voice, the same clothes, but two people. An illusion – it’s happening and it isn’t.’

Sebastian caught sight of Antonio. ‘Antonio!’ He went to him and embraced him. ‘Oh my dear Antonio! How time has tortured me since I lost you!’

Antonio looked from Sebastian to Viola and back again. ‘Sebastian? Are you…?’
‘Do you doubt that Antonio?’

‘How have you managed to split yourself in two? An apple cut in half is no more like twins than these two creatures,’ said Antonio. ‘Which is Sebastian?’

Olivia gazed at the two young ‘men’, who stood there, themselves amazed. ‘Most wonderful!’ she exclaimed.

‘Is that me standing there?’ said Sebastian. ‘I never had a brother. Nor do I have the magical gift of being able to be in two places at the same time. I did have a sister, drowned in the sea’s blind waves and currents. In the name of love, how are you related to me? Where are you from, what’s your name, who are you parents?’

Viola spoke from behind the duke. ‘I’m from Messaline. My father’s name was Sebastian, and it was my brother’s too. He was dressed in the style of your clothes when he was drowned.’ She shrunk back. ‘If ghosts can assume both the form and the clothes of someone, you’ve come to frighten us!’

‘I am indeed a ghost,’ said Sebastian, ‘but of that material world into which I was born. If you were a woman -because everything else fits – I’d shed my tears on your cheek and say, “welcome, welcome, welcome, drowned Viola.” ‘

Viola took a cautious step towards him. ‘My father had a mole on his forehead.’

‘So did mine,’ said Sebastian.

‘And died on Viola’s thirteenth birthday.’

Sebastian’s face clouded. ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘the memory of that is still alive in my soul. He did, indeed, die on my sister’s thirteenth birthday.’ He moved towards her but she held her hand up.

‘If there’s nothing more that can stand in the way of us both being happy apart from my being dressed as a man don’t embrace me until every detail of place, time and chance falls into place to prove that I’m Viola. To confirm that I’ll take you to a captain in this town, where my women’s clothes are. It was with his kind help that I was saved to serve this noble count. Since then my whole existence has been devoted to this lady and this lord.’

Sebastian smiled. He put his arm around Olivia. ‘That’s how you came to be mistaken, lady, but nature has turned it around. You would have been married to a woman, so that hasn’t happened. Now you’re betrothed to both a woman and a man.’

Orsino was beaming. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘His blood is noble. If this is happening, and it seems that it’s not being done with mirrors, I’ll have a share in this most happy of shipwrecks. Boy, you’ve told me a thousand times that you’d never love a woman as much as you love me.’

‘And I will swear all those oaths again and be as faithful to all those oath as the sun is to its work of transforming night into day.’

‘Give me your hand and let me see you in your woman’s clothes,’ said Orsino.

Viola took off her hat and unpinned her hair so that it fell about her shoulders. They all gasped at the wonder of it. ‘The captain who first brought me ashore has my women’s clothes,’ she said. ‘He’s being detained because Malvolio, one of my lady’s people, has made a complaint about something he did.

‘He will withdraw it,’ said Olivia. She invited them all to enter her property and led them to the garden. ‘Fetch Malvolio here,’ she said. ‘But alas, I remember now, they say he’s mentally disturbed, poor gentleman. My own distress drove the memory of it away.’

Feste joined them, holding a letter out to her.

‘How is he, sirrah?’ she said.

‘Well, madam, to be honest, he hold’s the devil at arms length as well as a man in his situation can,’ said Feste. ‘He’s written this letter to you. I would have given it to you this morning but as a madman’s letter’s are nonsense it doesn’t really matter when they’re delivered.’

‘Open it and read it out,’ she said.

‘Expect to be well edified when the fool reads the madman’s words,’ said Feste. He opened the letter and held it up with a flourish. Then he took up a pose, like an actor about to deliver a great speech. ‘By the Lord, madam,’ he began, playing up every word.

Olivia stopped him. ‘What! Are you mad?’

‘No madam, I’m just reading madness. If your ladyship wants it as it’s supposed to be, then you must allow for some expression.’

‘Please read it in your right mind!’

‘I’m doing that, madonna, but to read his right mind is to read it like this, so therefore pay attention and listen.’ He took up his pose again.

Olivia snatched the letter from him and handed it to Fabian. ‘You read it, sirrah,’ she said.

Fabian cleared his throat and began reading. ‘By the Lord, madam, you do me wrong, and the world shall know of it. Though you have cast me into a dark place and put me under the control of your drunken cousin, I am in as much possession of my senses as your ladyship is. I have your own letter, that induced me to behave the way I did, which I have no doubt will exonerate me and bring much shame on you. You can think whatever you like about me. I know I’m being a bit impolite and am talking out of my sense of grievance. The Madly-used Malvolio.’

‘Did he write this?’ said the astonished Olivia.

Fabian nodded. ‘Yes madam.’

‘This doesn’t sound like madness,’ said Orsino.

‘Set him free, Fabian,’ said Olivia. ‘And bring him here.’ She watchedhim go then turned to Orsino with a smile. ‘My lord, once you’ve thought about these things a bit more I hope you’ll think of me as a sister rather than as a wife. If you like we can all be married on the same day, here at my house and at my expense.’

‘Madam, I readily accept your offer.’ He smiled at Viola. ‘Your master dismisses you. And in return for the service you have given him, so contrary to the kind of work fitting to your sex, and since you have called me master for so long, here is my hand. From now on you’ll be your mater’s mistress.’

Olivia’s face showed her delight. She went forward and took both Viola’s hands. ‘A sister, you are she!’ she exclaimed.

Malvolio appeared, staggering behind Fabian. His yellow stockings, soiled now, hung limply around his ankles. His hair was disheveled He clutched the creased letter.

‘Is this the madman?’ said Orsino.

‘Yes, my lord, this is the one. Hello Malvolio.’

‘Madam, you have done me a wrong. A serious wrong.’

‘Have I, Malvolio? Surely not.’

‘Lady, you have. Please read this letter.’

She took the letter and read it slowly.

‘You can’t deny that it’s your handwriting,’ said Malvolio. ‘Try disguising either the hand or the style or say that it’s neither your seal or idea: you can’t say any of that. So admit it, then, and tell me honestly why you led me on – told me to come to you smiling and cross-gartered, to put on yellow stockings and to frown at Sir Toby and the servants. And after I had done all this in obedient expectation, why you allowed me to be imprisoned, kept in a dark place, visited by the curate, and made the biggest fool and idiot of me that has ever been. Tell me why.’

Olivia shook her head sadly. ‘Alas, Malvolio, this isn’t my handwriting,’ she said. ‘although, I agree, it’s very similar. There’s no question about it, though, it’s Maria’s handwriting. And now, when I think bout it, it was she who first told me that you had gone mad. Then you came to me smiling, behaving in the way s the letter instructed you to. Please be patient. This trick was very cleverly done, but when we know why and who was responsible, you’ll be the judge and jury in your own case.’

Fabian caught her attention. ‘Dear madam,’ he said, ‘let me say something. Don’t allow any quarrels or fights to spoil the atmosphere of this moment, which has astonished me. In the hope that they won’t I freely confess that Sir Toby and I set this trap for Malvolio because we didn’t appreciate his intransigent and discourteous approach. Maria wrote the letter under the direction of Sir Toby, and he has married her in recompense for that. How the trick worked out is more a matter for laughter than revenge, if one balances the injuries that have occurred on both sides.’

‘Alas, poor man,’ said Olivia, ‘what a fool they’ve made of you.’

Malvolio stood, a broken man, as Feste went up to him and goaded him further. ‘Why, some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them,’ he said. ‘I had a role in this little drama, sir. I was Sir Topas, sir, but it doesn’t matter.’ Imitating Malvolio’s voice and tone, he continued, ‘By the Lord, fool, I am not mad.’ But do you remember? ‘ “Madam, why do you laugh at such an empty-headed rascal. If you don’t laugh he’s speechless.” And so the wheel of time brings its revenges.’

They all laughed. Malvolio drew himself up, glared about at them then turned. ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!’ he exclaimed and marched off.

When the laughing had died down Olivia sighed. ‘He has been very badly treated,’ she said.

Orsino nodded to Fabian. ‘Go after him and make your peace with him. He hasn’t told us about the captain yet. When we know and the time is right we’ll conduct the marriages. In the meantime, sister, we’ll stay here with you.’

Olivia took Sebastian’s arm and led them into the house.

‘Come, Cesario,’ said Orsino, ‘for that’s who you’ll be as long as you’re dressed as a man. When I see you in other clothes you’ll be Orsino’s wife and queen of his love.’

When they had all gone Feste was left alone. He sat down on a bench and sang quietly.
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.


Read more scenes from Twelfth Night:

Twelfth Night in modern English | Twelfth Night original text
Modern Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 1 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 1, Scene 1
Modern Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 2 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 1, Scene 2
Modern Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 3 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 1, Scene 3
Modern Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 4 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 1, Scene 4
Modern Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 5 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 1, Scene 5
Modern Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 1 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 2, Scene 1
Modern Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 2 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 2, Scene 2
Modern Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 3 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 2, Scene 3
Modern Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 4 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 2, Scene 4
Modern Twelfth Night Act 2, Scene 5 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 2, Scene 5
Modern Twelfth Night Act 3, Scene 1 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 3, Scene 1
Modern Twelfth Night Act 3, Scene 2 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 3, Scene 2
Modern Twelfth Night Act 3, Scene 3 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 3, Scene 3
Modern Twelfth Night Act 3, Scene 4 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 3, Scene 4
Modern Twelfth Night Act 4, Scene 1 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 4, Scene 1
Modern Twelfth Night Act 4, Scene 2 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 4, Scene 2
Modern Twelfth Night Act 4, Scene 3 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 4, Scene 3
Modern Twelfth Night Act 5, Scene 1 | Twelfth Night original text, Act 5, Scene 1

Read all of Shakespeare’s plays translated to modern English >>

2 replies
  1. Noelle
    Noelle says:

    i love this website so much! i was in the “Twelfth Night” in my class for Act 5 and i played Duke Orsino. this was helpful to me to understand the story a little better. i understand Shakespeare perfectly well with out the translation but i thought it was easier for me to pick up after. i am Noelle Caraway a 7th grade student. BTW for the play i wore a white dress shirt and tie with black jean pants and now i wear dress shirts and ties like nobody’s busyness. and yes i am a girl i am 13 years.

    ~Noelle Caraway

  2. Noelle
    Noelle says:

    P.S. my play was yesterday. it was for those of the future, 6/15/16 and i was the only one to memorize my script.

    ~Noelle Caraway


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