Twelfth Night

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Olivia Character Analysis

A beautiful noblewoman in Illyria. At the beginning of the play, she has rejected both Orsino and her ridiculous suitor, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In mourning for her recently deceased brother, she has vowed not to receive any man, or to go outside, for seven years. However, when she meets Cesario (Viola in her male costume) she falls in love and forgets these oaths. Olivia's mourning for her brother therefore resembles Orsino's love-melancholy: it seems more like a performance than a real, deeply felt emotion. Like Orsino, she seems to enjoy indulging in misery, and also has no problem shifting the object of love from one person to the next.

Olivia Quotes in Twelfth Night

The Twelfth Night quotes below are all either spoken by Olivia or refer to Olivia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desire and Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Twelfth Night published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave
And leave the world no copy.
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Olivia
Page Number: 1.5.240-242
Explanation and Analysis:

Viola enters Olivia's home dressed as Cesario, in order to attempt to woo her for Duke Orsino. The two begin a playful tete-a-tete. Here, Viola tries to appeal to Olivia by telling her how beautiful she is—so beautiful that it would be a disservice to the world not to produce an heir (and thus a new "copy" of her beauty).  In a grand performance, Viola compliments Olivia's physical beautify in order to gain her trust and influence her to fall for Orsino. She also speaks in the convention of "poetic blazon," a form often used in sonnets, where the speaker itemizes and examines different parts of the body. Her speech mimics that of Shakespeare's own sonnets, revealing the poetic and hyperbolic nature of love and lust. Furthermore, in doing so, Viola-as-Cesario demonstrates a certain level of mystery and intelligence to Olivia that Orsino doesn't possess. She speaks in a genuine and advanced poetic way, whereas Orsino is often cliched. 

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Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia!' O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me.
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino, Olivia
Page Number: 1.5.271-279
Explanation and Analysis:

In an attempt to get Olivia to fall in love with Orsino, Cesario (Viola) describes what he would do if he loved Olivia as much as Orsino. In a beautiful speech he tells her that he would write endless poems of his love, sing them through the night and scream her name so loudly that the air would echo the sound of "Olivia." In her speech, Viola-As-Cesario does something Orsino cannot; she says the right thing to make Olivia fall in love. Juxtaposed against Orsino's cliche speeches on love and lust, Viola's are much more creative and subtle. She performs less, and rather actually imagines what it means to be in love. She also uses natural imagery, suggesting that her love is simple and truthful. What is more, as a woman, Viola understands the needs and interests of other women.  Being of the same gender, she is able to find ways to appeal to Olivia that differ from Orsino's.

Act 2, scene 5 Quotes
Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio (speaker)
Page Number: 2.5.148-150
Explanation and Analysis:
Malvolio reads the love letter that he thinks is from Olivia, as Maria, its true author, hides in a tree with Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, watching Malvolio embarrass himself. This iconic quote happens toward the end of the letter as an attempt to reveal who the author could be. Malvolio interprets this section to mean that he is one who could "achieve" greatness by marrying the noble-born Olivia (one who was "born great"). Thus the joke being played on Malvolio isn't just getting him to think someone loves him, but also getting him to attempt to rise above his station—flattering his arrogance and sense of superiority. Maria is trying to lift Malvolio up in order to ultimately persuade him to embarrass himself in front of the whole court and Olivia herself. Here we see both the power of words and just how far the performance of love can go in Twelfth Night. Malvolio becomes smitten by his secret admirer simply from her hyperbolic and romantic words. 
Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
O world! how apt the poor are to be proud.
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.134
Explanation and Analysis:

Cesario and Olivia are alone. When Olivia asks him to introduce himself once again, he says he is a humble "servant." This leads Olivia into a series of wordplays on the idea of servitude, as she uses Cesario's own position as a servant as a mode of flirtation. Olivia admits her love for Cesario (not knowing he is actually Viola) and Cesario tries to politely turn her down. Olivia replies with this line, suggesting that the poor, or in this case, a servant, should not be too proud to accept the sexual advances of a noble lady like herself.

Here, Olivia uses her higher social position as a device to woo Cesario. She tries to convince him to be with her by claiming that it is better to fall before the "lion" than the "wolf"; to fall in love with the noble beast (Olivia) over the wild forest animal (a fellow servant). Here Cesario and Olivia use class to their own advantages. On one side, Cesario tries to use his place as a servant as a way to fight off Olivia, while Olivia uses it as a way to convince him, suggesting that he take advantage of her nobility.  

Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
Why, this is very midsummer madness.
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio
Page Number: 3.4.61
Explanation and Analysis:

Malvolio is love stricken with Olivia, and thinks that she has written him a love letter with instructions for how he should dress and comport himself (the letter was actually written by Maria). Here Malvolio enters, wearing yellow cross-gartered stockings and grinning from ear to ear (as the letter told him to do). Olivia, confused, asks Malvolio to stop, but he won't. Convinced her steward has gone mad, she then says this line. During Shakespeare's time the summer moon was thought to be a major influence on madness and insanity. Thus, having a "midsummer madness" was considered a kind of temporary insanity. Here Shakespeare shows us how easy it is to confuse love and desire with lunacy, as well as how easy it is for an individual to become a fool in the name of love. 

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Why have you suffered me to be imprisoned,
Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geck and gull
That e'er invention played on? Tell me why.
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Olivia
Page Number: 5.1.363-366
Explanation and Analysis:

Malvolio continues to be called mad and is mocked by the members of the court—even locked in a dark room (a traditional "treatment" for mental illness at the time). During this moment, Malvolio finally confronts Olivia about the writing of the love letter. After this speech, Olivia discovers that it was in fact Maria who wrote the letter, forging her handwriting, and the Fool who was in fact the "priest" visiting Malvolio.

Malvolio's plotline makes clear the connection between love and madness, and emphasizes the nature of revelry and wildness in the environment of Twelfth Night. At the same time, it also introduces some more troubling elements to the comedy—Malvolio is certainly arrogant, dull, and hates any kind of fun, but the punishment he suffers seems to far outweigh his "crimes," and the glee the other characters derive from his suffering often feels downright cruel. While the final revelation of the play's "disguises" is a cause for happiness among most of the characters, for Malvolio it only shows him how thoroughly he has been tricked and how cruelly he has been treated—and, as he says here, for seemingly no good reason.

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Olivia Character Timeline in Twelfth Night

The timeline below shows where the character Olivia appears in Twelfth Night. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
...he will he come hunt "hart" (male deer). Orsino jokes that, since he first saw Olivia, he himself has been like a hart, hunted by his own desires. (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Valentine, another attendant, returns from Olivia's palace, where Orsino has sent him. He reports that Olivia is deep in mourning for... (full context)
Act 1, scene 2
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...governed by a Duke Orsino, a bachelor who is in love with a noblewoman named Olivia. Olivia, herself the orphaned daughter of a count, who out of "dear love" (1.2.39) for... (full context)
Act 1, scene 3
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
At Olivia's palace, Olivia's crass uncle, Sir Toby Belch, has just returned from a night of drinking.... (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Cesario departs for Olivia's house with four or five attendants. But, privately, Viola remarks to herself that she is... (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
In Olivia's house, Maria is chiding Feste, the clown, for a recent unexplained absence. Feste responds by... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Olivia enters, wearing mourning clothes and attended by her steward, Malvolio. Olivia first instructs her attendants... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Maria returns to announce that a young man at the gate wishes to speak with Olivia. Olivia asks if he has been sent by Orsino. Maria doesn't know. Olivia sends Malvolio... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Malvolio returns and informs Olivia that the young man outside will not leave. Olivia asks what he is like. Malvolio... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Cesario enters and recites ornate poetry about Olivia's "unmatchable beauty" (1.5.158). Olivia instructs him to get to the point. Cesario protests that he... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Cutting Cesario off, Olivia asks what his own background is. Cesario replies that he is a gentleman by birth,... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Once she is alone, Olivia admits to herself that she is extremely attracted to Cesario. She lists his beautiful features—"Thy... (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Malvolio catches up with Cesario. He gives Cesario the ring from Olivia and explains that Olivia doesn't want it and has nothing more to say to the... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Alone, Viola picks up the ring and realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with "Cesario," and that by taking on her disguise she has... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are up late, eating and drinking in a room in Olivia's house. Feste soon joins them, and they are all raucously singing together, when Maria shows... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...Maria that if she respected her mistress, she would reprimand these lowlifes. Threatening to tell Olivia everything, he storms off. Maria is annoyed at Malvolio, but begs Sir Toby and Sir... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...has a great idea for a prank on Malvolio. She boasts that she can imitate Olivia's handwriting perfectly, and will drop in Malvolio's way a love letter that Malvolio, in his... (full context)
Act 2, scene 4
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...that, if he is ever in love, he must remember and imitate Orsino's passion for Olivia. Noticing that Cesario seems moved by the music, Orsino then asks whether he is not... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Orsino instructs Cesario to go woo Olivia once again on his behalf. Cesario suggests that Orsino give up. What if a woman... (full context)
Act 2, scene 5
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
As Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, one of Olivia's attendants, wait in Olivia's garden, Maria runs in and instructs them all to conceal themselves... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Malvolio enters, talking to himself. As it happens, he already believes that Olivia fancies him. Hiding in the tree, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian try to suppress... (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Cesario arrives at Olivia's palace (following Orsino's instructions in 2.4). Outside he finds Feste, who clowns a bit and... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
When they are alone, Cesario says that he is Olivia's servant: he is Orsino's servant and Orsino belongs to Olivia. So, by extension, he does... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Cesario responds that he pities Olivia but cannot love her—because, as he tells her, "I am not what I am" (3.1.138).... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Desire and Love Theme Icon
In another room of Olivia's house, Sir Andrew tells Sir Toby that he has finally decided to give up and... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...instructed in Maria's letter, and making himself entirely ridiculous in the process. Maria comments that Olivia will probably hit Malvolio for his idiotic behavior and that, when she does, Malvolio will... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
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In her garden, Olivia consults with Maria on how best to woo Cesario, who has agreed to come back... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Malvolio enters wearing yellow cross-gartered stockings, smiling idiotically. Olivia scolds him for this behavior. However, he continues grinning and alluding to the letter which... (full context)
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...about Malvolio. Maria implies to Malvolio that he is acting crazily and reminds him that Olivia wanted him to remain in Sir Toby's care. Quickly losing patience, Malvolio dismisses the others... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...to deliver it. When they learn from Maria that Cesario is at that moment visiting Olivia and is about to depart, Sir Toby convinces Sir Andrew to go lie in wait... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Olivia enters with Cesario, apologizing for having said too much: she is so in love, she... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Once Olivia has gone, Sir Toby and Fabian approach Cesario. Using all sorts of double entendre's about... (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Near Olivia's house, Feste runs into Sebastian, whom he mistakes for Cesario. Feste asks Sebastian to return... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Olivia rushes in, ordering Sir Toby to stop. Olivia sends Toby away, while begging "Cesario" (in... (full context)
Act 4, scene 2
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Back at Olivia's house, Maria and Toby have locked Malvolio in a dark chamber to cure his "madness."... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...in Maria that they must find a way out of this prank to avoid irritating Olivia any further. The two sneak off to Sir Toby's bedroom. (full context)
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...him a candle, pen, ink, and paper, so that he can write a letter asking Olivia for help. Feste agrees to deliver the letter, but first dallies for a while, teasing... (full context)
Act 4, scene 3
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
In another room in Olivia's palace, Sebastian is wandering around, trying to make sense of what has happened. Sebastian wishes... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Sebastian's thoughts are interrupted when Olivia enters with a priest. She begs Sebastian to agree to marry her secretly at once.... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
In front of Olivia's house, Feste holds the letter that Malvolio has written begging for Olivia's help. As Fabian... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Olivia demands to know where Cesario has been. Has he broken his marriage promises to her... (full context)
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...upon the group. Sir Toby, also bleeding, enters with Feste and joins in accusing Cesario. Olivia sends them away to have their injuries tended and demands to know who is actually... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
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At this moment, Sebastian rushes in, apologizing to Olivia, begging her pardon for having hurt her kinsman. Everyone is astonished. Orsino exclaims that Sebastian... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
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Sebastian turns to Olivia to explain: all that time, she wanted to marry a woman. Orsino reassures Olivia, telling... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
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Olivia instantly agrees to take care of this minor detail—which reminds her that, distracted by her... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
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Waiting for them to return, Olivia asks Orsino to think of her as a sister and offers to host a wedding... (full context)
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Malvolio enters with Fabian. Fuming, he presents Olivia with Maria's trick letter. After a quick examination, Olivia replies that the handwriting is Maria's,... (full context)
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Orsino says that when the Captain has given his account, he and Viola and Olivia and Sebastian will be properly married. Aside, he adds that as long as Viola is... (full context)