Twelfth Night

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Viola (Cesario) Character Analysis

The protagonist of Twelfth Night. An aristocratic woman, she is tossed up on the coast of Illyria by a shipwreck at the beginning of the play and disguises herself as the pageboy, Cesario, to make her way. Throughout the play, Viola exhibits strength of character, quick wit, and resourcefulness. Although her disguise puts her in an impossible position, she maintains self-control and a quiet dignity that contrast with the over-the-top emotional performances of love and mourning by the other main characters, Orsino and Olivia. While those two characters seem almost to be play-acting, Viola truly feels pain when she believes that her brother Sebastian died in the shipwreck and when her love for Orsino seems impossible.

Viola (Cesario) Quotes in Twelfth Night

The Twelfth Night quotes below are all either spoken by Viola (Cesario) or refer to Viola (Cesario). 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 4 Quotes
Thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part.
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Page Number: 1.4.35-37
Explanation and Analysis:

Viola has disguised herself as a young pageboy named Cesario, and now resides in Orsino's court. Orsino has begun to rely on Cesario for advice and information on Olivia. He asks her to go to Olivia's home and woo her for him using any means necessary. In this moment Orsino tells Cesario that she may be able to persuade Olivia because she resembles and sounds like a woman, suggesting that Olivia may be more comfortable in the presence of a prepubescent boy than Orsino himself. Here Shakespeare notes the confusing nature of Viola's disguise and how it plays to the advantage of Orsino. Olivia has sworn off the presence of men, so Orsino uses the femininity of Cesario (Viola) to his advantage. There is also a sense of freedom that comes for Viola-as-Cesario. As a man she can walk the court freely and be independent, and she can also have a friendship with Orsino as well as be his confidant. This allows her to see Orsino as he truly is from the start; something she never would have been able to do as a young woman.  

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Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
He is very well-favored and he speaks very shrewishly; one would think his mother's milk were scarce out of him.
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Related Symbols: Costumes
Page Number: 1.5.159-161
Explanation and Analysis:

Disguised as a man (Cesario), Viola visits Olivia in order to woo her for Duke Orsino. Olivia's steward, Malvolio, tells Olivia that there is a young man at the door. Olivia asks Malvolio to describe him and he responds with this quote. Here, he tells Olivia that her visitor (Viola) is "well-favored" or attractive, and speaks in a high-pitched voice ("shrewishly") as if he were a child. 

In this moment, Malvolio notes the gender ambiguity of Cesario without realizing he is in fact a woman. He writes off Cesario's femininity as a product of youth. This is a comedic moment for the audience; we know Cesario is actually Viola but no one else does. 

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. 

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 4 Quotes
Let still the woman take
An elder than herself: so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband's heart:
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are.
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Page Number: 2.4.34-40
Explanation and Analysis:
 Cesario (Viola) and Orsino sit listening to music, and Orsino asks Casario if he has ever been in love. Cesario says yes. Not knowing that under the disguise Viola is confessing her love for him, Orsino tells Viola-as-Cesario that whoever this woman is, she is not worthy of his love because she is older than he is. Orsino encourages Cesario to instead marry someone younger than himelf. The reasoning he gives for this is that men are more wavering with love, they become less attracted to older women, and their feelings change and are "unfirm." Orsino points out that men long for more than women do and they fall out of love quickly. Orsino pauses in his excessive, cliched speech to have a truthful moment with Cesario, but he does not see the irony in it. He is, in fact discussing the wavering (but excessively powerful, he believes) nature of a man's love to Cesario, who is secretly a woman. He is blinded by Viola's disguise and speaks candidly and openly with her as Cesario, in a way that he never would if she were to appear as Viola.
Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
Orsino: And what's her history?
Viola: A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Orsino (speaker)
Related Symbols: Costumes
Page Number: 2.4.118-127
Explanation and Analysis:

The self-absorbed Orsino tells Cesario (Viola) that no woman could ever love a man as much as he loves Olivia. Cesario disagrees. She then tells him her own story (of the love she has for Orsino) in a roundabout way, pretending it is the story of her sister. Orsino is blinded once again by Viola's disguise, unaware of the irony of the situation. She is confessing her love for him, but is shielded by the mask of Cesario. Her own love also mimics Orsino's in its strength and melancholy—but it's also suggested that, contrary to Orsino's sexist declaration about women's capacity for love, Viola's love for Orsino is more enduring and powerful than his love for Olivia.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
This fellow's wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
Related Characters: Viola (Cesario) (speaker), Feste
Page Number: 3.1.61-62
Explanation and Analysis:

Viola, dressed as Cesario, arrives at Olivia's home to speak to her on behalf of Orsino once again. When she arrives she meets Feste, who mocks Orsino's love for Olivia. After he exits, Viola says this line. Here, Viola comments on Feste's performance as a fool. She sees his behavior as an act, and she explains that only wise and witty people can be true "fools," as they see things that others can't see, and they are intuitive and insightful. Thus, the fools are very much un-foolish, quite possibly making them the wisest people in the court (as is often the case in Shakespeare). Shakespeare suggests in this moment that the disguises we put on, i.e. the wise man as the fool, or Viola dressed as Cesario, allow us to have the freedom to both see and tell (or in Feste's case comment on) the truth. 

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Give me thy hand
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds.
Related Characters: Orsino (speaker), Viola (Cesario)
Related Symbols: Costumes
Page Number: 5.1.285-286
Explanation and Analysis:

After finally identifying herself as a woman of noble blood to Orsino, Viola tells the court that she will return to the captain of her ship who will rightly identify her and return her clothes to her. Orsino then takes her hand and asks to see her in her "woman's weeds," or women's clothing.

Here we see how fickle or performative Orsino's love for Olivia truly is. The moment Viola reveals herself and identifies herself as not only a woman but a high class woman, he falls in love with her. This could simply be a result of the fact that Orsino's love for Olivia was merely a performance, or it could be that through her disguise, Orsino has begun to learn so much about Viola, and to love her deeply as an effeminate male comrade, that he is instantly smitten when he discovers that she is actually a woman. Of course, there are also complex issues of gender at work here (particularly as during Shakespeare's time, all the female characters would have been played by male actors), which Shakespeare uses to complicate the theme of love and (heterosexual) desire, and plays up for comic effect.

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Viola (Cesario) Character Timeline in Twelfth Night

The timeline below shows where the character Viola (Cesario) appears in Twelfth Night. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 2
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Somewhere on the coast, Viola, a young noblewoman, a Captain, and several sailors, have just washed ashore from a shipwreck.... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
The Captain, who was born in Illyria, explains to Viola that Illyria is governed by a Duke Orsino, a bachelor who is in love with... (full context)
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Intrigued, Viola wonders whether she could temporarily conceal her aristocratic identity and go work for Olivia. The... (full context)
Act 1, scene 4
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
At Orsino's palace, Viola, now disguised as the page boy Cesario, chats with Valentine. Valentine tells Cesario that if... (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
Orsino enters and asks to speak with Cesario privately. Orsino then tells Cesario he has Orsino's full confidence, and tells Cesario to go... (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 departs for Olivia's house with four or five attendants. But, privately, Viola remarks to herself... (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
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... (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 says it would be cruel for Olivia to go through life without producing an heir... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
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Cutting Cesario off, Olivia asks what his own background is. Cesario replies that he is a gentleman... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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Once she is alone, Olivia admits to herself that she is extremely attracted to Cesario. She lists his beautiful features—"Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs" (1.5.269) —and describes them as... (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... (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... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...but begs Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to quiet down because ever since Olivia saw Cesario earlier that day, she has been badly distressed. (full context)
Act 2, scene 4
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
The next day, Orsino lounges in his palace as usual, attended by Cesario, Curio, and other servants and musicians. Orsino sends for Feste, to sing. While Curio looks... (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
Orsino tells Cesario that, if he is ever in love, he must remember and imitate Orsino's passion for... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...Feste prays for the "melancholy god" to protect the Duke (2.4.72). Orsino dismisses everyone but Cesario. (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.... (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... (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.... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
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Cesario responds that he pities Olivia but cannot love her—because, as he tells her, "I am... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Desire and Love Theme Icon
...he has finally decided to give up and leave because he saw Olivia flirting with Cesario in the orchard. Sir Toby assures Sir Andrew that Olivia was only trying to test... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
In her garden, Olivia consults with Maria on how best to woo Cesario, who has agreed to come back yet again. She asks Maria to bring Malvolio to... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...Olivia concludes that Malvolio has fallen into "midsummer madness" (3.4.52). A servant enters, reporting that Cesario has returned. Olivia asks Maria to get Sir Toby to look after Malvolio. Then she... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
Sir Andrew enters, holding the letter he has written to challenge Cesario to a duel. Sir Toby reads it, declares that it's sure to provoke Cesario, and... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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Olivia enters with Cesario, apologizing for having said too much: she is so in love, she cannot help herself.... (full context)
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Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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Once Olivia has gone, Sir Toby and Fabian approach Cesario. Using all sorts of double entendre's about swords and sheathes, Sir Toby warns Cesario that... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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Cesario and Sir Andrew approach each other and draw swords, terrified. At this instant, Antonio enters.... (full context)
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Suddenly, several officers appear. Sir Andrew and Cesario, overjoyed to stop fighting, put away their swords. The officers arrest Antonio, who asks Cesario—whom... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
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...sea. He shouts that "Sebastian" should be ashamed of himself. The officers drag Antonio off. Viola, meanwhile, is filled with sudden hope that her brother is still alive. She rushes off... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
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Once everyone has left, Sir Andrew vows that he will pursue and defeat Cesario. He runs off, with Sir Toby and Fabian following. (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 and speak with Olivia. Confused, Sebastian offers Feste some coins... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
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Olivia rushes in, ordering Sir Toby to stop. Olivia sends Toby away, while begging "Cesario" (in fact, Sebastian) not to be offended. Once Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian have... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
...help. As Fabian tries to get Feste to let him read it, Orsino arrives with Cesario and several others. After exchanging some casual banter with Feste, Orsino sends the clown to... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
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While Orsino waits, the officers barge in with Antonio. Cesario defends Antonio—noting that Antonio saved him from Sir Toby and Sir Andrew—but concedes that he... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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Olivia demands to know where Cesario has been. Has he broken his marriage promises to her already? Cesario is confused. Orsino,... (full context)
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As Orsino is leaving, Sir Andrew enters, bleeding and calling for a surgeon. He accuses Cesario of injuring him. General puzzlement descends upon the group. Sir Toby, also bleeding, enters with... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
...her pardon for having hurt her kinsman. Everyone is astonished. Orsino exclaims that Sebastian and Cesario are identical: "one face, one voice, one habit, and two persons" (5.1.208). Antonio says, "an... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
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Through a series of questions, Sebastian and Viola identify each other and rejoice: they are reunited! Yet, Viola says to the confused onlookers,... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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...Orsino reassures Olivia, telling her that the twins have noble blood. He then turns to Viola and says that he often heard Cesario swear that he would never love a woman... (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
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...of them. Orsino accepts. He releases her from his service and from the persona of Cesario. (full context)
Desire and Love Theme Icon
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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... (full context)