Shakespeare – Module 5: Comedy: Twelfth Night Character Study – 3 of 6

WHAT: Today you will describe the main characters in the play and explore Viola’s character.

By the end of this study session you will be able to:

✔ Use adjectives to describe the characters .
✔ Say what Viola is like

Today you will need:
✎ A pen
☰ Some paper to write on
♫ Some headphones or a space where you can play videos out loud

1) Watch this summary of the characters to recap who they are. As you watch, think about how Viola is different to the other characters. For example, many of the other characters chop and change their minds a lot and are quite over the top. Is Viola like that too?

2) Match the characters with the adjectives. Which words best describe them?
➊ Viola / Cesario
➋ Duke Orsino
➌ Lady Olivia
➍ Malvolio
➎ Maria
➏ Sir Andrew Aguecheek
➐ Sir Toby Belch

3) Give your reasons for the words you have chosen for Viola.

  • serious
  • vain
  • foolish
  • mischievous
  • sad
  • intelligent
  • arrogant
  • gloomy
  • quick thinking
  • rich
  • witty / funny
  • cowardly
  • boisterous
  • fun loving

4) Read this summary of Viola (from the website Litcharts):

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.

5) Look at this example of what we could say about Viola:

Viola is loyal because even when she has fallen in love with Orsino, she maintains her disguise as Cesario and woos Olivia on the Duke’s behalf. She could have easily become jealous or resentful of Olivia, and chosen to not pass on the Duke’s messages.

6) Viola could be described as passionate because…
7) She could also be described as genuine because…

8) In Act 2 Scene 4, Orsino and Cesario (Viola) are talking about love. Read the transcript and answer the questions.

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a) Which words does Viola use to describe the sadness of love and grief?

Green and yellow

b) Who do you think Viola is really talking about?


c) Even though Viola is pretending to be a man, which line shows she is trying to hint that she is a woman?

“My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be perhaps were I a woman”

d) Which line shows she indirectly tells Orsino that she is in love with him?

“I should you lordhip”

9) Pretend you are Viola. Write a diary saying how all of this is making you feel.
You could write about:
– your frustration at having to pretend to be someone you’re not all the time
– why you still continue to help Orsino woo Olivia, even though you love him yourself
– why you help Olivia (she is grieving for her dead brother so maybe you can relate?)