Twelfth Night

About the Book

A pair of twins are separated by a shipwreck, each believing the other has drowned. A lovesick duke woos a countess deep in mourning for her brother, while her rowdy household plots the downfall of her puritanical steward. Disguise, confusion, and mistaken identity follow in Shakespeare’s great comedy of love in all its manifestations. 

Under the editorial supervision of Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen, two of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, this Modern Library series incorporates definitive texts and authoritative notes from William Shakespeare: Complete Works. Each play includes an Introduction as well as an overview of Shakespeare’s theatrical career; commentary on past and current productions based on interviews with leading directors, actors, and designers; scene-by-scene analysis; key facts about the work; a chronology of Shakespeare’s life and times; and black-and-white illustrations.

Ideal for students, theater professionals, and general readers, these modern and accessible editions from the Royal Shakespeare Company set a new standard in Shakespearean literature for the twenty-first century.
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Twelfth Night

Act 1 Scene 1 running scene 1

Enter Orsino Duke of Illyria, Curio and other Lords Music plays

ORSINO If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die.

That strain again, it had a dying fall:

O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more,

'Tis not so sweet now as it was before. Music stops

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou

That, notwithstanding thy capacity,

Receiveth as the sea. Nought enters there,

Of what validity and pitch soe'er,

But falls into abatement and low price

Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy

That it alone is high fantastical.

CURIO Will you go hunt, my lord?

ORSINO What, Curio?

CURIO The hart.

ORSINO Why so I do, the noblest that I have.

O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,

Methought she purged the air of pestilence.

That instant was I turned into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

E'er since pursue me.

Enter Valentine

How now, what news from her?

VALENTINE So please my lord, I might not be admitted,

But from her handmaid do return this answer:

The element itself, till seven years' heat,

Shall not behold her face at ample view,

But like a cloistress she will veilèd walk,

And water once a day her chamber round

With eye-offending brine - all this to season

A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh

And lasting in her sad remembrance.

ORSINO O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame

To pay this debt of love but to a brother,

How will she love when the rich golden shaft

Hath killed the flock of all affections else

That live in her - when liver, brain and heart,

These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and filled

Her sweet perfections with one self king!

Away before me, to sweet beds of flowers.

Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.


Act 1 Scene 2 running scene 2

Enter Viola, a Captain and Sailors

VIOLA What country, friends, is this?

CAPTAIN This is Illyria, lady.

VIOLA And what should I do in Illyria?

My brother he is in Elysium.

Perchance he is not drowned: what think you, sailors?

CAPTAIN It is perchance that you yourself were saved.

VIOLA O, my poor brother! And so perchance may he be.

CAPTAIN True, madam, and to comfort you with chance,

Assure yourself, after our ship did split,

When you and those poor number saved with you

Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,

Most provident in peril, bind himself -

Courage and hope both teaching him the practice -

To a strong mast that lived upon the sea,

Where, like Arion on the dolphin's back,

I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves

So long as I could see.

VIOLA For saying so, there's gold. Gives money

Mine own escape unfoldeth to my hope,

Whereto thy speech serves for authority,

The like of him. Know'st thou this country?

CAPTAIN Ay, madam, well, for I was bred and born

Not three hours' travel from this very place.

VIOLA Who governs here?

CAPTAIN A noble duke, in nature as in name.

VIOLA What is his name?


VIOLA Orsino. I have heard my father name him.

He was a bachelor then.

CAPTAIN And so is now, or was so very late,

For but a month ago I went from hence,

And then 'twas fresh in murmur - as you know,

What great ones do, the less will prattle of -

That he did seek the love of fair Olivia.

VIOLA What's she?

CAPTAIN A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count

That died some twelvemonth since, then leaving her

In the protection of his son, her brother,

Who shortly also died, for whose dear love,

They say, she hath abjured the sight

And company of men.

VIOLA O that I served that lady,

And might not be delivered to the world

Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,

What my estate is.

CAPTAIN That were hard to compass,

Because she will admit no kind of suit,

No, not the duke's.

VIOLA There is a fair behaviour in thee, captain,

And though that nature with a beauteous wall

Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee

I will believe thou hast a mind that suits

With this thy fair and outward character.

I prithee - and I'll pay thee bounteously -

Conceal me what I am, and be my aid

For such disguise as haply shall become

The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke.

Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.

It may be worth thy pains, for I can sing

And speak to him in many sorts of music

That will allow me very worth his service.

What else may hap, to time I will commit,

Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.

CAPTAIN Be you his eunuch, and your mute I'll be:

When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.

VIOLA I thank thee. Lead me on.


Modern Library Classics Series

The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison
The Voyage Out
The Southern Woman
The Squatter and the Don
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Dark Interval
The Greek Plays
A Place in the Country
The Metamorphosis
Madame Bovary
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About the Author

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was a poet, playwright, and actor who is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language. Often referred to as the Bard of Avon, Shakespeare's vast body of work includes comedic, tragic, and historical plays; poems; and 154 sonnets. His dramatic works have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. More by William Shakespeare
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About the Author

Jonathan Bate
SIR JONATHAN BATE is an academic, broadcaster, critic, novelist, and prize-winning author of biographies of Wordsworth, Keats, and John Clare. He is the Foundation Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University, as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he holds the title of Professor of English Literature. Until September 2019 he was Provost of Worcester College, Oxford. He was knighted in 2015 for services to literary scholarship and higher education. More by Jonathan Bate
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About the Author

Eric Rasmussen
Eric Rasmussen, a professor of English at the University of Nevada, is one of today's leading textual experts on Shakespeare. More by Eric Rasmussen
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