"Twelfth Night" by William Shakespeare, Act I

After a shipwreck separates her from her twin brother, Viola disguises herself as a man so she can pass safely through the land of Illyria. There she befriends Duke Orsino and tries to help him win the affections of Countess Olivia. Read the full text here.

Here are links to our lists for the play: Act I, Act II, Act III, Act IV, Act V

Here are links to our lists for other plays by William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing, Measure for Measure, Othello, A Midsummer Night's Dream
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definitions & notes only words
  1. excess
    a quantity much larger than is needed
    If music be the food of love, play on;
    Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
    The appetite may sicken, and so die.
    The Latin verbs "cedere" means "to go" and "facere" means "to do" so "excess" and "surfeit" both describe something that has moved out of or over the limit. As the lines suggest, neither is a healthy state. Yet, Orsino wants to overdose on love (through its stand-in of music) in hopes that it would cure his desire for a woman who doesn't want anything to do with him.
  2. abatement
    an interruption in the intensity or amount of something
    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
    Compare these lines to Orsino's later argument that his love "is all as hungry as the sea, and can digest as much" and is much stronger than a woman's love, which "may be called appetite that suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt." Here, he has just told the musicians to stop playing because the song is not as sweet anymore; similarly, the spirit of love, once experienced, abates in strength and value. All these lines suggest that Orsino has never been in a loving relationship.
  3. ample
    more than enough in size or scope or capacity
    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 veiled 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.
  4. provident
    careful in regard to your own interests
    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 practise,
    To a strong mast that lived upon the sea
  5. abjure
    formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief
    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 company
    And sight of men.
  6. mellow
    become more relaxed, easygoing, or genial
    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!
    There might be a pun on "melancholy" here: that is how Olivia and Viola feel about the loss of their brothers. Discovering their similar situations, Viola wants to serve Olivia, in hopes that this could mellow ("make softer") both their pains. In addition, as a stranger shipwrecked on Illyria, Viola has no idea what she should do, so she is willing to go wherever there's a hint of familiarity (her father once mentioned Orsino).
  7. bounteous
    given or giving freely
    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.
    The adjective is synonymous with "bountiful" and comes from the Latin "bonus" which means "good." Originally, a bounteous nature was associated with the generosity of kings or other higher powers. This is suggested by Viola's status as a lady, which enables her to offer to pay the nameless sea captain for helping her.
  8. exception
    grounds for adverse criticism
    By my troth, Sir Toby, you must come in earlier o' nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.
    The Latin verb "excipere" ("to take out") was often used by Roman lawyers to express criticism or objection to the evidence or arguments being presented. Here, Olivia has household rules to which, Toby, being her uncle, wishes he could be an exception ("an instance that does not conform to a rule"); instead, she takes exception to his breaking her rules.
  9. modest
    limited in size or scope
    Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order.
    The adjective also means "humble in spirit or manner" and "not offensive to sexual mores in conduct or appearance." None of the definitions describe Toby, who believes he's entitled to indulge himself to excess. But Maria could be suggesting them anyway; according to Toby, she adores him, so she would not want him getting kicked out, since that would ruin her chances of marrying him and becoming less modest ("low or inferior in station").
  10. confine
    place limits on
    Confine? I'll confine myself no finer than I am: these clothes are good enough to drink in, and so be these boots too; an they be not, let them hang themselves in their own straps.
    As shown here, Toby's excess focuses on drinking. This is supported by Maria's line: "That quaffing and drinking will undo you." While Toby can quaff ("to swallow hurriedly or greedily") food, he prefers to quaff quaff (a serving of alcohol drawn from a keg). Thus, Maria's line could be interpreted as being humorously repetitive.
  11. prodigal
    a recklessly extravagant person
    Ay, but he'll have but a year in all these ducats: he's a very fool and a prodigal.
  12. allay
    lessen the intensity of or calm
    for besides that he's a fool, he's a great quarreller: and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarrelling, 'tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.
  13. accost
    approach and speak to someone aggressively or insistently
    You mistake, knight: accost is, front her, board her, woo her, assail her.
    The given definition is too gentle and modest to fit what Toby means. The Late Latin "accostare" means "come up to the side" and originally described a fleet of warships approaching an enemy coast. This sense of physical attack is suggested by Toby's use of the verbs "front" ("confront bodily") and "assail" ("attack someone physically or emotionally"). In urging Andrew to defend himself against Maria's insults with sexual violence and loving words, Toby accosts Maria.
  14. revel
    unrestrained merrymaking
    I am a fellow o' the strangest mind i' the world; I delight in masques and revels sometimes altogether.
    In Old French, "reveler" is connected to "rebeller," which means "be disorderly, make merry, rebel, be riotous." In his indulgence in revels and masques ("a party of guests wearing costumes and masks"), Andrew is rebelling against Olivia, who is in mourning for her dead brother. The lines could also be Shakespeare alluding to his own play to amuse his audience with the suggestion that they could have something in common with the foolish and strange knight.
  15. caper
    jump about playfully
    Let me see thee caper; ha! higher: ha, ha! excellent!
  16. negligence
    the trait of ignoring responsibilities and lacking concern
    You either fear his humour or my negligence, that you call in question the continuance of his love: is he inconstant, sir, in his favours?
  17. abandon
    the trait of lacking restraint or control
    Sure, my noble lord,
    If she be so abandon'd to her sorrow
    As it is spoke, she never will admit me.
  18. clamorous
    conspicuously and offensively loud
    Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds
    Rather than make unprofited return.
  19. prosper
    make steady progress
    Prosper well in this,
    And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord,
    To call his fortunes thine.
  20. transgress
    commit a sin; violate a law of God or a moral law
    Any thing that's mended is but patched: virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin; and sin that amends is but patched with virtue.
    With verbal and visual puns (he's wearing clothes that have been mended with patches), the fool responds to Olivia's dismissal of him as boring and dishonest. His syllogism suggests that sin and virtue coexist in a patchwork fashion, and most people, including a fool, can either mend themselves or be forcefully mended, so that they stop transgressing (the alternate definition of "pass beyond, as a limit" might be easier to stick to than not sinning at all).
  21. infirmity
    the state of being weak in health or body
    God send you, sir, a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly!
  22. discreet
    marked by prudence or modesty and wise self-restraint
    To be generous, guiltless and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets: there is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.
    Someone who is discreet can also be described as "unobtrusively perceptive and sympathetic," "heedful of potential consequences," and prudent ("marked by sound judgment"). Thus, when a discreet man reproves, one should see the criticism as helpful rather than bitter. Similarly, when a paid fool insults, one should laugh rather than take it as an abusive attack. These words are Olivia telling Malvolio that he should not be upset when the fool says they are fools.
  23. lechery
    unrestrained indulgence in sexual activity
    Lechery! I defy lechery.
    This is Toby's drunken response to Olivia's question: "Cousin, cousin, how have you come so early by this lethargy?" ("cousin" is a general term for a relative and does not describe how they are related). On the surface, it sounds like Toby is defending himself against a sin, but actually, his lethargy ("inactivity; showing an unusual lack of energy"), due to his constant drinking, makes the sin of lechery difficult for him to commit.
  24. exquisite
    delicately beautiful
    Most radiant, exquisite and unmatchable beauty, -- I pray you, tell me if this be the lady of the house, for I never saw her
  25. profound
    showing intellectual penetration or emotional depth
    No, my profound heart: and yet, by the very fangs of malice I swear, I am not that I play.
  26. nonpareil
    model of excellence or perfection of a kind
    My lord and master loves you: O, such love
    Could be but recompensed, though you were crown'd
    The nonpareil of beauty!
  27. dimension
    a construct distinguishing objects or individuals
    Your lord does know my mind; I cannot love him:
    Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
    Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
    In voices well divulged, free, learn'd and valiant;
    And in dimension and the shape of nature
    A gracious person: but yet I cannot love him;
    He might have took his answer long ago.
  28. denial
    the act of refusing to comply, as with a request
    If I did love you in my master's flame,
    With such a suffering, such a deadly life,
    In your denial I would find no sense;
    I would not understand it.
  29. reverberate
    ring or echo with sound
    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!'
  30. fervor
    feelings of great warmth and intensity
    Love make his heart of flint that you shall love;
    And let your fervor, like my master's, be
    Placed in contempt!

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