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"Olivia, May I....?" Using movement to analyze Cesario's suit in Twelfth Night.

Teachers' Rating:
  2 ratings

Twelfth Night

June 2012
Jaime Wong teaches English at Lincoln-Sudbury Regonal High School, Sudbury, MA

Plays/Scenes Covered

Twelfth Night, 1.5.166-293

What's On for Today and Why

A key plot twist occurs at the end of Act 1, Scene 5, when Olivia falls in love with Viola, disguised as Cesario. In this lesson, students investigate the dynamics of the scene using a basic movement game to figure out how Viola's words fail and succeed in wooing Olivia.


This lesson will take 1 x 50 minute class period.

What You Need

Folger edition of Twelfth Night
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

What To Do

1. Assign one student to be Olivia. Have him/her stand at one end of the classroom.


2. Assign a second student to be Viola. Have him/her begin at the other end of the classroom.


3. Tell the remainder of the class that they will act as referees for the game, which is modelled after the popular children's game, "Mother, May I...?"


4. Begin with 1.5.166

"The honorable lady of the house, which is she?"

This dialogue is almost exclusively between Olivia and Viola. The objective of the game is to observe what lines Viola uses that allow her to woo Olivia successfully. The students playing Viola and Olivia should read each exchange of dialogue, Viola first and then Olivia. The class should then determine whether Viola may take one or two steps forward towards Olivia, OR take one or two steps back, based on Olivia's response to Viola.

For example:

Viola: "The honorable lady of the house, which is she?"

Olivia: "Speak to me. I shall answer her. Your will?"

Ask students if Viola may take steps forward or steps back, and why. The student playing Viola should move according to the class' instructions.


5. After finishing the game, ask students to consider the following questions:

  • At what point in the scene was Olivia least interested in Viola? That is, when did Viola have to take steps back and why?
  • At what point does Olivia become most interested, or fall in love with, Viola? How do you know? Did the language change in some way? You might ask them to look carefully at Olivia's usage of prose and verse in this exchange.

  • Was there a point in the scene that they felt Olivia should have been taking steps towards Viola? When and why?

  • How does this scene and Olivia's new love for Viola complicate the plot of the play?

Ask the students who played Olivia and Viola if they agreed with the decisions their classmares made, or if they felt differently as they were reading the text.


How Did It Go?

Were students able to successfully explain why they instructed Viola to move forwards or backwards? Were they able to discuss the dynamics of the scene afterwards?


Viola's willow cabin speech is one of Shakespeare's most moving speeches about love. This lesson could be followed up with a lesson about a Shakespearean love sonnet, such as Sonnet 130, or Romeo and Juliet's sonnet in Romeo and Juliet 2.2.


If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.

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