Act I - Scene II

The sea-coast

[Enter Viola, Captain, and Sailors.]

What country, friends, is this?
This is Illyria, lady.
And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown'd: what think you, sailors?(5)
It is perchance that you yourself were saved.
O my poor brother! and so perchance may he be.
True, madam; and, to comfort you with chance,
Assure yourself, after our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you(10)
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,(15)
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
So long as I could see.
For saying so, there's gold.
Mine own escape unfoldeth to my hope,
Whereto thy speech serves for authority,(20)
The like of him. Know'st thou this country?
Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Not three hours' travel from this very place.
Who governs here?
A noble duke, in nature(25)
As in name.
What is his name?
Orsino! I have heard my father name him.
He was a bachelor then.(30)
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.(35)
What's she?
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,(40)
They say, she hath abjured the company
And sight of men.
O that I served that lady
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,(45)
What my estate is!
That were hard to compass;
Because she will admit no kind of suit,
No, not the Duke's.
There is a fair behavior in thee, captain;(50)
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,(55)
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(60)
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 silence to my wit.
Be you his eunuch, and your mute I'll be:(65)
When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.
I thank thee: lead me on.


  1. The Captain has agreed to introduce Viola as a eunuch to Orsino, and in this line he makes an oath to demonstrate his willingness to keep her secret. The verb “to blab” means to chatter or reveal something indiscreetly. In other words, the Captain is saying “if I tell anyone your secret, then may I be blinded for not keeping my promise to you.”

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In this context, the verb “to abjure” means that Olivia has withdrawn, or left, the company of possible suitors because of her grief.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Viola establishes a major theme in this play when she describes how she will dress as a man: tension between one’s external and internal identity suggests that a pose can shape one’s actual identity. Her “disguise,” or external male appearance, will “form [her] intent,” or shape her interior goals.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The audience may wonder why Shakespeare chose to begin his play in Orsino’s court when this shipwreck is the main event that sparks the conflict in the play. When the Captain repeats the plot that was revealed in the first scene, this makes Shakespeare’s beginning more odd. One explanation for this may be the thematic importance of Orsino’s hyperbolic love. Orsino sets the tone and subject of the play on love and the effects of love. Had he begun the play with the shipwreck the audience might believe that the play was going to be about survival and grief.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. In mythology, Arion was an islander from Lesbos who won a musical composition in Sicily. On his return trip home, the sailors navigating his boat plotted to kill him in order to steal the prizes he had won at the competition. Arion could either commit suicide or be thrown overboard. In his final act, he sang to Apollo and summoned dolphins. He dove into the sea and was carried to Poseidon’s sanctuary by one of the dolphins.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Even though Viola has suffered a shipwreck and lost her brother, the tone of this scene is not tragic. “Perchance” is repeated with subtle wordplay, which signals to the audience that this play is a comedy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Elysium is a conception of the afterlife from antiquity. It was different from Hades, the underworld where all mortal souls retired, because it was reserved for mortals related to gods, heroes, and poets. It was a reward for the righteous few chosen by the gods to lead a happy, indulgent afterlife.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. An “eunuch” is a man who has been castrated. Historically, this has been done for a variety of reasons: to young boys to preserve a soprano voice or to employ men as guards for women’s living quarters. Eunuchs were symbolic of sexually innocuous or effeminate men.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Viola has decided to impersonate a male servant (a eunuch, no less) to Count Orsino, with the intention of helping him woo the grieving Olivia. Viola apparently desires to see true love fulfilled.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff