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Text on the left says "Twelfth Night Study Guide." On the right, Jessica B. Hill. Photography by Ted Belton.



Twelfth Night



Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Seana McKenna

House Program - coming soon!

Grade Recommendation
Grade 6+

Content Advisory

This play includes some intoxication and sexual innuendo. Please see the show page for a detailed audience advisory.


In Shakespeare's celebrated romantic comedy, Viola finds herself shipwrecked on the island of Illyria. For protection, she disguises herself as a young man, Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino to deliver love letters to Countess Olivia. Drama arises in a tangle of mistaken identities and passions, with Olivia falling for Cesario, whose heart belongs to Orsino, who is still smitten with Olivia. When Viola's twin brother appears, complications peak!

Curriculum Connections

Global Competencies

  • Citizenship, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Metacognition, Self-Awareness

Grade 6-8

  • The Arts
  • Health and Physical Education
  • Language Arts
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Studies, History and Geography

Grade 9-12

  • The Arts
  • English
  • Health and Physical Education
  • Technological Education

Grade 11-12

  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Suitable for courses in disciplines such as Arts, Cultural Studies, Creative Writing, Drama, English, Fine Arts, Gender Studies, History, Human Rights, Social Development Studies, Teacher Education and Theatre



  • 1967 in Canada
  • Bullying and Exclusion
  • Chaos and Order
  • Disguise, Mistaken Identity, Liberation and Surprise
  • Division and Unity
  • Excess and Moderation
  • The Fool in Shakespeare's Works
  • Freedom and Fun; Freedom vs. Oppression
  • Gender Performance, Construction and Identity
  • Hope and Survival
  • Illusion and Reality
  • 2SLGBTQI+ Relationships
  • Longing and Desire
  • Lost and Found; Finding Your Way in a New Place
  • Love in All its Shapes and Sizes
  • Natural and Unnatural
  • Outside and Inside
  • Reason and Madness
  • Revenge and Justice
  • Searching for the Other
  • Self-Discovery
  • Social Hierarchies and Expectations
  • Time in Shakespeare's Comedies
  • Trust and Mistrust
  • Trusting in Fate
  • Twins





  • What do you already know about 1967 Canada?
  • Have you ever had to navigate somewhere new? Recall how you felt arriving and finding your way. What advice would you give to someone navigating without any ID, cell phone or internet?
  • Part of this play is the exploration of the fluidity of gender and sexuality. Does it surprise you that this was included in a play written 400 years ago? Why or why not? How have Western understandings of gender and sexuality changed since Shakespeare's time? What hopes do you have for how they might continue to change?
  • This is one of two plays in which Shakespeare features twins. In what ways might twins be helpful in a comedic story?
  • "If music be the food of love, play on…" are the first words of the play, said by Orsino. What does this mean to you? The full line is: "If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die." Reading the full line, does this change its meaning? What does it tell us about Orsino?
  • What impact do societal expectations and hierarchies have on who people are and what they want? Use examples to support your thinking.
  • What are the reasons why people feel the need to hide their true identity/ies or aspects of themselves from others? What impact does this have on our relationships?
    • Conversely, how might disguising who we are by pretending to be someone else help to reveal to ourselves and others who we truly are? 
  • Research the meanings of the names of the characters in the play. What clues might this give you about the play? Revisit this research after seeing the show.
  • What does grief look like for different people? Is there a "right" way to grieve? What is the relationship between healing and grief? Explain your thinking.
  • Why do crushes or infatuations sometimes feel overwhelming or confusing? What advice would you give to a friend navigating these feelings? What might they learn from the experience?
  • Do you believe that revenge is ever justified? Why or why not?


  • What impact did setting Twelfth Night in 1967 Canada have on your experience of the play? If you were going to pick any place and time in which to set the play, what would you pick and why?
  • The play's title references a holiday celebrated 12 days after Christmas, which was popular in Elizabethan England. During the festivities, there would be a great deal of drinking, men and women would exchange clothes, and servants would switch roles with their employers. How can you see characteristics of this holiday inspiring elements of Shakespeare's play? The holiday was also associated with the end of revelry. Do you think the play offers a sense of that too? Why or why not? 
  • In Bittersweet, Susan Cain defines the bittersweet approach to life as "a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world. It's also about the recognition that light and dark, birth and death-bitter and sweet-are forever paired." Do you see this idea reflected in this production of Twelfth Night? What character most embraces the bittersweet? What might that character have to teach the other characters in the play?
  • Several characters in the play are in mourning and cope with their losses in different ways. What differences do you see in how Viola and Olivia approach grief? Grief and mourning are central to many other Shakespearean plays, perhaps most obviously in Hamlet. What do these two plays suggest about grief? Do you agree? Explain your thinking with examples from each play.
  • Sir Toby and Malvolio embody two extremes: the former lives only for pleasure, the latter insists on order and self-restraint. Malvolio is disliked and mocked not just for these values, but for his hypocrisy in relation to these rigid principles. Given the portrayal of these two characters, what might Shakespeare be suggesting not only about excess and moderation, but about integrity? Do you agree?
  • "Gulling scenes" (where characters are tricked or misled) are a common comedic device in Shakespeare's plays. What do you think these scenes offer the audience? How might they add to the humour, character development and themes explored in Twelfth Night? How might they land differently today from when they were first written and performed (more than 400 years ago)?
  • What do you think happens next? Will Malvolio seek revenge or do you think there can be a reconciliation with the other characters? Explain your position.
  • Twelfth Night is filled with miscommunication and misunderstandings that spark chaos among the characters. Think about a time in your own life when honest conversation could have prevented or resolved conflict. What lessons about effective communication can we draw from the characters' experiences in the play? 
  • This production features non-traditional gender casting for the roles of Malvolio and Feste. How did this choice affect your understanding and experience of those characters? What new insights were offered through these casting choices? 
  • Twelfth Night is one Shakespeare play in which characters could be said to be "hiding in plain sight." This device requires a suspension of disbelief from the audience. Why do you think Shakespeare uses this device? What might it reveal about the characters? How did it work for you as an audience member?
  • Are there any unintentional harms that might be caused through the production of this play? If so, what are they and what might be done to take care of the artists and audience members participating in the work?


Objective: Students will explore the role of music in Twelfth Night, first by analyzing and interpreting one of the songs from the play and then by engaging in imaginative work in relation to the characters and this production's setting of 1967 Canada.



  1. Display for the whole class and/or provide each student with a copy of the text for "The Wind and the Rain."
  2. Divide students into five groups and assign each group one stanza from the song
  3. Working individually within their five groups, ask the students to read their assigned stanza, encouraging them to look up words and to highlight any images they notice
  4. Then, working together in their groups, they will discuss the imagery and the meaning of their assigned stanza
    • What words and phrases stood out to you? 
    • What was the strongest image in the stanza?
    • Can you paraphrase the lines into your own words?
  5. Next, students will select four images (one per line) to embody through tableaux and/or movement while reading their chosen stanza. They will devise a short piece that includes the following:
    • A tableau for each image
    • Selected sounds to accompany their performance and reading of the stanza (using clapping to create the sound of rain, whistling to create the sound of wind, etc.) 
    • At least three of the following movements: super-fast movement, super-slow movement, whole body movement or movement of only one specific body part
  6. After rehearsing their piece a few times, groups will present their work to the rest of the class, performing them in the order the stanzas appear in the text.

 Debriefing Questions:

  • Did translating the text to imagery/movement change your understanding of the text? If so, how?
  • How did your group decide which images, movements and sounds to use? 
  • Each stanza includes the same line "With hey, ho, the wind and the rain" and all but one end with the line "For the rain it raineth every day." What similarities and differences did you notice in the movements that each group created to capture these repeated lines? 
  • If you were to put this text to music, what melody would be your inspiration? Why? 
  • Why do you think music features so prominently in Twelfth Night? In what ways might it enhance an audience's experience of the play?

Possible Extensions:

Comparing Versions

Have students listen to a few different versions of "The Wind and the Rain" and ask them to compare how they envisioned the piece musically to the version(s).

Character Soundtracks

  1. Ask students to create a playlist for one of characters in the play using only songs that appeared in Canada's Top 100 in the year 1967
  2. They should start by listing everything they know about the character (e.g. what they say about themselves, what other characters say about them, what their name/s mean, traits, interests, important relationships with other characters, key events from the plot, etc.)
  3. Next, ask students to pick up to five songs they would include on a playlist for this character and explain their reasons for picking each song. They could focus on genre of music, type of melody and also how certain lyrics capture aspects of the character they previously identified.
  4. You may also wish to give students the chance to create a 2024 playlist as well.


This production's director, Seana McKenna, performed in two previous productions of Twelfth Night at the Stratford Festival, playing Viola in 1985 and Olivia in 2006. What insights into the play do you think these experiences have provided her? What benefits and strengths might a director with a lot of experience as an actor bring to a creative process?

Hedda Gabler, 1970

Seana McKenna as Viola in Twelfth Night, 1985. Directed by David Giles. Designed by Christina Poddubiuk. Lighting design by Michael J. Whitfield. Photograph by David Cooper. Stratford Festival Archives, GPO.1985.009.0013


The Stratford Festival's Archives maintains, conserves and protects records about the Festival and makes those materials available to people around the world. Their collection contains material ranging from 1952 right up to the present and includes administrative documents, production records, photographs, design artwork, scores, audio-visual recordings, promotional materials, costumes, props, set decorations and much more. These materials are collected and preserved with the aim of documenting the history of the Festival, preserving the page-to-stage process, and capturing the creative processes involved in numerous other activities that contribute to the Festival each season.



Study Guide PDF

Stratford Public Library's Twelfth Night Reading List


Study Guides

View Study Guides for selected 2024 plays along with those from previous seasons free of charge on our website.



Twelfth Night

2024 Shakespeare Lecture: In Conversation with Jessica B. Hill | McGill University

Anti-Racist Shakespeare: Twelfth Night - Shakespeare & Race (2021) | Shakespeare's Globe

Approaching Shakespeare: Twelfth Night | Oxford University Podcasts

Cesario, Sebastian, Olivia, Viola, and Illyria in Twelfth Night | Norman Nathan, Names

A Modern Perspective: Twelfth Night | Folger Shakespeare Library

Mourning in Shakespeare: Different Aspects of Surviving Death | Lai Man Chan, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Singer and song: the music in Twelfth Night | Shakespeare Oxford Society

Twelfth Night: Story Timeline | Royal Shakespeare Company

Twelfth Night Themes: Love, Loss, Identity and the Sea | Shakespeare's Globe

Twelfth Night: Who's Who | Royal Shakespeare Company

"Two lips, indifferent red:" Queer Styles in Twelfth Night | Goran Stanivukovic, Queer Shakespeare: Desire and Sexuality

What the Heck is a "Twelfth Night"? | Utah Shakespeare Festival

What you will: gender fluidity in Twelfth Night | Shakespeare's Globe

Canada in 1967

1967-1969 Canada's Centennial and the White Paper | First Nations Education Steering Committee

Canada's Centennial Celebrations, 1967 | The Canadian Encyclopedia

Canada's Top 100 in the year 1967 | Canadian Music Blog

Fashioning Expo 67 | McCord Stewart Museum

In 1967, change in Canada could no longer be stopped | Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail

Revisit '60s fashion-Expo 67 style! | National Film Board

Drama Exercises

The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators. (n.d.). Tableau


Booking Information: Student Matinées, InterACTive Preshows, Workshops & Chats

Student Matinées

You may book any available date, but selected student matinée performances for this show are at 2 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Friday, April 26
  • Wednesday, May 1
  • Friday, May 10
  • Tuesday, May 14
  • Wednesday, May 22
  • Friday, May 31
  • Wednesday, June 5
  • Tuesday, June 11
  • Thursday, June 20
  • Thursday, September 12
  • Thursday, September 26
  • Tuesday, October 1
  • Friday, October 11
  • Tuesday, October 15
  • Thursday, October 24


InterACTive Preshows

Led by artists appearing in the matinée, these high-energy sessions provide students the opportunity to explore key themes, questions and technical aspects of productions on the Festival's renowned stages. $4 per student (free for Teaching Stratford Program participants)

11 a.m.-noon on the following dates:

  • Wednesday, May 1
  • Friday, May 10
  • Tuesday, May 14
  • Wednesday, May 22
  • Wednesday, June 5
  • Thursday, September 26
  • Friday, October 11
  • Thursday, October 24

For more information, visit


Workshops & Chats

Workshops and Chats (virtual, onsite or at your school/centre) can be booked by calling the Box Office at 1.800.567.1600 or by emailing

Pre-Show Workshops customized to your students' needs and interests are available from 10-11 a.m. or 11 a.m.-noon before selected matinées. $10 per student. For more information, visit

Half-Hour Post-Show Chats with cast and creative team members are available after selected matinées. $3 per student. For more information, visit




Tools for Teachers includes InterACTive Preshows, Study Guides and Stratford Shorts.       



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