This lesson provides a character analysis of Sir Toby Belch from Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night. It provides insights into his personality and motivations throughout the play and a list of his most important and memorable lines.
The Story of Twelfth Night
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a comedy in which nobody seems to be in love with the right person. Viola is separated from her brother Sebastian in a shipwreck and washes ashore in the land of Illyria. She disguises herself as a boy and, using the alias Cesario, becomes a servant to Duke Orsino. She falls in love with Orsino, but Orsino is head over heels for the lady Olivia.
When Viola (as Cesario) is sent to woo Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, Olivia winds up falling in love with Cesario. And – as if this love triangle isn’t a big enough mess- Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, is in love with Olivia and mistakenly believes that she is in love with him.In the play’s most famous scene, Maria (Olivia’s waiting-gentlewoman), Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s carousing uncle), Sir Andrew, and Fabian watch as Malvolio reads a letter from Olivia expressing her great affection for Malvolio. The comedy is provided by the fact that the letter is actually written by Maria as part of a plot to humble the judgmental, puritanical Malvolio. The four characters enjoy watching Malvolio fall hook, line, and sinker for the ruse.
Sir Toby enjoys the trick so much, he winds up marrying Maria in recompense for it.In the end, the relationships are all sorted out. Olivia marries Sebastian (who looks nearly identical to Cesario), and Orsino marries Viola after it is revealed that she is a woman.
Sir Toby’s Character
‘I hate a drunken rogue!’ (5.1.210-211).
These are ironic words coming from Sir Toby Belch, who provides a great deal of the humor in Twelfth Night and is himself best described as a drunken rogue. We are first introduced to Sir Toby in Act 1 Scene 3 when Maria is chiding him for disturbing Olivia’s household with his nightly drinking, late hours, and the ill company he keeps.Sir Toby is an ill-mannered flatterer, drunkard, and conman. He lives with Olivia, his niece, and lives a prodigal life of drinking and merry-making.
He takes advantage of Sir Andrew Aguecheek using constant flattery and making Sir Andrew believe that he can win Olivia’s hand in marriage. In reality, Sir Toby knows that Sir Andrew is a fool and a coward. He confides this in Fabian when he says, ‘For Andrew, if he were opened and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I’ll eat the rest of the anatomy’ (3.2.59-62).Sir Toby is an integral part of the play’s most famous scene, Act 2 Scene 5, in which Malvolio is tricked by Maria’s letter into believing that Olivia is in love with him. Sir Toby takes so much delight in Maria’s plot against the self-righteous Malvolio that he marries her for it.
While Sir Toby’s flaws shine brightly in the play, he is not without redeeming qualities. He is unpretentious, which is shown when he marries Maria even though she is Olivia’s waiting-gentlewoman and below Sir Toby’s noble social class. He is also a lover of jollity, and his mirth makes him serve as a pleasant foil to the self-righteous Malvolio. His character is best summed up by his famous line, ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ (2.3.114-115).
This line shows that Sir Toby intends to live life on his own terms, and he will not allow Malvolio or anyone else to force their own values or morality on him.
Sir Toby Belch Quotations
- After being admonished for his drinking, Sir Toby insists that he drinks in homage to the mourning Olivia: ‘With drinking healths to my niece. I’ll drink to her as long as there is a passage in my throat and drink in Illyria’ (1.3.
- Sir Toby exposes the Malvolio’s self righteousness: ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ (2.3.114-115).
- Sir Toby makes a pun on the word time when Malvolio chastises him for carousing at such a late hour: ‘We did keep time, sir, in our catches. Sneck up!’ (2.
- Sir Toby misunderstands Olivia’s allusion to his lethargy, and replies: ‘Lechery? I defy lechery!’ (1.5.
- Sir Toby’s response to Malvolio’s fantasy of sleeping with Olivia: ‘Fire and brimstone!’ (2.5.49).
- Sir Toby shows his admiration for the trick Maria has played on Malvolio. ‘I could marry this wench for this device!’ (2.5.186).
- Sir Toby reacts with anger when the surgeon can not be summoned to attend to his injured head.
‘I hate a drunken rogue!’ (5.1.210-211).