Depending on the director, Malvolio is usually played as a unsmiling puritan who wishes to be more than his current ‘steward’ description. Combining Shakespeare’s script and the directors will, Malvolio is generally played to make the audience hate him.
Malvolio is first introduced to us in Act 1 Scene 5 and straight away he comes across as an unpleasant person. Shakespeare shows us that Malvolio is very aware of his ‘superior’ role in the household as Olivia’s steward and is very eager to use his superiority to make himself feel more powerful.
Evidence of this behaviour is first shown half way through Act 1 Scene 5 . The first hint of what sort of character Malvolio is, is portrayed in the first thing he says in the entire play.
‘Yes, and shall do, till the pangs of death shake him: infirmity that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool’
This is an insult to the fool, who Malvolio hates. With Malvolio, Shakespeare has created a character that the audience will have staright away developed an opinion on. In the same scene, Lady Olivia is mourning her brother’s death and it is Malvolio’s job to send any visitors away. When Viola/Cesario turns up desparate to see her, Malvolio seems very disgruntled when Olivia sees her, regardless of her state of mourning.
Malvolio is very obviously eager to please Olivia although his exact feelings for her are uncomfirmed as yet.
He keeps his profile quite low until Act 2 Scene 3 when Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the Clown arrive home after a nights drinking and suitably make a lot of noise. Malvolio does not really like any of them at all and they dislike Malvolio just as much. He takes great pleasure in being asked (by Olivia) to go down stairs and shut them up. This is evident when he says;
‘My masters are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house….’
This speech tells me certain things about Malvolio’s personality. Firstly he is angry at all of them for disturbing Olivia, who he is very protective over. Secondly, he is angry at them for getting drunk, something that he does not approve of being a puritan. He does not understand why anybody would want to get drunk and makes fools of themselves by singing and acting merry. Finally, as I said, he dislikes all of them very much, so when offered the chance to be angry and order them around, he takes great pleasure in doing so.
Sir Toby is not very keen on Malvolio so he retorts with an insult which only aggravates malvolio even more;
‘Sir Toby, I must be round with you ( a comment in which Malvolio subtly insults Toby about his size) My lady blade me tell you ( refers to Olivia alot as if to say ‘im only doing what she told me to’) that though she harbours you as her kinsman, she’s nothing alli’d to your disorders. If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome in the house: if not / she is very willing to bid you farewell’
Malvolio knows that Sir Toby is superior to him, being Olivia’s uncle so he knows that he cannot be too over the top and spiteful towards him, but he makes the most of the rare opportunity boss him about a bit. This scene confirms to me the fact that Malvolio genuinely thinks that he, as a person, is far more superior to any of them.
I think that Shakespeare at this point wants the audience to really hate Malvolio. He knows that most of the audience watching the play will be working class people who hate puritans and do like to go out for a drink or two, therefore they will side with Toby and start to see Malvolio as the ‘baddie’ in the play. Personally, although I don’t particuarlly like him, I don’t hate Malvolio at all at this point. To me he is just a man that likes order and disipline and has differing opnions to Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and the Clown. Shakespeare has so far portrayed him as a snobbish, conceited and take-pleasure-in-others-pain type of person, which is someways is correct, but I get the feeling that there is a more significant reason for his behaviour.
We next see Malvolio walking around the gardens of the house in a daydream. This is the first suggestion that he is not all strict and formal, and that he does have dreams like the rest of us. When we discover he is day dreaming about marrying Olivia, a lot of things are explained to us. For example, his extreme protectiveness over Olivia and his annoyance when a young man calls for her. This is the scene where the strong feelings he has towards his lady are confirmed. Some people in the audience may possibly start to warm to him after this is made clear, but I believe many will stay disliking him.
‘Tis but fortune, all is fortune. Maria once told me she did affect me, and I have heard herself come thus near, that should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion….’
This tells the audience that Malvolio genuinely believes that Olivia could be in love with him, like he is in love with her.
The audience know that a cunning trick is soon to be played on Malvolio and they are anticipating what happens. As Toby, Andrew, Maria and Fabian are hidden from Malvolio’s sight, the audience can still see and hear all of them.
Malvolio continues to dream out loud to himself about what life would be like if he was married to Olivia. Shakespeare really brings out Malvolio’s true thoughts and feelings in this scene which makes him seem less uptight and puritan – like. To thicken the plot between him and Toby, Shakespeare makes sure Malvolio says plenty of insulting things about Toby when he thinks he can’t hear them, which makes Toby far more aggravated and keener to play the trick on him.
When Malvolio first sees the letter and picks it up, he does not catch on that it is meant for him to read. He believes it is Olivia’s handwriting, but it takes him a while before he realises that the letter is for him.
As he takes in the fact that Olivia has written to him and declared her love for him, he is not logical enough to believe that this may be a cruel joke, he sees what he thinks is Olivia’s handwriting and therefore believes that this letter is for real. As Malvolio continues to walk blindly into the trick, Toby and the others fall into hysterics, along with the majority of the audience.
I think that Shakespeare wants the audience to enjoy the prank on Malvolio rather than feel sorry for him, and he knows that the majority will because the majority hate people like Malvolio in real life.
Malvolio next appears in the dress code ‘Olivia’ had instructed him to wear in her letter. This causes more uproar from the audience as we see him smiling in yellow stockings and cross – garter, which was a complete fashion disaster in the Elizabethan period. For me this tells me that Malvolio is the type of person that will really go out of his way for the people he loves. Malvolio was always going to be the laughing point for the Shakespearian audience throughout the play, being a straight – laced puritan, and this is the moment where the audience appreciate just how funny the trick is.
When Maria tells Olvia about the state of Malvolio she say;
‘He’s coming madam: But in very strange manner. He is sure possess’d madam.’
This is the first significant mentioning of madness in the play and it is an early indication of whats to come. After reading the letter, the idea that Malvolio may be mad becomes a realistic possibility to Olivia who is left unaware of the whole thing.
By now the audience know that Malvolio is not exactly who they thought he was at the start of the play. He has already fallen for a fairly obvious trick and has shown no hesitation in showing himself up in order to please Olivia. In my opinion Malvolio is a very vunerable person because he believes that no one would dare play tricks on him, and they do and thats why he falls for it. When Malvolio dressed up in the attire the letter told him too, the object was to laugh at him. But I think that Shakespeare was hinting to the audience that not only is Malvolio very foolish and stern, but he is willing to do almost anything for the people he loves, which is a good quality most of the time.
Malvolio continues to wear the clothes the letter instructed him do and act in a cheery manner. This predictably confuses all of the characters who are not in on the joke. As a result of this Malvolio is called mad and is locked up away from the world.
Toby thinks this is hilarious and decides to make the most out of a very vunerable Malvolio. He is locked up away from everything and no sunlight most importantly. It is said that to be declined the knowledge of what time of day it is for days on end turns a man insane, and when the fool dressed as the local priest goes to visit Malvolio, Toby thinks it would be entertaining to let Malvolio think he is mad. When we get to Malvolio, the first thought is that he is actually mad, but on closer inspection he probably isn’t. When pointing out the ‘hideous darkness’ that he has been bound to, the ‘priest’ tells him it is light. This of course panics Malvolio, and now he believes he is mad also. He has been tricked again.
Shakespeare probably split the Elizabethan audience into two thirds when they got to this point in Twelfth Night. Two thirds are enjoying Malvolio’s torture and the other more sympathetic third are feeling sorry for him. I am with the minority, because although I believe that Malvolio deserved abit of a joke played on him, this has gone over the line.
Shakespeare must know that some people are going to be feeling a bit of sympathy for him by now. He has portrayed Malvolio from a bitter and shallow person, to a poor, gullible helpless person, but yet he still knows that some members of the audience will still think he deserves everything that happens to him.
After this scene, Malvolio is left for a bit, presumably forgotten about after Toby loses interest in using him as entertainment for himself.
He next appears in the final scene after Olivia and Sebastien and Viola and Orsino have got together. He enters with Fabien by his side. In some versions of Twelfth Night, Malvolio crawls in, in rags and looking dirty and unwell. In other versions he walks in normally looking a bit tired at the most. I think the reason for the variety of interpretations for this scene is all down to the way each individual director portrays Malvolio himself. If the director is a hard, unsympathetic person, he will have no intention of making the audience feel more sorry for him by letting him walk on looking like death. A soft, more sympathetic director will want to gather up the audiences sympathy as much as he can so he will do the opposite.
When he arrives infront of Olivia, it is clear that he still believes she is the writer of the letter, and that she knows nothing of the whole situation.
‘Madam, you have done me wrong, notorious wrong.’
This tells me and the audience that Malvolio is now under the impression that Olivia herself was out to make a fool of Malvolio. He then carries on with;
‘Lady you have, pray you peruse that letter. You must not now deny it is you hand, write from it if you can, in hand, or phrase, or say, ’tis not your seal, not your invention’
These lines offer the first hint of doubt in Malvolio’s voice. The audience may be thinking that he is starting to catch on.
‘…..Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d, kept in a dark house, visited by the Priest, and made the most notorious geck and gull, That e’er invention play’d on? Tell me why?’
By now, Shakespeare is making it very clear that Malvolio is meant to be in a state of desparation as he says this to Olivia. The audience by now may be changing their feelings towards Malvolio. Many will have hated him, then laughed at him, now possibly feeling slightly uncomfortable from seeing the state of mind and body he is in. Particularly if the director has got Malvolio looking rough in rags and with dirt all over him.
As Olivia reveals to Malvolio that Maria must have written the letter, he stays silent for a while, presumably taking all the information in. In information being; Olivia is not in love with him, somebody dared to lay a trick on him, he has been tricked by his arch enemy and fallen for it. A good actor will use lots of ‘facial acting’ meaning that the audience stay glued to his face just to see what he will come out with as a retort. All this information seems to swim around in his head before he replies;
‘I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you!’
This usually leads Malvolio to storm out the room in a rage and leave the rest of cast in shock. Wheather Malvolio actually intends to get revenge on Sir Toby and co is unknown, but, again, depending on the director of the play, he can say it threateningly, scarily, quietly or whatever he feels right.
The audience should be left feeling shocked. After almost having what they thought was going to be a happy ending, where two couples get together and live happy ever after, Malvolio comes in and shakes things up. It is almost as if the audience forgets about Mavolio, but then realise how significant he is when he reveals himself after weeks of imprisonment. The audiences final feeling of Malvolio can be many different things. Some may feel very slight guilt, for laughing, others still hate him, others feel totally and utterly sorry for him and others don’t really have any preferance.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare is portraying Malvolio is different ways to see which way the audience will go (for or against). At the the start of the play, the idea is to dislike him for being a snobbish, arrogant man. As we get to the Boxtree scene (Act 2 Scene 5) we see him in a very different light, talking about love and marriage, but still with a hint of nastiness when he talks about ordering Toby around. After he finds the letter and starts to act like Olivia apparantly instructed him to, we see the foolish side to Malvolio.
Most people feel inclined to laugh at him and only a few will feel sorry for him being made a fool out of. When he is locked away, we see Malvolio for the first time, visibly distressed, and still not caught on to the trick. More people will feel for him now, knowing that he truly loves Olivia and he does not know she doesn’t feel the same. Finally when we see him confronting Olivia for the first time, Malvolio looks at his most pitiful. The people in the audience who feel sorry for him are those who can identify with his heartbreak or can imagine how damaging it can be to a person.
The ending of Twelfth Night is not usually referred to as a happy one. I think it is a thoughtful ending. By that I mean, you leave the play, or close the book, thinking lots of things about the characters. Olivia, Sebastien, Viola and Orsino all end up getting married and live happy forever. Malvolio leaves unhappy and unfinished, somehow. I think that Malvolio is supposed to have left, having learnt a lesson in life – not to be foolish.
In someways Malvolio is very like the most unlikely of candidates – Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In my opinion, Sir Andrew is Malvolio without the bitterness and ignorance. Both are foolish – but think they are not. And both have a certain amount of innocence about themselves. Sir Andrew is innocent purely because of the fact he is stupid (not the same as foolish). Malvolio is made inncocent by his obvious devotion to Olivia and her household. Because of his love for her, he is made a fool out of which makes us think how powerful love is.
My final thought on Malvolio is not a significant feeling. In some ways I feel sorry for him because he was made a fool out of in front of so many people. I never particularly liked Malvolio, nor hated him but I think he was a very interesting character in Twelfth Night who teaches eveyone who knows the play an important lesson. That is, what goes around comes around.
Essay/Term paper: "the truth about foolishness" in shakespeare's twelfth night.
Essay, term paper, research paper: Twelfth Night
See all college papers and term papers on Twelfth Night
Need a different (custom) essay on Twelfth Night? Buy a custom essay on Twelfth Night
Need a custom research paper on Twelfth Night? Click here to buy a custom term paper.
"The Truth About Foolishness" in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
William Shakespeare used a unique device to explain how foolishness is an
unavoidable part of everyday life. He employed many specific examples of
foolishness in his comedy play titled Twelfth Night. Each of the characters he
created were all foolish in one way or another. Not only do the characters
entertain the audience, but also educate the audience as they portray mankind
avoiding obvious truth.
Shakespeare takes a humorous approach to expose the ways we fall prey to
pride, vanity and self-deception. As the story unfolds, the characters
discover their faults before they can do any real harm to themselves or anyone
else. Fortunately, only embarrassment or humiliation are the result.
Combinations of comedy, personality and irony are all qualities each character
reveals to exhibit the many types of fools we can all be.
The most common type of fool in society is usually the simpleton, or a
"natural" fool. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is an excellent example. Although Sir
Andrew is funny, it is not intentional. His faults include a lack of wit, a
tendency to be easily amused, and the opportunity to be manipulated by others
to be accepted. His foolishness is revealed innocently, as he considers
himself a gentleman.
His attempts to flirt with Maria by showing how clever he is fail when Sir
Toby advises him to accost, in other words, to woo her. Sir Andrew thinks
"accost" is her name as he addresses her, "Good Mistress Mary Accost-" (I, III,
54). After his embarrassing introduction to Maria, Sir Andrew tries to salvage
his dignity by laughing at himself as he says, "Methinks sometimes I have no
more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has. But I am a great eater of
beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit" (I, III, 83-86). It is clear
that Sir Andrew is easily taken advantage of at his expense.
Another way foolishness is exposed, is through love. For example, Malvolio
loves nobody but himself. Although he is Olivia's household servant, he
considers himself better than others. It is his vanity, arrogance, and pride
that causes Malvolio to act foolishly. Olivia says, "O, you are sick of self
love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite" (I, V, 89-90). Even
though Olivia values him as a servant, she acknowledges his vanity.
Malvolio is also jealous of anyone that considers themselves clever. This
is evident during his power-struggle with Sir Toby as he attempts to spoil any
fun or enjoyment in Olivia's household. Sir Toby questions, "Art any more than
a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more
cakes and ale" (II, III, 113-15)? Here Sir Toby confronts him by attacking
Malvolio's view of self importance, and asking if everyone must act like him.
Malvolio is much more successful at fooling himself than he is at deceiving
others. This self-deception makes him the perfect target for Maria and Sir
Toby's joke. They forge a letter which leads Malvolio to believe that he may
obtain the social status he dreams of. The letter appeals to Malvolio's true
nature as he claims, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon 'em" (II,V, 149-50). He is ignorant to the fact
that he makes a complete fool of himself as he acts out the absurd instructions.
It was simple human nature that caused Malvolio's humiliation. He wanted
to believe the letter would allow him to better himself. Therefore, he
considered it permission to show the way he truly feels. Unlike the other
characters, he simply cannot recognize his own faults or laugh at himself.
Malvolio vows, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" (V,I, 401)! As long
as he clings to his embarrassment and anger, he will not forgive and forget.
Shakespeare did not forget to include accepted foolishness by inventing a
clown. Feste is Olivia's jester, and is expected to entertain the other
characters with jokes, puns and songs. Ironically, Feste is intelligent and
points out their foolishness with well phrased jests. Viola realizes that his
witty comments are not just random humor as she informs the audience:
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
And not do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labor as a wise man's art:
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit. (III,I, 61-69)
She is commenting how skillfully he can see through people, and mock their
As an entertainer, Feste will only perform for money. And what he chooses
is intentionally relevant and disturbing to the other characters, as they find
his truthful observations hard to deal with. His accurate perspective keeps
the audience aware of how foolish the characters actually behave. Feste
comments, "Better a witty Fool than a Foolish wit" (I,V, 34). This statement
defends his humorous philosophy.
Through his comedy Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare is teaching us a
lesson about the truth. Shakespeare warns us of the dangers of self-love,
pride, vanity, arrogance, and deceit. He illustrates the importance of being
truthful with ourselves and others. Finally he suggests that laughter can
William Shakespeare explained the truth about foolishness, and the danger
of taking yourself too seriously. As Feste notes, "Foolery, sir, does walk
about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere" (III,I, 40-1). Nobody is
exempt from looking foolish at some time or other. Learn to laugh at yourself,
before others do.
Other sample model essays:
Julius Caesar / Julius Caesar: The Use Of Suspense
Julius Caesar: The Use of Suspense Suspense can be defined as the uncertainties the reader feels about what will happen next in a story, or in this case, a play. William Shakespeare incor...
Macbeth / The Use Of Symbols In Macbeth
The Use of Symbols in Macbeth In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses many symbols to add to his story. His use of blood, water, light, dark, rampant animals, and even the witches are exampl...
Shakespeare / The Tragedies Of Shakespeare
The Tragedies Of Shakespeare "Your noble son is mad â” "Mad' call I it, for to define true madness, What is't but to be nothing else but mad?" (Wells a...
Romeo and Juliet / Time And Fate In Romeo And Juliet
Time and Fate in Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet, said to be one of the most famous love stories of all times, is a play anchored on time and fate. Some actions are believed to occ...
Hamlet / The Tragedy In Hamlet
The Tragedy In Hamlet The tragedy in Hamlet lies in the fact that Hamlet, the hero was human and was violently wronged and was justified in seeking revenge. Hamlet the play is a t...
Twelfth Night / Twelfth Night: Summary
Twelfth Night: Summary Act One scene one This scene introduces us to the Duke, who is in love with a girl called Olivia. His servant goes to ask her wether or not she would like to go ...
Twelfth Night / Twelfth Night: Theme Of Love
Twelfth Night: Theme of Love In the play "Twelfth Night," Shakespeare explores and illustrates the emotion of love with precise detail. According to "Webster's New World Dictionary," love...
Twelfth Night / Twelfth Night: Two Faces, One Mind
Twelfth Night: Two Faces, One Mind As in most comedies, William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night extensively uses disguises, masks and mistaken identities to add to the comical nature of the pl...
Macbeth / Macbeth: Macbeth A Victim Of Circumstances
Macbeth: Macbeth A Victim of Circumstances Macbeth, a victim of circumstances or not? He was a victim of circumstances. The witches, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth himself all contribute to ...
Macbeth / Macbeth: Macbeth A Murderer?
Macbeth: Macbeth A Murderer? At the end of the play, Malcolm refers to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as: '...this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen...', consider the accuracy of Malcolm's jud...