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Does Malvolio get what he deserves, or is it a joke gone too far?

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Does Malvolio get what he deserves, or is it a joke gone too far? Twelfth Night is one of the great comedy plays by William Shakespeare. The play centres on the character of Viola who is shipwrecked with her twin brother Sebastian off the Illyrian coast. Believing her brother Sebastian to be dead, Viola then disguises herself as a man and becomes known as Cesario, so that she can work for Orsino, the Duke of Illyria as his manservant. Orsino is in love with the rich countess Olivia, Orsino instructs Cesario to explain his love for her, however this plan backfires as Olivia falls in love with the messenger Cesario. To further complicate matters Viola then falls in love with Orsino and a classic Shakespearian love triangle is established. To add to the farce Viola's identical twin, Sebastian who has survived the shipwreck turns up in the duke's court. This leads to much confusion culminating in Olivia asking Sebastian (whom she believes to be Cesario) to marry her. Finally the twins (Sebastian and Viola) appear together and Cesario reveals that he, is really a she. The play finishes with Orsino and Viola declaring they will marry. Much of the play concentrates on a comic sub-plot to bring a comeuppance to Countess Olivia's pompous head steward Malvolio. Living in Olivia's household is her uncle, Sir Toby, who was invited to stay whilst Olivia was mourning the death of her brother. ...read more.


This is significant because in Elizabethan times a stone was the name for a fool, so Malvolio is saying that Feste has the brain and wit of a rock. This reprimand of Feste even caused Olivia to chastise him "O you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite, to be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem canon bullets". Olivia believes that Malvolio is in-love with himself and that he has no concerns or thought for anyone else. This characteristic of Malvolio is essential in the subsequent prank as it uses his ego and self-love against him. The joke letter written by Maria "in her lady's hand" and left for Malvolio to find can be viewed in one of two ways; Either it was a justifiable joke toward a pompous man who wishes to marry Olivia to boost his personal status as "Count Malvolio", or he should be pitied as he has a genuine affection for Olivia "I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me, for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me". As the letter Malvolio receives asks him to dress in yellow cross-gartered stockings, a fashion Olivia does not like. The fact that he parades in front of her with a ridiculously broad smile and comic stance was punishment enough. ...read more.


I was one, Sir, in this interlude, one Sir Topas, Sir - but that's all one. 'By the lord, fool, I am not mad.' But you remember - 'madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal, and you smile not, he's gagged'? And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges." This is very clever because he is using the language of the letter from Maria and several things said and done in the joke, to further make a 'fool' of Malvolio. He also uses some of the insults thrown at him by Malvolio against him, this is embarrassing for Malvolio, as all his insults are being thrown right back at him in a more effective fashion. Finally Feste says "whirligig of time brings in his revenges", this means that what goes around comes around and that Malvolio deserved everything done to him, showing that even at this stage Feste has no sympathy toward Malvolio at all. Malvolio clearly deserved some sort of comeuppance, as he was a pompous, opinionated individual with ideas above his status in the household. The joke initial joke played upon him was therefore probably justified. When the joke was taken beyond this first point it was probably a joke too far as it attempted to manipulate his mind and is therefore quite sinister "there was never a man so notoriously abused". In the end Malvolio was still upset with all the other members of the household declaring that he will be " revenged on the whole pack of them". James king 4mts ...read more.

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