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Explore how Shakespeare shapes the audience's perceptions of Malvolio in Twelfth Night

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Introduction

GCSE English/English Literature Coursework: Twelfth Night Throughout Twelfth Night, there are many instances in which the audience feels it is licensed to laugh at certain characters because of their mishaps and embarrassing situations. One of these characters is the Lady Olivia's steward, Malvolio, a pompous and puritanical figure who is the most unlucky of all the characters, as nobody seems to like him. His character reveals lots of human weaknesses when exposed to humiliating situations, and so the audience cannot help but find his misfortune humourous. In this essay I am going to look in depth at the key scenes that shape the audience's perceptions of Malvolio. The three main aspects of Malvolio that provide talking points are: his religious beliefs (he is a Puritan), his social status (he looks down on others whom he thinks lower than him) and his personality (he is vain and egoistic). Each of these characteristics mean that Malvolio an obvious target for humour, as many of the characters take advantage of him throughout the play. Our initial impressions are supported by Malvolio's general character. He shows himself to be a strict puritan and this is also suggested by the opinion of Maria "Sometimes he is a kind of puritan". ...read more.

Middle

He then continues, "Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?". He is continuing his rhetorical questions, yet now he is also addressing them as his inferiors by calling them 'ye' ('socially inferior'), 'coziers' and 'tinkers' ('working class' men) when in fact Sir Toby is his superior. Malvolio is speaking to Sir Toby as if Malvolio is the master of the house, which in Act 2 Scene 5, we learn, is Malvolio's secret ambition. This is Malvolio's first big mistake in the play. Even though it seemed like the right thing to do, it starts off a poor relationship with Sir Toby and the others and later on in the play, Malvolio would pay for his actions. In fact, Maria begins to unveil a plan for revenge almost as soon as Malvolio leaves the room. The plan entails a forged letter, supposedly from Olivia to Malvolio, telling of her love for him. The letter 'refers subliminally to Malvolio's character weaknesses and hence ensures that he will be fooled by its meanings.' (Google) Maria actually writes the letter, but Malvolio will surely be too gullible to realise that, or that's what Maria is hoping for. ...read more.

Conclusion

swearing revenge. We have to make up our minds whether we, as the audience, are licensed to laugh at Malvolio in his various mishaps throughout the play because even despite it seeming funny to us we wouldn't like it if we were in his shoes and so, it may be considered quite cruel to find his embarrassment hilarious. 'Through succumbing to the trick and carrying out the orders of the letter, Malvolio is receiving adequate punishment. By believing and acting on the letter's commands, he shows himself to be gullible and ironically, lacking in the superiority of mind that he is convinced he possesses.' (Google) Thus, he allows Sir Toby and the servants to achieve their aim. I feel that Malvolio suffers a great injustice at the hands of his tormentors and is "notoriously abused" beyond the brink of mere teasing. He does not deserve his latter treatment, as his only real crime is his undesirable character. Ironically, after having been released from his prison, it becomes clear that he has not amended his ways in the slightest and that he is now filled with resentment for his abusers, as well as for Olivia. In all, no rewards are gained and no lessons learnt from Malvolio's unnecessary suffering. ...read more.

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