Cruelty in "Twelfth Night"

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Cruelty in “Twelfth Night”-

 “Twelfth Night” is also subtitled as “What you Will” which shows that this should be a happy, festive comedy, its title is from the twelve-day cycle of celebration enjoyed by medieval revellers each December. As this is a comedy it means that there are multiple marriages in the final scene and happy endings for most, except maybe one person who is seen as a fool throughout the play in this instance, Sir Andrew or Malvolio or some may even think, Orsino if they have seen the Trevor Nunn film of this play, in my opinion Feste will not be an object of humour throughout the play as in the Nunn film he is quite a serious character. There are not any deaths in the play that occur directly as this is a comedy.

In this essay I am going to write about how Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” has an underlying cruelty. I am going to look, in particular at Sir Toby’s exploitation of Sir Andrew, the way in which Sir Toby uses Sir Andrew as a wallet to buy drinks. I shall also concentrate my essay on the cruelty towards Viola in the love triangle and also briefly at the cruelty towards Antonio. I could also look at cruelty towards Malvolio but I do not think I will be able to have enough time to do so.

In the cartoon version, the BBC film and the Nunn film production Andrew is portrayed as a silly, thin, feeble fool with blonde hair and a pale, pasty complexion, the way in which the directors have chosen to portray Aguecheek, in all versions, is promoted by the other characters in “Twelfth Night” describing him like this. Act I, scene iii, is the first scene in which you meet Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Before Sir Andrew enters Maria and Sir Toby are discussing Sir Andrew and his follies. Sir Toby first shows his exploitation of Sir Andrew saying,

“He’s as tall a man as any in Illyria.”

meaning he is tall, which Toby thinks is the only compliment; you can give to a complete idiot such as Sir Andrew. Maria then asks why it’s good to be tall, which Toby responds to by exclaiming,

“Why, he has 3000 ducats a year.”

as though this is a perfect reason to compliment somebody’s height - the fact that they earn a lot of money every year. Toby says this because he enjoys Andrew’s riches, and uses it as a source for his drinking. Maria says exactly what they both believe but Toby Belch obviously feels obliged to defend his “friend”, eventually though Sir Toby agrees with Maria and says that he is a foolish man,

“He is a coward and a coistrel that will not drink to my niece ‘till his brains turn o’ th’ toe….”

in this scene when Andrew has entered Maria and Toby make a fool of him. Maria pretends to leave but is persuaded to stay by Sir Andrew’s flirtatious flattery, which has been encouraged by Sir Toby. Toby and Maria make a fool of Andrew by leading him on to Maria, by letting Andrew appear so innocent as to not know the “dirty” meaning of what he is saying, this is also shown in Act II, scene v, when Sir Andrew does not understand what Malvolio is saying,

 “..her very C’s, her U’s, and her T’s…”  

Aguecheek asks what this means which amuses Fabian and Sir Toby greatly. Andrew shows he knows many people think he is a fool, when Malvolio is pondering upon why Sir Toby spends his time with a “foolish knight” before Malvolio confirms that it is Sir Andrew he is talking about, Andrew guesses it is him and then goes on to say,

“I knew ‘twas I, for many do call me a fool.”

This shows that Shakespeare may have intended for Andrew not to be as stupid as Sir Toby and Maria make out, that he may intend that Andrew should be an intelligent man whom is gullible but is bullied quite significantly by Toby and Maria.

Moving on to Act III, scene ii, Sir Andrew resolves to abandon his quest for Olivia’s heart and ride home the next day as he thinks all hope is lost to win it. Sir Toby however coaxes him to persist in his efforts for Olivia by challenging Cesario to a duel and then Olivia may take a fancy to him. In response to this in the Nunn film Andrew dances around the room excitedly, alone doing a ballroom dance for two, which shows that even if he does not think of himself as a fool he is quite ridiculous. Sir Toby uses Aguecheek (again) when he realises Andrew has plans to leave. Belch is shocked and hastily forms a plan to encourage Andrew stay longer, so Toby can continue drinking Andrew’s money. In scene iv of this Act Sir Andrew brings his challenging letter for Cesario to Toby for him to deliver. Belch however has no intention of delivering this letter and instead, delivers the letter to Cesario by word of mouth. Toby informs Cesario of how terrifying Sir Andrew is. Toby then tells Andrew that Cesario accepts his duel and this for some reason terrifies Andrew. So now the two of them are terrified of duelling one another but are obliged to do so as they are compelled to draw their swords. To the audience this seems a funny situation, but if you imagine this as a real-life situation, then it would be quite serious and frightening. In this way this makes another aspect of cruelty in the play.  

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GThe final scene, which Sir Andrew is being exploited in, is the last scene of the play. This is the scene in which Toby finally tells Andrew his true opinion of him. He offers Toby his assistance in having his wounds dressed from the fight with Sebastian, Belch responds,

“Will you help? An ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!”

there may be a reason for Toby being unreasonable as he has been wounded badly and is in pain so maybe he is being impatient and irritable because of this. Even if Sir ...

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