The role of comic villain would be given to Malvolio, as, though he initially comes across as stern, strict and quite unlikeable, the ease in which Maria and the men in Olivia’s household trick Malvolio into making a fool of himself is greatly entertaining and humorous. There is a sense of enjoyment in seeing Malvolio succumb to the manipulation of those who he treats with contempt and arrogance, and the vision of such a pompous and proud man in yellow, cross-gartered stockings would have been ludicrous for a society who equated fashion with status and sophistication.
Folly Trickery and Gullibility
Viola’s disguise as a man makes fools out of every character who believes her to be Cesario. For tricks to be successful, a certain level of gullibility in the victim of the trick must be present. This can be seen in the way Malvolio easily believes Olivia is in love with him simply because Maria was able to forge the handwriting of the Countess accurately. The folly, or ridiculousness, in the play is heightened by the presence of the jester, whose job it is to amuse and entertain those he serves with at times nonsensical ideas and actions.
Feste, the jester, or professional fool/clown, appears throughout the play with songs, music and jokes to amuse the other characters and entertain the audience. He embodies festive folly in the way he gets fully involved with tricking Malvolio, even impersonating another character ‘Sir Topaz’ to maintain the ruse. Sir Andrew can, in some ways, be considered a clown, though unlike Feste who is intentional in his delivery of comedy, Sir Andrew is displayed as naturally silly, dim-witted and hopeless. He is used by Sir Toby for his money, and is often unable to understand the jokes and puns that are made by other characters.
Order and Disorder
From the shipwreck at the start of the play to the final scene where Malvolio threatens revenge, disorder pervades the play. As play with the name ‘Twelfth Night’, it is not surprising that much of the action is dedicated to presenting one chaotically entertaining situation after another, all leading towards to long awaited moment where Viola is reunited with her twin brother and her disguise as Cesario is revealed. A certain amount of order is restored in the form of the happy marriages of not one, but three couples, yet Malvolio’s parting words stops the potential for disorder from being completely disregarded.
Wit and Linguistic Play
The entire play is filled with Shakespeare, through his characters, playing with words and phrases to create puns, jokes and irony. There is the low-brow, crass jokes made between Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, as well as Feste’s witty use of words to both mock and teach other characters of their ways. Maria is able to impersonate the linguistic style of Olivia to write a convincingly letter to Malvolio, and Viola’s words to express her love for Orsino actually aid Olivia in falling in love with Cesario. Language is a powerful tool used by all the characters, both knowingly and unknowingly, to manipulate, educate and mock others.
- What comedic role can Malvolio be considered as playing in Twelfth Night?
- Your answer should include: Comic / Villain
- Who are the clowns in the play and how do they differ?
- Your answer should include: Feste / Professional / Fool / Sir / Andrew / Not / Very / Smart
- How does Shakespeare present comedy in Twelfth Night? (10 lines)
- Your answer should include: Folly / Trickery / Order / Disorder / Clowns / Wit / Comic / Villain / Disguise / Viola / Malvolio / Feste