The Appropriateness Of The Victorian Renaming Of The Play “Malvolio”

1233 words - 5 pages

When compared to Shakespeare’s other comedies, ‘Twelfth Night’ can be said to be the darkest. As the last of his comedies, it fits that ‘Twelfth Night’ would be progressively darker, ending not on a note of true happiness but rather one of melancholy that strives to emphasize that “that’s all one” and therefore insignificant. Though it fits comic tradition with slapstick humour, unrequited courtly love, confusion, potential for tragedy but ultimately a happy ending, ‘Twelfth Night’ is prevailingly dark, showing the flaws in a society living for pleasure and determined to indulge in ‘cakes and ale’. There is no middle ground; the puritan views of Malvolio are seen as ‘self love’ and the indulgence of Orsino as ‘high fantastical’. This would indicate that in the world of Illyria the only way for characters to maintain a semblance of self is in fantasy and imagination as reality is cruel. Continual references to ‘mad’ and ‘madness’ (mentioned more times in ‘Twelfth Night’ than any of Shakespeare’s other plays) enforces the idea that Illyria is not a pleasant place, and that the inhabitants are ‘mad’ and therein malicious in their attempts to become ‘that selfsame king’, ‘nothing can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes’.
‘Malvolio’, meaning ‘I wish evil’, describes perfectly the tensions in ‘Twelfth Night’, especially in the sub-plot involving Maria and Sir Toby. Though Malvolio brings their dislike of him on himself, ‘he is sick of self love’, the way in which Sir Toby and Maria ‘revenge’ themselves on Malvolio seems unnecessarily cruel, ‘I will fool him black and blue’. Rather than stopping at foolery, Sir Toby is determined to cause physical harm, as if driving Malvolio to the near end of sanity is not enough. This malicious attitude is not out of place or remarked on in Illyria, as if the torture of a scapegoat is justified merely because of ‘puritan’ views. This attitude is one that does not seem to belong in the revelry that was twelfth night, yet it would appear that Shakespeare uses this to show his audience that the self-indulgence of the characters does not result in happiness. Maria, who tortures Malvolio to please Toby, does not receive any real affection from him only a sexual affair, “Come by and by to my chambers”. Likewise Viola becomes Orsino’s “fancy’s queen”, implying that he does not love her for who she is, but rather who he pictures her to be.
It has been said, “Malvolio is more a victim of his own psychic propensities than he is Maria’s gull” which furthers the idea that ‘Twelfth Night’ is a play about the foolishness of imagination. Shakespeare contrasts human nature in a way that clearly shows that society is not ‘good’ and that human nature is not solid or clear cut, but rather a justification that ‘I am not what I seem’. Orsino goes from being the lazy, indulgent lover to a potential murderer, “I will what I love”, in seconds. This is not expected of the ‘hero’ in comedy. Orsino fits a stereotype in...

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