Is the Twelfth Night too dark to be considered a comedy.
Malvolio is introduced as Olivia’s servant. He
believes he is superior to the other servants
marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a
barren rascal;”-Act 1, Scene 5.
Malvolio is also labelled a puritan as he doesn’t
like the others celebrating and drinking late into
“my masters are you mad or
what are you? Have you no
wit, manners, nor honesty but
to gabble like tinkers at this tie
of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house… is
there no respect of place,
persons, nor time in
shall know of it by this hand”
Use of interrogatives.
Use of triads.
Act 2, scene 3.
• You are sick
• Take those
• Act 1, scene
• If I thought
like a dog
• Act 2,
• The devil a
puritan that he is
constantly but a
time pleaser: an
ass….it is his
grounds of faith
that all that look
on him love him.
Act 2, scene 5.
They leave the letter for him near a tree. Malvolio
finds it, reads it. Malvolio believes Olivia is in love
with him and follows the instructions: wears yellow
stockings and smiles at her.
Olivia thinks he’s mad. Feste takes him to a dark cell.
Feste pretends to be a priest and taunts him.
Eventually Malvolio is released and the prank is
revealed to Olivia. Malvolio, unhappy and angry, plans
revenge. Olivia accepts he has been mistreated “thou
hast been much abused”.
Is Malvolio too badly treated for
the Twelfth Night to be
considered a comedy or does he
Stereotype of a Religious and
one of the
expect him to be
the alternative fool
sins of pride
of the play.
Malvolio tries to change his status-the
Elizabethan audience would see this as a
further sign of arrogance: “count
Malvolio” and rejecting his status given to
him by God- The Elizabethan Chain of
Being. He attempts to transgress his
Even when he thinks he will be Count, he becomes more
arrogant and more proud. Dramatic Irony
“Comedy sets out to
imitate men who are
worse than average”.
• Is an imitation of the inferior
three • The laughable is a species of
what is disgraceful-Malvolio.
• Does not involve pain or
destruction-Is Malvolio hurt?
read in the
The prank played on
Malvolio should be
taken lightly. He is a
‘killjoy figure’ and
deserves to be
mocked as shown by
the visual slapstick
comedy of yellow
loves him and
Made funnier by the
fact that he “insists
upon wearing straitlaced
and sober dark clothes
until he is gulled into
stockings and crossgartered’ page 30.
-Uses bawdy language- “To
bed? Ay sweetheart; and
I’ll come to thee”.
As he cannot speak in iambic pentameter when
expressing his love for Olivia: “Not black in my mind,
though yellow in my legs”-has 11 syllables not 10.
Perhaps suggests his love is forced and fake. He is in
love with Olivia’s status as shown by the metonyms
“Brancht velvet gown…”
was toleratedOlivia says
“There is no
Comedy is a
playing a prank
on Malvolio is
of him in
• Old World-A world belonging to older people or
parental figures: repressive/urban. Events before the
ship-wreck. Malvolio tries to end feasting.
• Green World-World of freedom: a non-urban
environment-Twins are separated and Viola is free to
dress up as a man. Disguise. Malvolio is tricked.
• New World-Created out of the resolution in the playA world which has learnt from its past mistakes and
resolves problems-symbolised by marriage-Multiple
marriages. Malvolio is released. Does Malvolio learn
his lesson-is he still proud?
» McCulloch page 15-Equally, the two characters who
remain loveless to the end are incapable of real
passion : Aguecheek is too scared and spineless to
seek love, Malvolio too proud and spiteful to feel
it…he aspires towards an illusory ideal of love but
his mistake is grosser than theirs and his posturings
more extravagant and grotesque…his fate may seem
harsh but it is part of the ethical scheme of comedy
that those who cannot perceive their own faults are
exposed and punished for their folly…Olivia is
capable of learning and Malvolio is not.
Malvolio doesn’t learn a lesson-He is
still proud and boastful:
“I’ll be revenged upon the whole pack
He looks down on everyone and views
them as animals.
“Malvolio duly exposes himself to ridicule in his
yellow stockings and cross-gartering and is then
confined in a darkened room, a frequently
regrettable development, often explained or
excused by the Elizabethans’ love of bearbaiting…”. In fact contrary to the intention of
Malvolio’s tormenters, this is potentially a very
humane situation”-Butler 1995 page 27.
According to Aristotle: Comedy should not involve
pain or destruction.
they have laid me here in hideous darkness”.
Malvolio thought he was following Olivia’s wishes-after
reading the letter and when he was telling the others to go to
sleep and stop making noise.
My lady bade me tell you that…”-Act 1 scene 5.
Toby Belch uses an imperative: Malvolio is viewed like an
object “pistol him, pistol him, hit him in the eye”-Act 2, scene
Malvolio unwittingly admits to his crimes “I’m in
darkness”. This represents the physical darkness
and perhaps his mental darkness and anguish
and possibly his own character as dark.
It is the only time we see Malvolio as human.
» The main hero/character has a hamartia known as a
» The hamartia of Malvolio is pride. But every
character also has a fatal flaw-is Malvolio singled
» Does Malvolio feel discriminated against-Does the
use of the word “pack” indicate show that he is a
victim of an animal like attack.
» According to Bakhtin the purpose of comedy is to
subvert the rules and to create equality. Is Malvolio
ever treated equally? Is equality only possible to a
How are particular social groups marginalised?
Malvolio to a modern audience is discriminated against for
his beliefs which suggests to a modern audience Malvolio
plays a tragic role and adds an element of darkness.
Andrew Aguecheek- Act 2 scene 3: “If I thought that I’d beat
him like a dog….I have no exquisite reason for ‘t but I have
reason good enough”.
He is discriminated against because he is a puritan, because
he is Olivia’s steward and because he is ambitious-Marxism:
is anyone oppressed because of class.
Maria marries Sir
she is ambitious and
she transgresses her
Olivia comments “There is no
slander in an allowed fool”.
The fool’s role in Shakespearean
comedies is to point out the faults
of people particularly upper
classes and to tell the truth. Does
Feste go beyond this?
» Feste is just as nasty to Malvolio-He taunts Malvolio
as Sir Topas and is just as nasty in Act 1, scene 5: “he
will not pass his word for twopence that you are no
fool”. He blames time for the way Malvolio is
treated “thus the whirligig of time brings in his
revenges” i.e. it’s karma.
» Whirligig is a double entendre-it has two meanings:
˃ a child’s spinning top.
˃An instrument of punishment and torture, a cage
spun on a pivot so as to induce extreme sickness
and vertigo in its captive.
» Is Feste having the last laugh?