Kathleen Mendoza on Twelfth Night, Act 5

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

19. In Act 5, Scene 1, how (by what device) does Shakespeare untie the comic "knots" tied in the first four acts—namely the confusion, frustration, and trouble caused by Viola's gender disguising as well as the disillusionment and injury created by Sir Toby and Maria's schemes against Malvolio and Sir Andrew? What insight/s about desire, courtship, and self-control might we gain from watching all this confusion and passion unfold and then be resolved before our eyes?

Shakespeare is able to untie the comic "knots" in this play by unraveling all the misrecognitions that were occurring in Acts 1, 2, 3, 4, up until Act 5. The presence of injured Sebastian triggered the characters to realize that there were indeed two identical people standing in front of them as opposed to this all being an optical illusion. In Act 5, Scene 1, line 208, Orsino states, "One face, one voice, one way of dressing, but two people!" This statement emphasizes the misidentification all characters assumed was factual regarding Viola and Sebastian's identity. From the very start of the play, we were aware that Viola had a brother who possibly was still alive. In Act 1, Scene 2, line 9, the Captain who saved Viola's life from the shipwreck admits, "I saw your brother tie himself to a big mast floating in the sea. He was acting resourcefully and courageously in a dangerous situation. For as long as I could see him, he stayed afloat on the waves like Arion on the dolphin's back," which is a major clue that something is going to unleash a domino-effect of occurrences regarding Viola and her supposedly "dead" brother.

Throughout the play, we are able to fully understand the deep attraction Viola feels for Orsino, her "master," yet we can interpret the feeling of betrayal Orsino expresses when he hears that Viola, as "Cesario," stole Olivia from him altogether and married her. Olivia had indeed gone off to marry Viola's brother Sebastian and poor Sir Andrew entered the scene injured, accusing Viola-Cesario of the actions committed by Sebastian. Shakespeare had a clever way of uniting Viola and Sebastian's character throughout all the confusion going on the play. Making it clear that both Viola and Sebastian's physical features were exactly alike, Shakespeare incorporates a similar state of mind being shared between both characters. Viola and Sebastian quickly resort to believing that all the characters are "insane" because of the things coming out of their mouth and the way they were acting around them. In Act 4, Scene 3, Line 9, Sebastian enters, saying, "But this sudden flood of good luck is so unbelievable that I'm ready to distrust my own eyes and my own rational mind when they tell me I'm not insane—maybe the lady's insane," regarding Olivia's actions and Viola tells Orsino in Act 5, Scene 1, Line 60, "He was kind to me and took my side in the fight. But then he said strange things to me. He might be insane. I don't know what else it could be." I felt that this was yet another one of Shakespeare's unique ways of tying in the concept of love; a love between siblings. Not only did he emphasize the exact physical traits both characters possessed, but similar personality traits were revealed as well.

The disillusionment and injury created by Sir Toby and Maria's schemes against Malvolio and Sir Andrew escalated into something bigger than expected. In part, this joke was played on Malvolio due to hate over his strict and heavy-handed ways. It was meant to be a prank to laugh about rather than to get upset at. You cannot help but pity Malvolio for the lack of expectation he encounters with the false letter written by Maria expressing Olivia's love for Malvolio. I find it quite funny to have Malvolio swear to have revenge on all of them after this incident, but then he cuts a pretty pathetic figure by the end of the play, and remains isolated. It is not uncommon to have a character left out from all the rejoicing and celebrating that mainly happens at the end of some plays like, As You Like It. There is usually a character that gets left out from all the happiness-this case being Malvolio-and the character Monsieur Jacques in the play As You Like It. This scenario was also set up by Shakespeare to prove a very important point about life to the playgoers. In Act 5, Scene, 1, Line 69, the Fool quotes, "What goes around comes around." This quote demonstrates that everything done in life will always come back to you and this phrase makes even more sense because of who utters it. The Fool is capable of reasoning such a phrase with precise caution, which downgrades Malvolio's own capability because he did not act with caution. In a way, Malvolio is being called a fool by Shakespeare because of his selfish actions. From watching the misrecognitions unravel throughout the play, we are able to learn to resist temptation and think before we act. Viola, in part, teaches females how a proper lady controls herself when deeply in love with a man. She speaks with wisdom and never once throws herself at Orsino. She is also a role model for the saying about thinking before taking action on anything. Viola was very capable of purposely jeopardizing Orsino's chance of winning over Olivia's heart by not sending Orsino's messages and trying to win him over instead. She is something you wish to see more in Malvolio, who lacks both self-control and awareness. The ending seems to tie in all the pieces introduced in the first Acts of the play. Also, we are able to once again see another of Shakespeare's happily-ever-after plays where all evil is destroyed and peace is in full effect along with wedding bells and true celebration.


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