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E316 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Jennifer Konrad on Twelfth Night, Act 2

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

9. In Act 2, Scenes 3 and 5, Sir Toby and Maria plot against Malvolio—what has he done to earn their scorn, and what exactly do they plan to do to him? What makes their plan appropriate to Malvolio's character, and what's the connection between this deception-plot and the larger action of the play (i.e. the love-pursuits of Viola, Olivia, and Orsino)?

Part 1:

Our first glimpse of Malvolio is not a nice one; in Act 1, Scene 5, Olivia asks him of his opinion of the fool, "does he not 'mend?'" (l. 63) but, he misinterprets her use of the word "mend" for "to grow more foolish" and replies with the snide remark of saying he is getting funnier but that's only because he is growing older and age decays the wise, makes one stupid. To which the fool replies that people would swear Malvolio is the fool by the way he acts, being offended by a court jester and taking his jokes to heart. Olivia chimes in that Malvolio is "sick of self-love" (l. 77) and that his vanity is what keeps him from seeing that the jesters jokes are just that, light-hearted jokes.

Then there are little things, like the way he converses with Olivia, he's a suck-up! When Olivia calls for him, instead of just stepping up to the call of duty, he must remark "Here, madam, at your service" (Act 1, Scene 5, l. 269). He so badly wants to be noble that he acts like Olivia's obedient little pet, going above and beyond for her, acting like a Puritan, morally strict and censorious, according to Maria (l. 125). He thinks if he acts the part of a nobleman it might happen, like today's saying "fake it til you make it." We find out later, in Act 2, Scene 5, that he actually rehearses this "noble" behavior in private (l. 14). In Act 2, Scene 3, when Olivia tells Malvolio to kick Toby out for being drunk and singing loudly in the middle of the night, he takes it upon himself to insult Toby and Andrew, acting as if he is above them, saying they are not smart enough to act decently, they have no manners, nor honesty (l. 79). He proves this further by threatening to tattle on Maria for "giving means to {their} uncivil rule," meaning encouraging their behavior (l. 110). Even when Toby reminds him that he is nothing but a servant, his pretentious ego is not altered.

It is through Maria that we see Malvolio for who he truly is:

"The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; <br> an affectioned ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths; <br> the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, <br> that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him. And on that <br>

vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work." (l. 131-6)

Simply put, he's a cocky kiss-ass.

And because he is so self-righteous, he believes everyone, including Olivia, must love him as much as he loves himself. Even before Maria and Toby played their trick on him, he was disillusioned by a favoritism he had imagined Olivia felt for him. In Act 2, Scene 5, he daydreams like a girl in high school; he turns the tiniest compliments from Olivia into true love and imagines himself as her husband. And of course Toby is hiding nearby and is witness to this scene. So although Malvolio may not have many lines in which he interacts with others, we still get an in-depth view of his pompous personality and can understand why he would be scorned by others.

Part 2:

Their plan, more Maria's plan, is to use Malvolio's arrogance against him. She will write a love letter in Olivia's handwriting, not addressed to anyone in particular, but one that describes a love for a man just like him. She knows that he will presume that the man is himself and take everything said to heart.

Part 3:

Again, the plan is appropriate because he is so arrogant that he will easily believe the one being flattered and adored in the letter is none other than himself.

Part 4:

The correlation between Maria's deceptive trick and the love-pursuits of the other characters is that no one is who they claim to be. Maria pretends to be Olivia, but obviously Olivia does not love Malvolio. And although Malvolio thinks he loves Olivia, he doesn't; he's too busy loving the noble class and pretending to be someone he is not. Olivia thinks she loves Cesario but Cesario is really Viola pretending to be a man, which also interferes with her love for Orsino. Even Olivia and Orsino are guilty of this too. Olivia claims to be too heartbroken to show her face in the light of day so she wears a veil to hide from the world, but the second a handsome, but rude "man" confronts her she is smitten. And Orsino seems to really love Olivia but he can't even court her himself, he sends servants in his place, so he's not the brave Duke that he would like everyone to think he is either. Everyone is hiding behind some sort of mask and they all find it easier that way to confront their true feelings (just like Rosalind).

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