Twelfth Night 2 Essay

1278 words - 5 pages

The roles of Malvolio and Sir Toby in Twelfth Night In Twelfth Night, the contrasting roles of Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch help the play develop to the fullest possible extent. In one respect, the two characters work as purely comedic players, bringing joy to the audience in the form of drunkenness and pranks. But beyond the lighter surface of the play lies a deeper meaning: Toby and Malvolio have very different views of life. The divergent appearance of these two figures gives the viewer of the play a standard by which to judge the other characters, and in so doing makes the play easier to follow. Malvolio embodies the complex side of an average person, while Sir Toby represents the simple, easily amused side of humanity. Malvolio's role in this respect is more difficult to comprehend; he deceives himself into thinking that Olivia is in love with him, thereby contributing to his own misery. These aspects of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night contribute to the realistic portrayal of each character, while at the same time bringing out the play's comedic overtones.Malvolio brings a powerful presence to the play when he is forced to play the fool. He who at one point defined the word puritan now finds himself in a new role: that of a cross-gartered lover. In this way, he shows himself to be a hypocrite: he "lowers himself" to the level of Toby when he becomes a player himself. Maurice Charney describes the role of Malvolio quite well, saying: "The most obvious effect of this structure is to focus attention upon Malvolio and to make him a central figure at every stage."(Charney, 160) He tries to step into an entirely different realm, one of mastership over servantry. He is socially inferior to Olivia, causing his hopes to be looked at as mere presumptions. What Malvolio fails to see is that his marriage to Olivia should be dismissed as nothing more than a dream of power (Malcolmson, 36).Sir Toby displays the characteristics of a comedic role as well. In some cases, he livens up the play with purely sophomoric phrases. He professes characteristics of what some may call "dumb wit". C.L. Barber makes the point very clear when she says: "Sir Toby is witty without being as alert as Sir John; he does not need to be:" (Barber, 24) Olivia: Cousin, cousin, how have you come so early by this lethargy? Toby: Lechery? I defy lechery! There's one at the gate.Olivia: Ay, marry, what is he? Toby: Let him be the devil if he will. I care not! Give me faith, say I. Well, it's all one. (I.v.131-137) Swaying in the same direction, Toby tends to stress the "lower" aspects of the body rather than the "higher" ones. He partakes in "gentlemanly liberty" (Charney, 161), living the life that he feels will lead to greater happiness now rather than later. This philosophy brings a lot of laughable moments to the play (Barber, 250). Apart from this philosophy, Sir Toby begins to develop a taste for the "sport" of prank playing. In one of the play's most ironically amusing moments,...

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