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Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Critical Analysis

Essay by   •  May 17, 2011  •  Case Study  •  1,885 Words (8 Pages)  •  3,325 Views

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Twelfth Night Critical Analysis

In this essay I am going to discuss the ways and reasons why Shakespeare presents characters that are both self-deceived and deceived by others. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy. The main themes in the play are love and disguise and these two themes are what largely contribute to the characters being self-deceived or deceived by others.

The first character that I am going to discuss is Malvolio. Malvolio is Olivia's steward. Throughout the play he is the most deceived character. Malvolio considers himself a puritan and is a very serious character. He has no time or patience for the revellers in the play and disapproves immensely of their drunken and silly behaviour. No one seems to take Malvolio very seriously or respect his ideas on appropriate behaviour.

The audience is first given an insight into Malvolio's personality when he disapproves of Feste's joking and Olivia does not seem impressed by his rigid outlook. Olivia says to Malvolio 'O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste/ with a distempered appetite' (Act1, Scene 5, Lines 89-90). This shows the audience how seriously Malvolio takes himself and that he cannot even appreciate light humour. This line also begins to show the audience how Malvolio thinks he is better than the other servants who are equal to him in social status. He is deceiving himself into believing that he is socially better than he is. Also we can see here what Olivia thinks of Malvolio and this will later on in the play make the audience find the gulling of Malvolio by the revellers even funnier.

The next encounter of Malvolio acting as though he is above the revellers is when he interrupts a late night drinking session to try and restore order within Lady Olivia's house. Malvolio says 'Do/ ye make an ale-house of my lady's house, that ye/ squeak out your coziers' catches without any/ mitigation or remorse of voice?' (Act 2, Scene 3, Lines 89-92). This speech demonstrates well how sanctimonious Malvolio is. He believes himself to be above the likes of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew even though he is only a servant and this is not the case. The way in which Malvolio speaks to them makes the audience aware of his self delusions about his own social ranking. The audience are led to see how far away Malvolio's self image is from the truth by Sir Toby's reply to his speech. Sir Toby replies 'Doust thou think, because thou art virtuous,/ there shall be no more cake and ale?' (Act 2, Scene 3, Lines 114-115). Here Sir Toby is saying that just because Malvolio can make virtuous speeches it will not stop them in their fun. This is a rhetorical question. Sir Toby is not looking for Malvolio to answer. He is trying to stress how nothing Malvolio could say will be of any use in trying to reprimand their behaviour. This shows the audience how Malvolio is self-deceived into thinking that he has any authority over the revellers or any respect from them.

Through-out the play it is evident that Malvolio is very loyal and devoted to Lady Olivia. His fond feelings for her are what drives him to behave in the way he does, disapproving of the revellers behaviour and acting like a puritan. He wants to be worthy of Olivia and this is why he acts as if he is better than everyone except her in the house hold. Maria is very clever and notices this. After Malvolio has told them all what he thinks of their late night drinking and behaviour Maria comes up with a plan to trick Malvolio and make a fool out of him. She forges a letter from Lady Olivia to Malvolio with some strange requests for him to wear yellow stockings and be cross gartered to prove his love for her. When Malvolio find the letter and has read it he says 'I prithee. Jove, I thank thee, I will smile,/ I will do everything that thou wilt have me.' (Act 2, Scene 5, Lines 178-179). After reading the letter Malvolio has no doubt that it is definitely from Olivia. He says he will do whatever she requests even though what has been asked of him is so out of character and not at all like a puritan would behave. Malvolio's self -deception is what leads him so easily to believe that the letter is genuine. He does not even consider that the letter could be forged. Because he does think so highly of himself he finds it easy to believe that Lady Olivia has really written the letter. Malvolio wants to be a Count and socially higher up so desperately that he is willing to act a fool all too easily. Here the audience see Malvolio for what he really is and how easily he has been deceived by Maria.

The second character I would like to discuss is Olivia. Olivia's character is a very self-involved one. She claims to have very strong emotions about her brother's death but her feelings on this matter are quickly forgotten when she begins to romantically pursue Cersario showing to the audience that she is shallow and capable of self-deception.

At the start of the play we are told by Valentine in conversation with Orsino how the Lady Olivia has vowed to live like a nun for seven years in mourning for her dead brother. Orsino's persistence to woo Olivia gives the audience the impression that Olivia must be devastated by her brother's death to reject such a romantic man of status. This has been done in order to show how shallow Olivia is later on in the play when she desperately attempts to seduce Cesario and totally forgets the vows she has made.

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