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In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare creates a duality between the worlds of the nobility and its associates and the said “outsiders.” There is a great element of selfishness involved in the actions of the characters deemed “in” as they peruse through the play drunk on love or alcohol and immersed in their personal agendas. Whether it is Olivia, Orsino, Viola, and Sebastian wrapped up in their love entanglement or Sir Toby, Maria, Feste, and Fabian concocting malevolent plots, there is the sense that everyone is out for themselves and that most of the humor comes at the unfortunate expense of someone else. Characters that are not in on the schemes contrived by the influential figures are somehow manipulated or played by these schemes eventually. Due to the humorous qualities of Viola’s disguise, Malvolio’s presumptuousness, and Sir Andrew’s foolishness, a lot of the harsh overtones of the play are lost in its complex and funny nature. Also, the rapid, quick-moving pace that facilitates Twelfth Night works to divert the audience’s attention away from the used and abused characters that haunt the plot. Appropriately, the play concludes with much emphasis paid to the comedic resolution of the love square comprised of Olivia, Sebastian, Orsino, and Viola and little paid to those who have been dragged along the way. This neglect to show the whole unpleasant picture is essentially what deems Twelfth Night a comedy. The play pays no attention to the outcome of the “outsiders” and assumes that the audience will forget about them, just as every out character has. But as its alternate title indicates (What You Will), this is a play that can be viewed and judged from many different angles and perspectives. Therefore, when considering the roles of Malvolio, Antonio, and Sir Andrew, it becomes apparent that Twelfth Night is in fact a disturbing play which only finds humor at the sacrifice of others.
Malvolio’s case is one of teasing, which is initially deserved, gone awry. He is presented to the audience from the beginning as an easy target, one who is aggravating and always tempting to mock. He is seen early in the play condemning Feste as a common fool, but really strikes a cord when he interrupts the late night racketing of Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste. For there is something eternally annoying to the average person about someone who behaves out of his/her element and exceeds the authority of his/her status.
“My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house, that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches without mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”
Here Malvolio condescendingly scolds Sir Toby and his companions for their drunken and boisterous behavior. This scene sets up the disdain that will lead to Malvolio’s demise because Malvolio is simply a servant. His input is quite out of line and sparks the hatred of the loud partiers. Since Malvolio is immediately shown to be presumptuous and self-righteous, the crowd is able to laugh at and revel in the trick that is devised by Maria and Sir Toby. It fits perfectly because it is Malvolio’s own presumptuousness that allows the trick to work and for him to believe that Olivia actually loves him. But the situation becomes dark and unpleasant upon his imprisonment and flirtation with insanity. The conspirators are wrapped up in confrontations with Viola -Cesario and Sebastian and forget about the servant whose heart they played with and manipulated. Screaming out in agony and immersed in darkness, Malvolio is further wronged by Feste who pretends to be Sir Topas and exasperates Malvolio beyond measure. Feste, whose character bears its own dark depths, questions Malvolio’s sanity and plays with words in an effort to frustrate the abused servant and make him actually go mad. This last measure is born out of pure cruelty and is undoubtedly the point where even some audience members must consider the harshness of Malvolio’s treatment and its injustice. Because when one recalls the roots of this jesting, it becomes apparent that he has committed no crime and has done no wrong toward anyone. Sir Toby and his fellow conspirators were simply angered over Malvolio’s bold condemnation of their behavior and basically lash out at him to ease this insecurity. Sir Toby uses him to facilitate his own amusement. Similarly, he uses Sir Andrew to accommodate his lazy, alcoholic lifestyle.
Sir Andrew is a unique character because although he is of the nobility, he is still an “outsider”. His stupidity and foolish nature place him somewhat on the outside of the ring of conspirators and certainly outside the love square. Sir Toby manipulates Sir Andrew in a comparable way to Malvolio because he convinces Sir Andrew that he is capable of attaining Olivia’s hand. He does this in order to keep Sir Andrew around, because Sir Toby is rather broke and could not enjoy his non-working, alcohol inducing lifestyle without him. Sir Andrew is so foolish that he is very easily swindled into believing that he will be with Olivia. In fact, it is his foolishness that makes this circumstance seem rather amusing and innocent on the surface. But his lack of intelligence does not take away his potential to have feelings. Sir Andrew’s heart is coerced and tricked in a similar manner to Malvolio’s. Just as it was cruel in Malvolio’s instance, so it is here for this silly nobleman whose only crime was not being born with enough brains. Beyond this, there are several times when the audience’s laughter is solely at the expense of Sir Andrew. He is strung along through the play never saying the right thing, occasionally being the butt of the joke, and rarely getting jokes directed at others (“Her c’s, her u’s, and her t’s: why that? ). And once again it is hard for the audience to consider the probable darkness of his emotions as the complex plot of the play rapidly develops. Yet at certain points, such as in Act 1, Scene III, Sir Andrew alludes to the sadness that he feels. “I was adored once, too” The fact that he behaves foolishly and is not too intelligent serves as an excuse for Sir Toby to manipulate him throughout the whole play. In the seemingly comical Act 3, Scene IV Sir Toby puts Sir Andrew into a state of great fear by making him fight Viola and convincing him that Viola is a cunning fighter. It comes off as a funny collaboration of events, especially since the audience knows that Viola is harmless, but there is something undeniably cynical about Sir Toby’s deliberate placement of his “friend” in a frightful situation. The realities of his opinion toward Sir Andrew are finally revealed in Act 5 when Sir Andrew, seeking the companionship in a time of mutual injury, is written off by Sir Toby as “an ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, and thin faced knave, a gull” . After declaring his desire to go together to the doctor to heal wounds suffered as a result of Sir Toby’s trick on him, Sir Andrew is harshly rejected as the true colors of Sir Toby’s feelings are shown. These final lines of Sir Toby are very important in that they secure the maliciousness of his intents all along and force the audience to consider the victimization of Sir Andrew throughout the entire play.
Antonio, rather than by Sir Toby, is manipulated by the circumstances surrounding the love square and Viola’s “double-dealing”. Antonio, similarly to Sir Andrew, is set up to be abused. But rather than acting foolishly, he is right away seen as being completely selfless and servile to Sebastian. This selflessness serves to ensure the audience of his benevolence and make it that much more tragic when he is wronged. In the streets of Illyria, Antonio informs Sebastian that he is an outlaw of this land and would be imprisoned if he were discovered. This scene is especially interesting in that Sebastian doesn’t seem to care or be interested in Antonio’s safety (the man who saved his life). He simply parts ways with him and goes sightseeing while accepting Antonio’s money. Confusion ensues when Antonio saves Viola from fighting Sir Andrew because he believes her to be Sebastian. When he is apprehended by soldiers, he feels betrayed because Viola, oblivious to the circumstances, claims no knowledge of him and denies him when he requests the money that he had given Sebastian. “Will you deny me now? Is’t possible that my deserts to you can lack persuasion? Do not tempt my misery…” This theme is played upon again when Antonio is brought before Orsino in Viola’s presence and she again denies association with him. He is therefore imprisoned. Now although these turn of events are not directly Viola’s fault, there is the sense that these games that the nobility play result in casualties. This double dealing, just as with Malvolio’s letter and Sir Andrew’s swordfight, is not as innocent as it seems in that it results in the suffering of others. In order to understand the dark depths of the play, it is necessary to consider unseen images such as Antonio lying in a dark jail cell, certain that his friend whom he was loyal to has turned his back on him and allowed him to be imprisoned. To further accentuate the gloominess of Antonio’s situation, Shakespeare does not directly refer to any kind of release of Antonio after the identities are sorted out. They are so wrapped up in their newly and frivolously attained loves that they (especially Viola who created the confusion) make no mention to the fact that Antonio has been wrongly cast to prison with the mindset that he has been sorely betrayed.
Twelfth Night is ingenious in its incorporation of dark, upsetting characters into an apparently comical and resolute play. Although this point of view on Malvolio, Sir Andrew, and Antonio presents a horribly tragic angle from which to examine it, the play does not seem at all so upon its performance. The darker elements are subtly woven in so that it could very well come off as a delightfully comic show. Because the play is “what you will” and in no way one dimensional. “A natural perspective, that is and is not!” The viewer has to take it for what he/she will and enjoy it or examine it based on his/her terms. Any given viewer could laugh at the trickery, disguise, play on words, and mistaken identities or be filled with a sense of contemplation and sadness over the exploitation of the outsiders at the expense of those said comedic devises. The outsiders get tangled up in the agendas of those with control and soon after are spit out. And what’s interesting is that none of the outside characters have any type of resolution. As if in their own little tragedy, these characters’ situations are left hanging in the air: untied with bitter and sometimes vengeful airs. But in the spirit of the main characters’ selfishness, their own resolution defines Twelfth Night’s classification as a comedy.
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