‘Ultimately, Malvolio is a comic character’ to what extent do you agree with this statment? Essay
‘Ultimately, Malvolio is a comic character’ To what extent do you agree with this statement? Comedy is entertainment consisting of jokes and satire, in order to make an audience laugh. In my opinion, Malvolio is a comic character. A comic character would need characteristics to do with comedy. For example, in Malvolio’s case, he shows that he is an arrogant character, almost villainous, and because of Marias plot he can be seen getting what he deserves, and a villainous character getting their comeuppance would be seen as comic to an Elizabethan audience.
This, and the use of ridiculous disguise, which would be the yellow cross gartered, and the social contradictions presented by Malvolio In Twelfth Night Malvolio is introduced as a minor character, until the sub plot of Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrews prank cause him to be of main focus throughout . This means that Malvolio’s character is exposed in more depth to the audience. It can be seen as the ordeal he is put through can mean he is seen as a more tragic character, although how is left free to interpretation in the style of speech, and props. Alternatively, Malvolio could be viewed as more of a tragic character, as his mistreatment by Sir Toby and Maria is too extreme. In act IV in which he is being held captive, he is duped into believing that he is speaking to ‘Sir Topas’ who is in fact Feste in disguise.
Malvolio greets him with ‘Sir Topas, Sir Topas, good Sir Topas’. The repetition of ‘Sir Topas’ shows desperation, and through his desperation the audience could view him sympathetically. Additionally, because the audience is aware of the fact that Malvolio is being duped to think that he is talking to ‘Sir Topas’, a religious figure, | Also, since the Elizabethan society were highly religious, they would see the act of impersonating a priest as a mockery of their religion, meaning they could empathise with Malvolio as he is a puritan, and also is having his religion mocked.
Maria’s plot was triggered by the fact that Malvolio act of subduing them in Act II, which had been asked of him by Olivia. He isn’t rude when he does this, and on entering he says ‘My masters, are you mad? Or what are you?’ (II.3.80) Because Malvolio refers to Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria as his ‘Masters’ , this shows that he was showing respect throughout. The manner of speech that Sir Toby and Sir Andrew use toward him is also disrespectful. ‘We’ll have the bear again, and beat him black and blue’, along with ‘Pistol him, pistol him’ (II.5.32) Sir Toby, by saying this, isn’t suggesting that they literally ‘beat’ Malvolio ‘black and blue’, it is only a metaphorical exaggeration, but the violent connotations from the words show Malvolio to be a victim as opposed to a comic character.
They also use animal names to refer to him, with examples like ‘Bear’, ‘Trout’, ‘Turkey’, and ‘Fox’. Trouts and Turkeys are ugly defenceless creatures, and this use of imagery means that the audience may view Malvolio as defenceless with these words being used against him by Sir Andrew ad Sir Toby. This could either sway the audiences view of him more sympathetically, and as a more tragic victim, or alternatively, could be viewed as comic, because name calling would be seen as comic by the audience. A stronger interpretation is that Malvolio is a comic character, due to his delusions of grandeur, along with unattainable aspirations of being Olivia’s lover. When he believed himself to be out of earshot, Malvolio freely describes in detail his desires, which are fantastic and ridiculous.
Even before finding the letter, he had already said ‘should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion’ (II.5.22-23). This shows Malvolio to be a highly egotistical character. He also extends his hopes by saying ‘The lady of the Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe’ (II.5.33-34) That he relays an example of a person having the fortune that he wishes to have, is showing his sincere hope that this happens to him. Malvolio then goes into a reverie ‘Three months married’ (II.5.39) ‘Calling my officers… Velvet gown’ (II.5.42-43) ‘Kinsman Toby’ (II.5.49) ‘Seven of my people… Obedient… Frown… Play with… Some rich jewel (II.5.49)
Malvolio descends into a fantasy of having his own servants instead of being one, and describes his idea of living a rich life. However, when this descends into ‘or play with my- some rich jewel’ . As self-important as Malvolio can act, his true colours are shown when the best that he can conjure up in his reverie is a vague description of a jewel. This accentuates the position he is in, as a servant, because it is unlikely that a servant would have the knowledge of the name of a jewel. Because his fantasy falters in this way, Malvolio would be seen as comic.
An Elizabethan society would see Malvolio’s fantasies comically, as general opinion would mean that the idea of a servant marrying the person that they work for is ridiculous, as people should stay in their rightful place. Shakespeare also shows comic in potential in the character of Malvolio through his tendencies to be arrogant. In his first entrance, he is quick to insult Feste, and Olivia, in saying ‘I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal.’(I.5.75-76) The verb ‘marvel’ would usually be positive, but given that it is followed by ‘barren rascal’ it presents the insult as more potentthe Given his position as a servant. Also, as he falls prey to Maria’s plot, Malvolio reveals that he isn’t the ‘puritan’ he is said to be.
He shows, before reading the letter, that if he had the opportunity to, he would be happy to tell Sir Toby to ‘Amend [his] drunkenness’ (II.5.65) Malvolio shows himself to be a comic character by showing that he has been gullible to Maria’s plot. He goes out of character as a servant, saying ‘To bed? Aye, and I’ll come to thee’. Saying such a rude thing to a countess as a servant is extremely outrageous, so will be seen comically by an Elizabethan audience, because Malvolio has abandoned his ‘puritan’ ways.
He also shows that he has been fooled through donning the ‘yellow cross gartered stockings’ although ‘tis a colour [Olivia] abhors, and cross gartered, a fashion [Olivia] detests’ (II.5.183-4)He is also rude to servants, which was also asked of him in the letter. He refers to Maria as a ‘minx’(III.4.110) This behaviour is highly ironic, because the Malvolio, who is seemingly supposed to It is comical to see Malvolio, a man who thinks of himself highly, has ambition beyond his station, and distaste for merriment make a fool out of himself.
In conclusion, I agree with the statement that Malvolio is a comic character because of how obviously gullible he is to fall for Maria’s trick, overly seeking evidence that his ridiculous dream has come true. This is comic because Maria’s plot can be justified with the fact that, overall, Malvolio is an arrogant and egotistical character. Therefore, in the eyes of an Elizabethan audience the fact that somebody who is trying to think too high of themselves is being ‘taught a lesson’. Although, at times he can be seen as a tragic victim, because of his mistreatment by Maria, and Sir toby, and the audience may feel sympathy towards him.
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