Malvolio � ludicrous, pompous, ambitious and vulgar

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					Past Essay style questions

June 07

‘The end of the play raises more questions than it answers.’
To what extent is this your experience of Twelfth Night ?

November 07

‘Malvolio gets what he deserves.’
Is this a fair assessment of Malvolio’s character and treatment in the play?

June 08

Discuss ways in which self-deception is significant in the play.

November 08

Discuss the presentation and significance of Feste, the clown, in the play.

Illyria place of reversals

Labelled as a comedy, but plenty of elements that are sinister.

The role of music and songs in the play.

Discuss the presentation of masculinity.

Projected scenes for extract question


June 07 Olivia and Viola/Cesario’s first meeting ‘Willow cabin’ speech

Comment closely on Shakespeare’s presentation of Olivia and Viola at this point in
the play.

November 07 Orsino and Viola’s ‘What dost thou know?’ conversation

With close reference to the extract below, comment on Shakespeare’s dramatic
presentation of romantic love.

June 08 Orsino at the start

Comment closely on the following passage, looking carefully at how the Duke’s
use of language establishes his character and sets up ideas about love that are
developed later in the play.

November 08 End scene

With close reference to character, language and action in the following passage,
consider the effect that Malvolio’s reappearance might have on an audience just as
it seems that the play has reached a happy conclusion.

In similar vain – ie love - dramatic presentation – language

Viola’s soliloquy 2:2:all

           Viola’s 2nd meeting with Olivia – 3:1:80 page 75 and 77

           Sebastian’s soliloquy marriage to Olivia – 4:3:all page 121 - 123

           Orsino finally meets Olivia - aggression – confusion – 5:1:86ish page 133

Discuss how this extract is representative of the play’s presentation of deception.

Sub-plot, Humour, comedy, subversive, deception.

Box tree scene


Malvolio’s imprisonment scene


Feste – King Lear, Macbeth - serious provides a sardonic commentary on
proceedings – a bridge between the world of the play and the outside world – story
and audience – similar to the chorus but plays a more active role in the story.
Utters critical truths – Raport with audience and personages on stage within story.
Utters generalised comments which bear no specific relation to the situation. 1.5.42-
Baiting of Malvolio - ‘sport Malice’ 5.1.363??


Twelfth night time of Epiphany; a time of realisation such as the events of the
It was a time of festive court entertainment. In particular, the 12th night involved

What’s in the Names?
No one hears Viola’s name until the end where it occurs three times in twelve lines
ending with, ‘that I am Viola’ thus answering Orsino’s call for music (violin)
In between the vioin and the cello just like viola is between sexes

Orsino means ‘little bear’ hungry and violent?
Viola – beautiful singing and poetry are similar to Violin 1.3.56/ 2.4.38/92/109
Malvolio All share similar letters
Sounds like love

Subversive themes and underlying


1.1.22-24 ‘like fell cruel hounds’
1.2.56 Viola talks violently about her sexual identity.
For a play which on one level ends like a conventional comedy, with a happy pairing
off of the couples, the whole of the last scene is permeated by violence and death.
Find Orsino’s aggressive and violent words spoken to Viola and Olivia. 5.1.115-117
Antonio arrested and facing the death penalty.
Sir Toby – ‘ bloody coxcomb’
Sebastian in distress over Antonio 5.1.216-217
Malvolio 5.1.339
And he leaves threatening to ‘be revenged on the whole pack of you’ 5.1.375

Deception and disguise

Based on two Italian plays
Gl’Ingannati – the deceived ones
Gl’Inganni – the deceptions

Freeing the language from the speaker of gender and class leaving him/her free to
deliver stuff for us to consider on the nature of gender, class, love, loss, grief, bullying
and violence
The action may lack credibility but the sentiments do not.

Orsino - women at the mercy of men’s designs. 2.4.100
Speeches are arrogant – Why should Viola bother with Orsino?
His conspicuously offensive clichés , ‘women are as roses whose fair flower..’ 2.4.38-
His pride is hurt even though Olivia has never given him any hope – ‘why should I
not kill that I love’ 5.1.115
He deceives himself.
Hasn’t seen Olivia in the three months duration of the play. Only in the final scene.

Unrealistic infatuation based on looks
He is luxuriating/indulging in ‘sweet pangs’ 2.4.16. Oxymoron /paradox of

      Identifies with Feste’s song ‘sad cypress’ ‘poor corpse’ ‘sad true lover’
      Claims to be model of true love ‘unstaid and skittish except with beloved’

He is clearly self deceived – conceited language ‘my love is more noble than the
world’ 2.4.80

Arrogant speeches

‘there is no……give my heart’ 2.4.92

And 2.4.100

Why should Viola bother with Orsino?
Orisno’s conspicuously offensive clichés
‘Women are as roses whose fair flower’ 2.4.38-39

His pride is hurt at the end, even though there’s been no come on, he asks, ‘why
should I not kill that I love…’ 5.1.115-117


His reaction to Cesario’s story suggests there is a real person trying to get out!
‘What happened to your brother’

His personality is static when considering his self deception, the development of real
emotion to Cesario, however, saves him.

In admitting his love for Olivia as being false, he shows himself as a credible husband
for Viola. Find these quotes.
He goes from an effete, insipid buffoon to a fit husband. Discuss

Page 7 “Noble duke in nature as in name.”

There are strong parallels between Orsino and Olivia’s self deception.
Avoidance of reality
As soon as they acknowledge reality they cease to delude themselves. Does Olivia
experience this?

Malvolio shows himself to be ludicrous, pompous, ambitious and vulgar.

Self deception greater than Orsino’s? He believes that he is surrounded by’ idle,
shallow things’ not of his ‘element’. 3.4.122

Does he like Olivia or the status, power and opulent lifestyle afforded by his position
as steward. Jewel story by the box hedge.

‘Self love’ is already evident before letter is found

Olivia, ironically, genuinely cares for him, ‘let some of my people have a special care
of him.’ ‘not have him miscarry for half of my dowry’ 2.4.62-64.
Maria confirms this ‘My lady would not lose him for more than I’ll say.’ 3.4.104-105

The problem with Malvolio
Incarcerated and deceived
Was his treatment too harsh? Distasteful? Severe and protracted?
Incongruous with the work as a whole?
Troubles and complicates work as a whole?

Egotistical killjoy? Would we do the same? He is probably just following
orders: it’s his job! He has to work for a living unlike the idle gentry!

Affirmative light-hearted comedy – this is a discordant note.

Is he recompensed or placated at he end? Orsino ‘pursue him and entreat him to a
peace’ but nothing is done to do this in the play’s boundaries.

The irony of the end – Malvolio gets his revenge!

1 Sir Toby is beaten and so is Sir Andrew, ‘biters have been bitten’

2 Maria is married to a drunken waster.

4 In a broader sense, his type of person – puritan – gets revenge on every mocker as
King Charles is executed at their request.

5 In an even broader sense and slightly abstract, Malvolio’s character has the most
scope for actors – most coveted role for serious male actors.

Gender and Disguise

‘Disguise I see though art a wickedness’ 2.2

Viola – Gender               )
Feste Impersonation          ) Is Shakespeare making a point about genders itself?
Maria – Forgery of Olivia’s handwriting. )
T W Craik sees Viola’s disguise as another instance of Shakespeare using a well
established tradition of Renaissance drama to lighten the mood.

Nevo (1980) Sexual identity is in state of disequilibrium. One that is corrected at the

Knott (1965) Illyria is ‘a country of erotic madness’ – based on the fact that the
audience would be highly conscious of boy actors playing female roles. Perhaps this
view is too modern considering that this situation was the norm in those days, a long
established convention, therefore, less visible.

Belsey (1985) Sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a period of flux for the
family as a social unit. Femininity strongly tied to the definition of the family,
therefore as women gained more status – the family changed. Popularity of gender
disguise in Renaissance literature explained – for example a period of fascination with
Amazons, female warriors and ‘roaring girls’ and woman disguised as pages.

Cambell (1985) Viola and Captain – central theme of masculinity
Viola thought to be a Eunuch and the Captain thought to be a mute.
Viola’s male disguise as a ‘castration’ of power. This counters traditional views that
becoming a male should be a gain in power not a loss.

Surrounding the theme of Gender disguise is the wider theme of putting on of social
behaviour as assumptions of identity.
Orsino to Viola
I have unclasped to thee the book of my secret soul’ 1.4.13-14
Dramatic irony – orsino unaware of disguise
Deeper Irony – Orsino sends Cesario because of his girlish looks – makes
presentation more romantic. Makes romantic love best presented by/with a feminine
aspect – 1.4.34?

Is Shakespeare asking the question of what it is to be a man? 400 yrs ago.

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