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The Gulling of Malvolio Detracts Essay

“The gulling of Malvolio detracts from the plays comedy and shows the cruelty and wickedness of the characters”

In the play, Malvolio is seen as a Puritan. He detests all manner of fun and games, and wishes his world to be completely free of sin, yet he behaves very mindlessly against his stoic nature when he believes that Olivia loves him. This leads to major feuds with characters such as Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew and Maria, mistress of the household. Much of the play’s comical aspect comes from Maria, Feste, Toby Belch, and Andrew Aguecheek, traumatizing Malvolio with drinking, joking, and singing. Later on in the play Maria devises a way to have revenge upon Malvolio, and proposes it to Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste. Maria composes a letter in Olivia’s handwriting, and leaves it so Malvolio will find it… Malvolio is the overseer of Olivia’s house and is in control of the house logistics and well being. He’s always looking to make things perfect, and things that are unorthodox, like Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, have to be deposed.

‘”If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome into the house. If not, it would please you to take leave of her, she is very inclined to bid you farewell.”’ Even though Malvolio says that Olivia would want them to leave if they carried on being loud and rude, I think that he is just saying that because he wants them to leave. The first evidence of Malvolio’s hostile behavior is his first appearance in the play during which he insults the puns of Feste. “’I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal”’. By doing this he shows himself to be a person who tries to humiliate people whom he believes are lower than him in every way. Malvolio’s Achilles heal is his craving to be of a higher dominance and his strong belief that he will gain it. Maria uses this weakness to create a plan to make a fool of Malvolio in the eyes of Olivia and also as a way to get their revenge. Maria writes a letter to Malvolio from “Olivia”.

In this letter “Olivia” is pouring her heart out to Malvolio. ‘“I may command where I adore, but silence, like a Lucrece knife…”’ ‘“M. O. A. I. doth sway my life.”’ After Malvolio finally realizes that M. O. A. I. stands for Malvolio, he begins to think about his status. He muses about becoming more important than he already is, addressing himself as ‘Count Malvolio’. The letter then goes on to talk about what Malvolio must do in order to show Olivia that he has read and acknowledged the letter. He is given three injunctions: one is to wear yellow stockings (this is a colour that Olivia hates), the second is to wear the stockings cross gartered (this is a fashion Olivia also detests).

Lastly, he must smile at all times (this last deed is really inappropriate because of Olivia’s brother’s death before the playwright commences!!). I think that this joke was valid because of the way Malvolio had treated them. It was just supposed to put him in his place, where he belonged, so that he would stop thinking himself as very important and treating others like animals. Certainly, because Malvolio believes that it could be possible that Olivia would be in love him, or have any feelings whatsoever of him he fell for the trick and followed the instructions to the end of the letter.

Malvolio then made his way to Olivia confessing his love and making a fool of himself. Olivia was obviously very worried about Malvolio’s mental health, so he was sent away with Sir Toby. Although I think this joke played upon poor Malvolio is perfectly justifiable, I also think that it was taken a bit too far, by sir Toby in particular, who I think abused his power over Malvolio. His actions slowly carry the audience away from the comical aspect of Malvolios misfortune, and we slowly start to feel sympathetic towards Malvolio’s plight.

Malvolio hoped to rise above his social status and become a count, “count malvolio” as he described himself once; instead, he falls so low that by act 4 scene 2 he has been locked in a dark room and is being pestered by a fool (feste) dressed in a fake beard and priestly robes, impersonating sir Topas. Seeking to be released from the dark, dungeon-like room, Malvolio finds himself in the humiliating and cynical situation of having to “convince” Feste that he is not insane. ”I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art,” he tells the jester, to which Feste replies, “Then you are mad indeed, if you be no better in your wits than a fool” …

We the audience are somewhat split up over the justness of Malvolio’s treatment, especially in regards to his imprisonment in the dark dungeon. Some have argued that he is a scapegoat who is humiliated simply for the sake of a few laughs. Others argue that the practical joke is frankly funny and comical and that it stays within the boundaries of good taste up until the moment that Malvolio is put in prison and tormented by “Sir Topas”. Alternatively, some people point out that Malvolio would not have been fooled by Maria’s illogical letter if he had not already nursed delusions of glory. Even before he catches a glimpse of the letter, the bigheaded steward can be heard fantasizing about marriage with Olivia, calling himself “Count Malvolio,” and imagining his foe Sir Toby curtseying before him. Wishful thinking…

In any case, Malvolios angry threat —”I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you”—sounds a threatening note in the wake of Twelfth Night festivities and in preperation of the joyful multiple marriages which await the close of this romantic comedy.

Ultimately the majority of people agree that there is a significant difference between reading about the gulling of Malvolio and actually seeing it performed onstage. When they you’re caught up in the momentum of the actors’ performances, and once they are able to see the grinning Malvolio in his cross-gartered yellow stockings, many audience members applaud Maria and Toby’s revenge from the beginning to the end. On the other hand, while experiencing the joke as it slowly unfolds in print, the reader has time to feel sympathy for the steward. This would not be applicable to actually watching it unfold. In the stage version performed in the globe theatre 2012, Malvolio (who was played by Stephen Fry) was very funny, his tone of voice, body movement and facial expressions made it exceptionally funny to watch.


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