Essay, Pages 5 (1013 words)
Interestingly, the concept of ‘madness’ can be interpreted and explored in many ways. The foolishness of one’s actions; the mayhem or pandemonium of a situation; or the mental instability of an individual. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night mentions ‘madness’ more often than any of his other plays, suggestion that madness plays a central role in the development of both the plot and the characters. The intention of Malvolio’s question, although potentially ambiguous, is to suggest to his ‘masters’, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, that they are crazy to be up in the early hours of the morning making such a noise in Olivia’s house.
Through his question Twelfth Night, indirectly, presents many answers that lead us, the reader, to our own conclusion about the degree of madness within each of the characters and the situations they create or find themselves in.
The theme of love as a cause of madness is one that presents itself regularly in Twelfth Night.
As the play opens, Orsino talks of how too much love can make one’s appetite for it ‘sicken and so die’. He says how love can make you want things one minute, and then, in another, make you sick of them, ‘But falls into abatement and low price Even in a minute.’ Love should be, in theory, a powerful, all consuming feeling of euphoria and fulfillment. However, when Orsino describes this violent mix of desires accompanying love, he seems to be referring to everybody’s experience of love. He is generalising and assuming, however disruptive and chaotic love is, everybody experiences it in the same way he describes.
As the play progresses, we are shown that his love for Olivia is unrequited, ‘How will she love, when the rich golden shaft hath killed the flock of all affections […] !’ Unrequited love is impure love, as the path of the one who love is almost certainly headed for despair. The suggestion that such a beautiful emotion could result in turbulence and such pain & upset is the suggestion that love, and the journey it takes Orsino on, is mad. The readers are left contemplating that if Orsino knows the path he it taking is unstable, why does he bother continuing when he knows his fate? Love has left him mad & unhinged and, possibly, incapable of making rational and thoughtful decisions. Instead he leaves to ‘sweet beds of flowers’ to further ponder his emotions.
The loss of Olivia’s both brother and father within a short space of time has left her grieving excessively and unnecessarily. Sir Toby opens a scene by questioning Olivia’s behavior, ‘What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus?’ intimating his disapproval. He is the first to be bold enough to point out the ridiculousness of her overly-melodramatic grieving, having vowed to hide away for seven years. It is considered appropriate to mourn for the loss of a loved one for a period of time, but, in Olivia’s case, seven years would usually be considered inordinate. Before Olivia even makes her debut appearance in Twelfth Night, precast as a self-indulgent and overemotional character. The theme of madness again presents itself in her self-important view of the world.
The fact that Olivia is giving up seven years of her own life to grieve, shows her desire to play the victim, hiding away from the world outside her house and the affections of others. When Viola, in disguise, comes to Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, Olivia plays upon his affections for her, teasing his messenger with her disguise, ‘Give me my veil; come throw it o’er my face.’ If she truly was wretched from the loss of her brother and father she would not indulge in such frivolous devices to keep others interested. The prolonged grieving she had opened herself up to has been at the expense of her better-judgment and maturity. She, a ‘master’ of Malvolio, as his question includes, has slipped into instability and silliness, and, if she keeps it up, is not far from the madness that seems to engulf the characters of Twelfth Night.
The role of the ‘fool’ in Olivia’s household is to speak their mind, having no fear of the possible repercussions they may face from their masters for their honesty. Ironically, but perhaps unsurprisingly as this is a work of confusion in Shakespearean proportions, Feste, the clown is perhaps the most sane and wise of all the characters. Feste makes a comment to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, asking them if they have ever seen ‘the picture of ‘We Three’?’ The picture he is referring to is that of two fools, with the idea that the viewed is the third fool. He is suggesting that they either are the fools in the picture, or have both seen it and, therefore, make up the third fool.
He is the only character inferior to both Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to refer to their drunken and feasting lifestyle as foolish, showing not only his boldness, but also his astute observations and wit. Later on, when speaking to Viola disguised as Cesario, he comments on her lack of facial hair, ‘Now Jove, in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard!’. Although he may only be commenting on the fact a post-pubescent boy is without a beard, it is also suggested that he is wise to the fact ‘Cesario’ is not the eunuch he appears to be but is, in fact, a girl, Viola. Shakespeare’s introduction of such a minor, and seemingly insignificant, line that holds incredible subtext is enough to suggest that Feste, the fool, is not as foolish or as mad as the other characters perceive him.
The many ways in which madness can be interpreted in both the characters perceptions of each other and the reader’s, or audience’s, perception opens Twelfth Night up to the questioning of the sanity and the rationale behind the motives of the characters. It has never been more true to say of something than it is of this play that madness is in the eye of the beholder.