The Gulling of Malvolio Detracts

Categories: Plays

“The gulling of Malvolio diminishes the plays comedy and reveals the ruthlessness and wickedness of the characters”

In the play, Malvolio is viewed as a Puritan. He dislikes all manner of fun and games, and wants his world to be totally without sin, yet he behaves extremely mindlessly against his stoic nature when he thinks that Olivia enjoys him. This leads to significant feuds with characters such as Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew and Maria, girlfriend of the household. Much of the play’s funny aspect comes from Maria, Feste, Toby Belch, and Andrew Aguecheek, shocking Malvolio with drinking, joking, and singing.

In the future in the play Maria designs a way to have vengeance upon Malvolio, and proposes it to Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste. Maria makes up 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 aiming to make things perfect, and things that are unorthodox, like Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, need to be deposed.

‘”If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome into your house. If not, it would please you to depart of her, she is extremely inclined to bid you goodbye.”‘ Even though Malvolio says that Olivia would want them to leave if they continued being loud and disrespectful, I think that he is just stating that because he desires them to leave. The very first proof of Malvolio’s hostile behavior is his very first look in the play throughout which he insults the puns of Feste.

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“‘I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal”‘. By doing this he reveals himself to be an individual who attempts to embarrass people whom he thinks are lower than him in every method. Malvolio’s Achilles heal is his yearning to be of a greater dominance and his strong belief that he will get it. Maria uses this weak point to create a strategy to make a fool of Malvolio in the eyes of Olivia and likewise as a method to get their revenge. Maria composes 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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The Gulling of Malvolio Detracts. (2016, Oct 30). Retrieved from

The Gulling of Malvolio Detracts
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