The Importance Of Malvolio In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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In a classic segment of Sesame Street, Big Bird sings “One of these things is not like the others” when referring to the largest of four bowls of bird seeds. The children must identify which item does not belong, and why. This task proves very easy, demonstrating that humans can easily single out an anomaly from a pattern. This theme corresponds with William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy with an outcast. The main characters, Orsino, Olivia, and Viola, entangle themselves in a hopeless love triangle and act without reason. Even many of the minor characters fall under love’s spell or behave merrily, enjoying the exaggerated drama. However, one character detracts from the lighthearted mood of the play: Malvolio. As the steward …show more content…
During the introduction of Olivia and her court, Feste, the fool, jokes about the death of Olivia’s brother. He amuses Olivia, so she asks Malvolio for his opinion on Feste’s humor. Bluntly, Malvolio insults the fool for his insolence and marvels at how Olivia can tolerate him. Olivia disregards Malvolio’s attempt to dampen her mood, and responds: “O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon bullets” (Shakespeare 1.5.89-92). First, Olivia rebukes Malvolio for treating Feste in a condescending manner and failing to understand his humor. She cannot fathom how the jokes fail to appeal to Malvolio, especially since Feste entertains everyone else. Also, Olivia advises him to take insults lightly in order to improve noble character. Malvolio’s stern demeanor seems unfitting for the play’s jovial mood, and Olivia detects this oddity first. That night, Sir Toby, Andrew, and Feste hold a party. Maria, one of Olivia’s servants, warns them to quiet down, and then Malvolio apprehends them all. He gives a lecture and threatens them with dismissal from the house, agitating Maria the most. Once he leaves, she speculates to the group whether Malvolio may be a puritan, ridiculing him …show more content…
This raises the question: why did Shakespeare include a character that seems to belong to a different play? The answer lies in the title of the play: Twelfth Night, “... a time for pranks and disguises and playful games and folly” (Kravchak BOR). While most of the characters enjoy the brief period of chaos and drama, Malvolio does not engage in the festivities. Shakespeare chooses to detach him from the romance in order to explain that not everyone will conform to society’s values. Often, outsiders resist change when members of society try to impose their beliefs on them. Shakespeare teaches that while everyone may not conform to a single set of ideals, society must tolerate those with other

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