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Twelfth Night

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Malvolio firmly believes in upholding the system that keeps people in their respective places probably because he is rooted in tradition, propriety and hierarchy but he does not want to apply them to himself. This could be the one reason that he is totally humiliated. When we first meet Malvolio, he is presented to us as a loyal and proper servant but he has one weakness. He likes spoiling other people’s parties .it is this ‘party spoiler ‘character that he has that makes him be at loggerheads with sir Toby and clever Maria. Who in collaboration ensure that he falls. They cleverly do this by being on malvolio’s stronger side, his great ambitions and high self esteem. He falls for the trap that Maria sets up – the forged letter that was actually written by Maria and malvolio thinks that it is from Olivia. This changes him to a person who regards himself highly and we laugh at him in these scenes because he acts ridiculously. He becomes too ambitious and this overrules his sense of reason and is befallen by misfortune. He is locked by Maria and sir Toby in a dark room and he protests saying that he has not gone mad. He becomes the symbol of order and sobriety as he is sacrificed and every one else is happy. No one offers him an apology and it looks like he has no place in this society  but he kind of silently tells us that someone must be sacrificed for the happiness of others.

We laugh at malvolio wearing yellow stockings and garters to impress Olivia who has fallen in love with someone else. This wearing of yellow stockings is symbolic of sexuality and his desire to change from being a bachelor to marry someone who is in an upper social rank in this society so that he would be called count malvolio. Olivia is not pleased with malvolio wearing these stockings because for one as Maria says ,this is a color that Olivia hates and he is totally shamed in front of Olivia and is looked down upon because it was wives who were supposed to wear the stockings to expose their husbands unfaithfulness and not the men. So that malvolio is caught up in a mesh of gender reversal by taking up the role of a woman and not the man he so badly desired .this is in perfect plan of Maria and Toby to humiliate malvolio .the stockings he wears helps to convince Olivia that malvolio is actually mad. They place him in a shameful position. Sir Toby says that the trio will ‘rouse the night owl’ by singing a ‘catch’ ,an be interpreted to mean that they were planning to humiliate malvolio  so that he will be roused only to have his feathers ruffled again (Bruce 2001).

Humiliation shame and embarrassment interact with each other to bring out the various characters of human beings .it is what we feel when our pretension are blown up. Malvolio deserves to be shamed because he hides his true colors in a shell of a Puritan. He ties to ‘practice behavior’ something that you cannot do because it will eventually fade. He is unable to behave consistently in his act of Puritanism enough to convince others .he is phony and deserves to be exposed. We are let in to his deeper thoughts in the letter scene when, unaware of the audience we overhear him in the aside in the ‘mock soliloquy’ as we watch him blow up by what he imagines. We know what he perfectly hides under the shell of a puritan. As he daydreams of coming out of a day bed having left Olivia sleeping, we get to know of his passions and desires. He is foolish enough to think he might wed the countess. He regards himself highly and becomes disrespectful to his superiors. It is these unrestrained emotions that bring his guard down and we see him as he actually is and not what he wants us to believe he is.

As he reads the forged letter, he is so taken away that he is even spells out Olivia’s female anatomy. in a way ,we might say that all the characters in this book are shamed but the fact that malvolio’s character flaws is brought into focus makes us think that the other characters are perfect. This is not the case because even Maria, the author of Malvolio’s misfortunes has character flaws. She is a servant too and she depends wholly on her relationship with Olivia to maintain her face in public. Although she does not say this loudly, we are led to believe that she wont mind being in the high social class. Her plot against malvolio is to put herself in favor with sir Toby. And secure a place in the Olivia’s palace, which will be a rank up the ladder for her. Malvolio’s portrayal is a way of telling us that we should be of gentle manners and respect for place and duty.

If Malvolio’s shaming was due to his love for himself, then isn’t Maria guilty of the same because she has vested interest in shaming malvolio. She is preventing competition from a member of the lower social class who has aspirations of belonging to the upper class just like she does. As an audience we sympathize with Malvolio because of how he is wrongly treated by Maria and Sir Toby. In the close of the book we find out that he was actually locked in a dungeon, he is bruised and tortured. Because Maria led the countess believe that Malvolio was actually mad. After he is released no one really offers him a proper apology and he does not take this lightly as he intends to revenge so that what was initially a comedy might actually turn out to be tragic and in this we can predict the downfall of Maria .Malvolio vows to shame those who shamed him. He tells the audience the wrongs done against his person and calls the attention of the audience so that in doing so he might expose the cruelty done against him.

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