Charles Lamb states that Malvolio “becomes comic by accident”. His criticism portrays Malvolio as a tragic character. Lamb describes Malvolio’s dialect as “that of a gentleman, and a man of education.” Predisposed with Malvolio’s dialect and seemingly noble manner is hubris which leads to his downfall in the play. In Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, Malvolio is not a tragic character but, the fool of the play in that he is a scapegoat for mockery and entertainment. Aristotle in ‘Poetics’ defined comedy as “an imitation of inferior people-not, however, with respect to every kind of defect; the laughable species of what is disgraceful. The laughable is an error of disgrace that does not involve pain or destruction. For example a comic mask is ugly and distorted but does not involve pain.” (Stott, Andrew McConnell. Comedy. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.) Malvolio fulfills the role as the disgraceful, inferior person within Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”.
The characters in ‘Twelfth Night’ despise Malvolio. Upon Malvolio’s entrance in Act II Scene V, Sir Toby states “here’s an overweening rogue!” (Act 2, scene 5, line 27) after plotting with Fabian and Maria to punish Malvolio, referring to him as a “little villain” (Act 2, scene 5, line 12). Upon his entrance in the scene, Malvolio states his ambitions for nobility, “To be Count Malvolio!’ (Act 2, scene 5, line 32) to the group. The disdain the other characters have for Malvolio throughout the play is only met with vanity, hubris and patronizing comments on Malvolio’s part, doing very little to conjure any remorse for the character following his downfall later in the play.
Malvolio opposes the fun and festivities of the “Twelfth Night” and chastises the characters in the play several times for their celebrations. Malvolio questions their actions in the form of patronizing dialogue by asking “My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have ye no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house, that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?” (Act 2 scene 3, lines 81-86) Sir Toby responds to Malvolio’s self-righteousness mockingly by asking him “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? (Act 2 scene 3, lines 115-116). Even Feste, the clown, mocks and makes fun of Malvolio. Viola recognizes Feste as an intelligent character, describing him as a “fellow is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well craves a kind of wit, he must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons, and the time, And like the haggard, check at every feather That comes before his eye, This is a practice As full of labor as a wise man’s art, For folly that he wisely shows is fit, But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.” (Act 3 scene 1, lines 59-67).Malvolio is an example of an educated wise man that taints their wit with distorted egotism and self-righteousness. Feste mocks a quote made by Malvolio while reading a fabricated love letter, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em (Act 2 scene 5, 144-146)(Act 5 scene 1, lines 370-371). Malvolio returns the resentments towards him throughout the play. Upon his advances being deemed “midsummer madness” (Act 3 scene 4, line 53), Malvolio states in an outburst “Go, hang yourselves all! You are idle shallow things: I am not of your element. You shall know more hereafter.” (Act 3 scene 4, lines 116-118) Despite being ostracized, Malvolio maintains his stubborn ego even at the end of the play in which his last lines are “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” (Act 5 scene 1, line 391) Feste, the clown affirms that Malvolio received what was coming to him as he states to Olivia “and thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges” (Act 5 scene 1, lines 389-390) which is another way of saying what goes around comes around.
The function of the character Malvolio exists in every comedic drama. To emphasize laughable dysfunction, an enemy is presented in the comedic drama. Malvolio’s character is paralleled by several characters in many contemporary works such as Principal Edward Rooney in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, Principal Vernon in ‘’The Breakfast Club” and several other villainous characters in a wide variety of comedic dramas. Malvolio is the villain, the disgracefully inferior character of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”
Outside Works Cited
- Stott, Andrew McConnell. Comedy. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.