The Appropriateness of the Victorian Renaming of the Play “Malvolio” Essay

The Appropriateness of the Victorian Renaming of the Play “Malvolio” Essay

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When compared to Shakespeare’s other comedies, ‘Twelfth Night’ can be said to be the darkest. As the last of his comedies, it fits that ‘Twelfth Night’ would be progressively darker, ending not on a note of true happiness but rather one of melancholy that strives to emphasize that “that’s all one” and therefore insignificant. Though it fits comic tradition with slapstick humour, unrequited courtly love, confusion, potential for tragedy but ultimately a happy ending, ‘Twelfth Night’ is prevailingly dark, showing the flaws in a society living for pleasure and determined to indulge in ‘cakes and ale’. There is no middle ground; the puritan views of Malvolio are seen as ‘self love’ and the indulgence of Orsino as ‘high fantastical’. This would indicate that in the world of Illyria the only way for characters to maintain a semblance of self is in fantasy and imagination as reality is cruel. Continual references to ‘mad’ and ‘madness’ (mentioned more times in ‘Twelfth Night’ than any of Shakespeare’s other plays) enforces the idea that Illyria is not a pleasant place, and that the inhabitants are ‘mad’ and therein malicious in their attempts to become ‘that selfsame king’, ‘nothing can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes’.
‘Malvolio’, meaning ‘I wish evil’, describes perfectly the tensions in ‘Twelfth Night’, especially in the sub-plot involving Maria and Sir Toby. Though Malvolio brings their dislike of him on himself, ‘he is sick of self love’, the way in which Sir Toby and Maria ‘revenge’ themselves on Malvolio seems unnecessarily cruel, ‘I will fool him black and blue’. Rather than stopping at foolery, Sir Toby is determined to cause physical harm, as if driving Malvolio to the near end of sanity is not enough. This...


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...it does not seem as if the characters will simply live happily without continuing the cycle of revenge. Shakespeare shows the intricacies of humanity and in ‘Twelfth Night’ the dominance of the ‘darker’ side, echoing Freud in his belief that human nature consists of good overpowering bad, yet containing bad all the same. Even for the ‘all licensed fool’ there is very little happiness to be found in the ‘corruption’ of Illyria and ‘it’s all the same’ is significant as it shows hopelessness on the part of Feste regarding the activities in Illyria. The Victorian renaming of ‘Twelfth Night’ is therefore appropriate in that although in appearance it is a well meaning comedy, Shakespeare concluded that ‘Nothing that is so, is so’ and in the case of ‘Twelfth Night’ where ‘high fantastical’ is seated alongside ‘sick… self love’, ‘Malvolio’ embodies the spirit of the play.

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