Malvolio: The Perfect Outcast In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

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In William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio is considered an outcast by almost everyone in the play. He doesn’t act the same way that any of the other characters act, in that he doesn’t participate in any of their activities, he enforces rules that the others could care less about, and he is just overall a socially awkward guy. Malvolio not only claims to adhere to the rules of the household himself, but uses his relations with Olivia to try and help make the others follow the rules as well. This upsets certain characters more than others. For instance Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria find his behavior particularly detestable. But Malvolio’s strict coherence to the rules allows him to have a rather high position in Olivia’s household. While Malvolio may be considered a social outcast to most of the characters in the play, Olivia considers Malvolio to be a very trusted steward of her household. For these reasons Malvolio is not only a social outcast, but an outcast that Shakespeare uses to keep people interested in his play.

One of the reasons that none of the characters seem to get along with Malvolio is because of his strict adherence to the rules. While to most this doesn’t seem like a bad trait to have, this is seen as an extraordinarily undesirable trait, for characters like Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria, who all have a blatant disregard for the rules. Nancy Lindheim agrees with this by saying, “Malvolio alone acts with a moral severity that angers most other members of the household and is inimical to comedy itself.” (Lindheim 700) In this quote she is stressing the fact that Malvolio tends to act morally while the other characters disregard their morality for a chance to have some fun. This is seen in act two scene thr...

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...itating Malvolio's Reading." Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 45 (2009): 261-286. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

Giese, Loreen L. "Malvolio's Yellow Stockings: Coding Illicit Sexuality in Early Modern London." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism and Reviews 19 (2006): 235-246. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

Lindheim, Nancy "Rethinking Sexuality and Class in Twelfth Night." University of Toronto Quarterly: A Canadian Journal of the Humanities 76.2 (2007): 679-713. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

William, Shakespeare Twelfth Night. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume B. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006. 1079-1139.

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