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The plot against Malvolio begins when Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Feste
the clown return to Olivia's house drunk. At the beginning of Act Two,
scene Three the trio are making a tremendous amount of noise dancing
on and around the kitchen table, shouting and singing at the top of
their lungs. This commotion causes Maria - a maid of Olivia's - to
come down and warn them to be quiet, saying 'what a caterwauling do
you keep here!' (Act Two Scene Three, Line 66). She tells them she has
seen Malvolio - the head servant of Olivia's house - coming down to
the kitchen where the three drunken men are.
When Malvolio comes into the kitchen he asks the men if they have any
respect at all. 'Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in
you?' (Act Two Scene Three, line 84-85). In a raised voice he
reprimands the three men on behalf of Olivia who at the time was
trying to sleep.
As Malvolio leaves it is apparent that nobody in the room likes him at
all. He is so disgusted with the treatment he received from Malvolio
he decides 'to challenge him the field, and then to break promise with
him and make a fool of him.' (Act Two Scene Three, line 117-118).
Maria persuades him to 'be patient for tonight.' (Act Two Scene Three,
line 121), as she has a better idea, an idea that will get Malvolio
back for all the nasty things he has said to them in the past.
Maria's handwriting is almost identical to that of Olivia's. So Maria
comes up with the idea of a letter, a letter from Olivia to Malvolio.
In the letter to Malvolio, Maria will pretend that Olivia is in love
with Malvolio. And if Malvolio is in love with Olivia he will have to
prove his love by carrying out simple tasks. Maria drops hints for
Malvolio. 'M O A I doth sway my life' (Act Two Scene Five line 98),
and 'I may command where I adore;' (Act Two Scene Five line 95),
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The letter is placed on the path where Malvolio takes his daily walk.
Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian hide behind a large bush just as
Malvolio comes by. He sees the letter and curiosity gets the better of
him. He picks the letter up and reads on the front the letters M O A I
and presumes that these letters represent his name. He opens up the
letter and reads it out loud. All the while the three friends are
listening behind the bush and by the time that Malvolio has finished
reading the letter they can't stop laughing. The letter stated to wear
'yellow stockings,' and to be 'ever cross-gartered'. (Act Two Scene
Five line 36-37). This would cause a lot of upset to Olivia as her
brother had only just passed away nd the whole household was meant to
be mourning for her loss, wearing the traditional black clothing. The
letter also stated for Malvolio to have a big smile on his face. This
would make him look foolish as he is a very solemn character who
usually has a very long grumpy looking face.
Meanwhile Olivia is waiting for Cesario who she is in love with. She
is very nervous about meeting him again and she does not want to give
off the wrong impression so she calls upon Malvolio who is bound to
impress Cesario because he always has something clever to say. Maria
however advises her against it explaining that 'He's coming, madam;
but in very strange manner. He is sure possessed, madam.' (Act Three
Scene Four line 8-9). Malvolio is wearing yellow stockings and
cross-gartered sandals. When Olivia asks if he needs to have a lie
down, he replies 'Ay sweetheart, and I'll come to thee.' (Act Three
Scene Four line 30). Olivia is naturally offended and calls upon Sir
Toby to take him away. Malvolio plays along, because 'this concurs
directly with the letter: she sends him on purpose, that I may appear
stubborn to him;' (Act Three Scene Four line 62-64). Sir Toby leads
Malvolio to a dark room where he will have to think about his actions
and the consequences of what he has just done.
Malvolio eventually gets a visit from Feste who is pretending to be
Sir Topas the priest. This could only mean one thing for Malvolio.
Olivia thinks he has a mind illness. Malvolio can not take much more
and pleads to be let out. Feste agrees, but only if he can answer some
of his questions. When Malvolio answers each of Feste's questions,
Feste would say that he was mad with an answer like that however
honest and sensible the answer was. This questioning was more like an
interrogation for Malvolio. He can see his life falling apart.
Sir Toby feels that the joke has gone on long enough, and out of
compassion for Malvolio says to Feste 'I would we were well rid of
this knavery', (Act Four Scene Two line 64) and tells Feste to go back
in and speak 'To him in thine own voice', (Act Four Scene Two line 63)
Feste then goes back into Malvolio's dungeon like room as his normal
self but also pretending that Sir Topas is in the room with them. He
then starts a conversation with Sir Topas but also answering as Sir
Topas. Because the room is so dark Malvolio doesn't have a clue what
is going on. Finally Malvolio is given a piece of paper and a pen to
write down a letter to Olivia to explain what he thinks might have
Feste doesn't deliver the letter until right at the end of the play.
He reads the letter out loud for Olivia emphasising his reading to
make Malvolio look foolish. Malvolio is called upon by Olivia, sees
that she has already married and says, 'Madam, you have done me wrong,
notorious wrong.' (Act Five Scene One line 315) He then storms out
promising, 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you.' (Act Five
Scene One line 364).