Does Malvolio get what he deserves?


Twelfth Night

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At the play's conclusion, a thoroughly humiliated Malvolio vows "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you" (V, i., l.378), and many Shakespeare critics maintain that he has good cause to utter this discordant oath. Over the centuries, scholars have pondered what has come to be called the "problem of Malvolio." By this they mean that although Malvolio is a prude, a hypocrite, and an upstart, he does not deserve the cruel treatment that he receives from the ruse perpetrated by Maria, Uncle Toby, and the clown Feste. True, Malvolio is a "joy-killer" by nature who consistently punctures the merriment of Toby and his crew, but Toby himself is not a complete innocent by any means. Moreover, Malvolio' inflated sense of self-importance is behind his brusque behavior toward Cesario (Viola) when he bring his mistress's ring to this strange youth. Nonetheless, imprisoned for his lunacy, Malvolio is subjected to the decidedly "unfunny" taunts of Feste, and even Uncle Toby suggests that his fellow conspirators put an end to the steward's torment. Malvolio, then, is a complicated character who earns both our derision and, owing to the severity of the abuse heaped upon him, our sympathies as well.

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