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How does Malvolio reflect contemporary attitudes against the theatre in Twelfth Night?

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lily099 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 9, 2011 at 6:25 AM via web

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How does Malvolio reflect contemporary attitudes against the theatre in Twelfth Night?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 9, 2011 at 8:23 PM (Answer #1)

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Let us remember that Malvolio is described, rather insultingly by Sir Toby and Maria, as a "very Puritan." Puritans stood against drama and the theatre in Shakespeare's day, and their approach to religion was to adopt an incredibly plain form of worship. Their clothes were just black and white, and any form of merriment or diversion was frowned upon, meaning that theatregoing was completely out. Thus we can see in the way that Malvolio is punished that perhaps Shakespeare is definitely going for the crowd pleasing approach. The scenes where Malvolio is abused and locked in a dungeon, and made to believe that his mistress is in love with him, would have been hilarious to an audience of theatregoers who probably disagreed with the Puritan creed of simplicity and to whom Purtains were figures of fun. Let us remember that the Puritans faced so much opposition in various forms that they left to found a new religious community in New England on the Mayflower. Thus we can see in the character of Malvolio the stark simplicity and theology of denial that was so unpopular in Shakespeare's day. Malvolio is a character who would have opposed the merriment of the theatre, and so having him punished in such a public way through that medium adds to the irony of the situation.

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