Explain how Maria's character in Twelfth Night is a stock character.

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Maria is indeed a stock character. Clever and cunning servants were a standard feature of Greek and Roman comedies, and they continued to be used in drama right up until Shakespeare's day and beyond. Such characters would often be portrayed as more intelligent, more clued-in, than their alleged social superiors. We see this with Maria when she fools the hapless, snobbish Malvolio with her remarkable skills as a forger.

But she's so much more than this. Maria is not just a cunning trickster; she's possessed of a rational intelligence that elevates her above the common run of stock characters. Maria is at the front and center of much that happens in the play. She is at the heart of the action, not, as would traditionally be the case with a stock character, on the periphery. Instead of reacting to events as would normally be the case, she shapes them, acting as a catalyst for a number of key plot developments.

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A stock character is one that is a recurring character that is recycled in many plays, such as a ladies' maid, as is Maria in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.  Such a character would be likely to show up in any play that dealt with interaction between the upper and lower classes.  What makes Maria different, however, is the fact that her personality and actions are anything but those of a stock character. She is vital to the plot, as it is her wit and intelligence that hatch the plot against Malvolio. She is far smarter than her companions, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, and she is clever enough to pull off a complicated scheme.  She is educated enough to forge her lady's handwriting and style well enough to fool Malvolio, who thinks he is her better.  And, she is fearless and no-nonsense enough to deal with both the upper and lower class characters in the play in any situation.

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