What is an example of malapropism found in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Malapropism happens when a speaker mistakes a word to create comedy. Usually the words have multiple syllables and sound alike but are different in meaning. Dr. Wheeler gives the example of when a maid falls into the river in Tarzan of the Apes and exclaims, "I sho'nuff don't want to be eaten by no river allegories, no sir!" (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions").

One example of malapropism in Twelfth Night can be found in Act 1, Scene 5. Sir Toby has come to report that there is a messenger at the door, and Olivia is absolutely repulsed to find that he is already drunk so early in the day, as we see in her line, "Cousin, cousin, how have you come so early by this lethargy" (115-16). By "lethargy," she is referring to the drowsiness or dullness that's a symptom of drunkenness; however, Sir Toby mistakes it, either intentionally or unintentionally, for the word "lechery," meaning "lewdness," or excessive sexual desires, as we see him state in his declaration, "Lechery! I defy lechery" (eNotes, 117).


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