"Malvolio is essentially ludicrous." Discuss this statement with reference to Twelfth Night."Malvolio is essentially ludicrous." Discuss this statement with reference to Twelfth Night.

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Very interesting statement here, but be careful not to underestimate the role of Malvolio and his use and abuse at the hands of other characters and of Shakespeare. Although initially he seems to be little more than a minor character and his gulling and humilitation part of the sub-plot to the main action, critics seem to agree that he definitely becomes more important as the action of the play progresses, and some go as far to say that Malvolio is actually one of the most complex characters in the entire play. 

Our first meeting with him clearly delineates him as an orderly, stuffy Puritan who is a killjoy and party spoiler. This of course places him against the likes of Sir Toby who want nothing more than to have a good time. Thus Sir Toby, aided by the brilliant Maria, organise his "downfall" by playing on his secret ambition to marry Olivia and become "Count Malvolio." Thus we see he is a character with severely misguided ambition. 

When this stratagem to humiliate him unfolds, Malvolio amazingly transforms from a duty-loving, stiff and proper servant to a warning of the power of self-delusion. We can all agree that he is ludicrous in those hilarious scenes when he is prancing around in yellow stockings and even worse - smiles. Yet it is only the hardest of audiences that does not feel pity for him alongside the mirth he evokes. Whilst he may deserve his humiliation, there seems to be a warning message in it that we can all to easily recognise the danger of. Malvolio seems to be a symbol of what can happen when ambition overpowers common sense. This is reinforced when Malvolio twists every event to support his view. Now he is ecstatically engaged in pursuit of a dream that everyone except for him knows is false.

Our feelings of pity and sympathy for him only increase when the scheme goes one step to far. When he is confined into a dark room in the fourth Act, Malvolio completes his transformation from victimiser to victim. Who can but feel pity for his desperate protestations that he is not mad whilst he is being goaded by Feste? It appears that Malvolio, as the representative of conformity and propriety in the play, must be "locked away" so that the rest of the characters can fully engage in the chaotic festival of the Twelfth Night. The way he resists the tauntings of Feste earn him our respect, and we do definitely feel that there is a kind of tragic nobility in how he conducts himself in this scene.

Most of all, of course, he is a character that is allowed no resolution. He is brought out to a joyful celebration that he shares no part in. His final words, normally spat out at the rest of the characters, offer a harsh counterpoint to the otherwise jolly ending of the play, and as he stalks off, he seems to represent a far more sober and sad ending of the "comedy" that to him at least was nothing more than a tragedy.

kc4u | Student

Malvolio constitutes the epicenter of the farcical sub-plot in 'Twelfth Night'. A man with a secret ambition to become Count Malvolio by marrying Countess Olivia, a man exceedingly driven by 'self-love', a man with a cultivated exterior of a Puritan objecting to 'cakes and ale', Malvolio is surely inherently comical, despite his rigorous dutifulness. The way he opposes the clown and his display of professional witticisms, the way he even accuses Olivia of pampering the 'allowed fool', the typical 'holier than thou' attitude with which he resists all revelries show the vanity of the Puritan who, nevertheless, falls an easy victim to his own ambition to believe that Olivia is fond of him and she is going to marry him.

An honest and reticent Puritan is never a target of ridicule. But Malvolio suffers from gross lack of self-knowledge; he pretends and gets foolishly entrapped; he makes a great fool of himself. The mischief-makers surely carry the prank a bit too far; but the end of the play suggests how Malvolio is unable to reconcile himself to the vicissitudes of life.

Like the Devil or Vice in the medieval Moralities, Malvolio remains a selfish and crooked egoist who alienates himself from the festivities of life. His incongruity of essence and appearance makes him ludicrous indeed.

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Twelfth Night

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