Twelfth Night Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Olivia tries to console Malvolio with the prospect of justice but did Olivia punish Maria for what she did?

Expert Answers info

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write5,917 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

As Shakespeare's Twelfth Night ends Malvolio is restored and Olivia does offer him comfort. While Fabian, Olivia's servant, explains his, Sir Toby's and Maria's part in the torture and torment of Malvolio, the text of Twelfth Night indicates that none of the three culprits are punished. This is an ongoing source of critics' debates. The omission of mention of blame or punishment bothers many readers, playgoers and critics. It may be that the audience in Shakespeare's time knew their cultural standards so well that they knew without it being said what one could expect and should not expect regarding punishments. For instance, Sir Toby is a male member of the nobility and it may be that Olivia feels it is not within her authority to punish him. It may also be that since Fabian and Maria acted under Sir Toby's auspices, so to speak, that he affords them protection thus making them safe from Olivia's disapprobation and punishment.

If these social dynamics, or ones very like them, were indeed the case, then the audience would know them and that knowledge would add to the ironic twists at the end of the play. In other words, Shakespeare's audiences would say to themselves something like, "And of course Fabian and Maria get off scott free. And Sir Toby. Yeah. No one can touch them for what they did. SIR  Toby. right." It may also be that Malvolio's abuse and the absence of punishment for his tormentors ties in with and demonstrates Shakespeare's theme expressed in the ship wreck and in Feste's song at the end that nothing and no one--not even the happiest or the most pompous and arrogant--are safe from the ravages of life's storms.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial