What social differences create comedy in Twelfth Night?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maria, Olivia's lady-in-waiting acts often as a balance to other characters. At the same time, however, Maria's reproofs often give way to humor and lively wordplay.  Placed against Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Maria generates laughter as using puns she teases him about his foolishness:

MARIA:Now, sir, thought is free. I pray you, bring your hand
to the buttery-bar and let it drink.(65)
SIR ANDREW:Wherefore, sweetheart? what's your metaphor?
MARIA:It's dry, sir.
SIR ANDREW:Why, I think so: I am not such an ass but I can
keep my hand dry. But what's your jest?(70)
MARIA:A dry jest, sir.
SIR ANDREW:Are you full of them?
MARIA:Ay, sir, I have them at my fingers' ends: marry, now I
let go your hand, I am barren.  (1.3.64-74)

Maria is very resourceful and highly energetic, but some of her energies are negative as, for instance, she considers that her designs may drive Malvolio mad, but decides, "The house will be quieter." Nevertheless, as she plots with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew against the pompous Puritan, Malvolio, Sir Toby finds her most amusing, referring to her affectionately as "a beagle true-bred," a statement that, perhaps, seeks to elevate her social class.Thus, it is interesting that much of the commentary of characters like Maria who have a lower position in the society affords the audience its perception of the play.