Act II, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis
In case we’d forgotten about the merriment of the play, this scene puts us back in Olivia’s house and opens with the leader of the party, Sir Toby. If we follow the love plot of the previous scene, we are then led astray by what these two men say. They begin by talking about going to bed early. Sir Toby says that going to bed after midnight is equal to going to bed early. Toby calls for some wine to have with their food.
When Feste the Clown enters, Andrew compliments his singing voice and his skill displayed in entertainment the previous night: “Why, this is best fooling, when all is done.” Then, continuing in this vein, Sir Toby calls for another frequently used element in Shakespeare’s plays—a song. Feste suggests either a love song or a song with a moral. Naturally, a love song is apropos. The Clown sings a song that recalls the Duke’s elevated emotion of the first scene; he also defines “love.” Very pleased with the Clown’s song, they engage him in some more singing.
Nevertheless, Maria enters and chides them for their nonsense. Sir Toby banters with her, as is appropriate to his role as “lord of misrule,” (to use the holiday expression). Malvolio’s questions refer to their purpose as the merrymakers in the play. His question, “Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house?”, best points up the intersection of the holiday atmosphere and the love theme, which constitutes the play’s peculiar blend. Malvolio seriously restates his lady’s displeasure with Sir Toby’s revels. What follows, to Malvolio’s chagrin, is more singing and wine-drinking. Malvolio departs with an insult from Maria.
It is at this point that the comic plot is hatched. Maria reveals that she wants revenge on Malvolio, and Sir Toby and Andrew go right along with her scheme. Maria believes that she is wreaking revenge on Malvolio’s Puritan character. Maria explains the plot: it involves dropping letters in Malvolio’s way, supposedly written by Olivia (in her own hand), which will lead him to believe that Olivia is professing her love to him. They are to delight in the spectacle.
This scene is a good illustration of what L.G. Salingar (quoting Enid Welsford) characterizes as Shakepeare’s transmuting “into poetry the quintessence of the Saturnalia.” There is plenty of wine and singing running through a scene that also gives us the springboard for Malvolio’s pending humiliation. To clarify this important element of the play, Salingar further adds, “The sub-plot shows a prolonged season of misrule, or ‘uncivil rule,’ in Olivia’s household, with Sir Toby turning night into day; there are drinking, dancing, and singing,…and the gulling of an unpopular member of the household.” So, by this point, the significance of the title should be quite clear.
It is noteworthy how appropriate the song from Feste the Clown is, for it defines love. This...
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