Twelfth Night Act IV, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act IV, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis

Maria gives the Clown a gown and beard, apparently wishing to prolong the sham with Malvolio. Feste readily accepts the offer to play Chaucer’s Sir Topas. He has a stereotyped notion of a curate and a student, which he doesn’t fit, though he does account himself an honest man and a good citizen. Sir Toby enters, greeting him as a parson, and pushes him on to Malvolio.

The Clown, dressed as Sir Topas, visits Malvolio in a very dark room. Malvolio immediately orders Sir Topas to go to Olivia without specifying the contents of his message. Malvolio perceives himself as a wronged man. He says that to Sir Topas and, in the same breath, he asserts his sanity. Sir Topas responds with assurance of his own mildness. Malvolio insists that the house is dark and that his abusers have laid him in the darkness. Sir Topas points out that there are sources of light coming into the room. Malvolio suggests that it’s perhaps a figurative darkness surrounding him as well as maintaining his sanity once again. Sir Topas does not admit to any darkness, insinuating instead that Malvolio is full of perplexity.

Malvolio asks for a test of his sanity, to which Sir Topas responds with a question about Pythagoras’ doctrine. Malvolio answers aptly, but Sir Topas does not admit his sanity.

According to Maria, Malvolio is so blinded he cannot even see the Clown’s disguise. The Clown goes once more, at Sir Toby’s prompting, to talk with Malvolio. Sir Toby shows that his sadism in the matter has not subsided. The reason he must stop the trick is Olivia’s disapproval of his antics.

The second conversation between Malvolio and Sir Topas follows in the same vein as the previous one. This time, Malvolio requests a pen, ink, and paper with which he can write to Olivia. The Clown (as Sir Topas) persists in the contention that Malvolio is mad, which Malvolio vigorously rejects. Moreover, Malvolio’s counterclaim of abuse in this scene provides compelling evidence of the validity of his perceptions. He has indeed been played with.

During this conversation, the Clown speaks to Malvolio as both the Clown and Sir Topas. When Malvolio realizes this, he asks the Clown to get him some paper and light. He wants to send a message to Olivia. The Clown, though agreeing to help, still cannot resist implying that Malvolio is mad.

The Clown ends this scene with a song, whose significance is a bit obscure but does bear relevance to Malvolio’s present predicament.

The Clown puts on an act in this scene. He goes to Malvolio’s room disguised as a Chaucerian curate, Sir Topas. This performance is commendable to the extent that the Clown is fulfilling his role as jester. It is truly his role to entertain the others. The talent the Clown exhibits is also impressive. It is not easy to do all that he does in this play.

Maria shows that she wants to antagonize Malvolio and continue the cruel deception. The Clown operates more out of the requirements of his role than a desire to further vex Malvolio. What he says to Malvolio helps to illuminate Malvolio’s character and the effect of the trick on him. Malvolio is certain that he has been wronged....

(The entire section is 826 words.)