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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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Notes

This is the longest scene in the play and deals with the main plot as well as the subplots. Several cases of mistaken identity are carried out as well as different characters who so far have not interacted with each other. The intrigue against Malvolio reaches its climax when Malvolio's changed appearance and behavior gives rise to humor as well as concern that he is a madman, since he acts so out of character. Olivia cannot take his new appearance seriously and wonders if he has not come down with "midsummer madness." Maria goads Malvolio on by giving him cues to continue his nonsensical blathering. So engrossed is Olivia in her own affairs, she gives the perpetrators of the hoax full permission to punish him as they please although she is also concerned about him.

Malvolio’s apparent madness is just another guise of love, which many of the characters sport in this play. His self-love forces him to be completely out of character and therefore he appears more insane than others who have kept their love within the realms of ‘courtly romance.’ Malvolio is not part of the more noble scheming of Olivia and Duke Orsino and is therefore deemed mad. As Olivia comments, "I am as mad as he/If sad and merry madness equal be."


Another case of mistaken identity occurs in the second sub plot when Sir Andrew mistakes Viola for a man and challenges her to a duel. However, Sir Andrew is fearful of the consequences of these actions, as he is a coward; Viola is fearful also as she faces being exposed for who she is as well as being unable to take charge in this extremely difficult situation as she knows nothing about handling a sword. This is ironic as her masking as a young man has actually brought her quite a bit of anguish and trouble, which she had wanted to avoid. Sir Toby takes full advantage of the humorous situation by instilling fear in both of their hearts, thinking that nothing will come of it because they both are weak hearted yet in fact a dangerous factor enters the scene which could have had deadly consequences. This scene shows a darker side of Sir Toby who will take a practical joke as far as he can at the expense of other people’s feelings and even endangering their lives. Viola is quite threatened and confused by the turn of events, which also include Antonio mistaking her for Sebastian and accusing her of betraying him. Antonio is one of the few people in the play who wears no disguise and has a truly fatherly love for Sebastian. Therefore, Viola’s inadvertent betrayal of him is tinged with sadness. Viola realizes she has caused more pain but she does not know why. Her only ray of hope is that there is a possibility of Sebastian being alive.

Shakespeare sustains this long scene through the many different threads of the play coming together and creating mass confusion. The interest of the audience is maintained by a series of fast paced dramatic situations, which are ludicrous as well as heartrending, and the humor that comes from knowing more than the characters do about what is going on.

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