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The Punishment Of Malvolio Essay

1271 words - 6 pages

In Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, the characters endure the fruits of their foolishness at the end of the play, but Malvolio endures a greater suffering and greater embarrassment than the rest of the characters. This is not simply by chance or whimsy: but this is Shakespeare’s stratification of the vices that a person may take upon him or herself. With this stratification, Shakespeare allocates Malvolio’s vices of pride, usurping the social order, and dour temperament as the worst of character flaws, and that is why Malvolio receives the harshest punishment.
Before examining the punishment that Malvolio endures, it is necessary to examine his flaws and offenses. His arrival in the ...view middle of the document...

Malvolio is treading the ground of criminal offense against a lord, who is also the cousin of his Lady. Beyond the offense upon the higher strata of society, Malvolio is also demonstrating his dour temperament in this scene which is also problematic. The importance of mirth and joviality is affirmed throughout the play, and for some characters, their greatest virtue is the ability to enjoy and be passionate for life. Malvolio stands in opposition to this with his protests and derision, and in the play he is the only character that takes offense to other characters enjoying their lives. The hostile environment he creates is important to note because it gives the other characters an impetus to deal with his troublesome personality in order to enjoy their own pleasures and pursuits. The last encounter where Malvolio extends his grievances is the second encounter with Sir Toby. Their encounter takes place after Malvolio’s pride is incensed by the false note of Olivia, so his actions go even further in displaying his own ego and lack of regard for his superiors. Not only does he instruct Sir Toby and Maria to, “go hang yourselves,” (III.iv.120) but he also claims that he is no longer of their, “element” (III.iv.121). The implication is that he has ascended beyond Sir Toby and Maria, but that is merely the delusion of his ego. In this scene he completes the trio of offenses with a straightforward denial of class, and his punishment comes from these crimes against the class structure, his overbearing ego and objection of mirth.
The punishment and trickery of Malvolio is the ironic justice of his flawed personality because it accentuates his deficiencies and then punishes those deficiencies. When the trick is played, Malvolio receives the first punishment for his offenses. The irony exists in the notion that his ambitions, which he plans to fulfill, bring about his social undoing. If the ruse was simply to deceive or humiliate him directly, it would not have succeeded. Maria and Sir Toby simply provide for Malvolio the proverbial rope, and he obliges by hanging himself. Rather than realizing his own danger, the need for caution, and reasserting his proper place in the social order, Malvolio increases his crime and thus increases the severity of his penalty. Eventually he is placed in the dark room, and his punishment reaches its fruition. He laments, “there was never a man thus abused,” (IV.ii.47-48) but the deprivation of senses, and especially that of sight, is a common punishment in this pre-Enlightenment period. This mode of punishment is to rectify the overbearing pride of Malvolio, and the deprivation of sight is meant to compare the criminal with the...

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