How does Malvolio connect to disguise and deceit in Act 2 Scene 5?

Published: 2021-07-01 06:26:39
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Category: Deception, Acts

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In Act II Scene VI, we are exposed to seeing Malvolio in a different light. Firstly, we see he deceives himself, ultimately playing the role of the person he thinks he is capable of becoming. Then we see that Maria and her cohort are deceiving Malvolio, by playing a prank on him just so they can make a fool out of him for always being so bitter and serious; and lastly we see how they encourage this foolish act and what consequences it brings.
To begin with, we can identify that the name ‘Malvolio’ consists of two elements “Mal” and “Volio” which are Italian words, with the meaning “ill will” suggesting his disregard of others’ pleasures. I believe that Shakespeare particularly gave this character this name, as it allows us to have a greater insight of the kind of character Malvolio is from the beginning of the play.
At the beginning of Act II Scene VI we are see an intimate conversation between Sir Toby and Fabian, coming together to watch Malvolio and Maria’s prank. Sir Toby asks “Wouldst thou not be glad to have the niggardly, rascally sheep-bitter come by some notable shame? Essentially pointing out that they are pulling a prank on Malvolio and asking him if he is glad he is going to see this ‘rascal dog’ humiliated. From the very start we see a connection between deception and Malvolio, and how Sir Toby and Fabian are associated with the scheming prank as well. We also see more of Malvolio’s bitterness mentioned when Fabian tells Sir Toby, “I would exult man.



You know he brought me out o’favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here”, suggesting that he is very excited as Malvolio also told the lady of the house that he was arranging a bear-baiting once. This conversation suggests that the two other servers of the house are fed up with Malvolio’s attitude and plan to punish him in a way that will completely embarrass him. Malvolio’s attitude is fundamentally the only reason why he is connected to disguise and deception. Also, his self-loving personality convinces him he is capable of rising higher in the society, which is what leads to him playing the role of Olivia’s husband. Then later we see that his bitterness leads him into a humiliating prank pulled by Maria and the other workers of the house.
As Maria enters the scene, we discover that she’s been scheming this prank and encourages the others to go watch, as she is fully confident it will work. She informs Sir Toby and Fabian to go hide behind the box tree and, “Observe him, for the love of mockery for I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him.” This emphasizes how Malvolio is the central character in this scene being deceived by all the other characters. Maria also refers to Malvolio as ‘trout’ on its way to gobble up bait, “… For here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling”. This animalistic language creates a distinctive image of Malvolio. It could suggest that the bait is Olivia, and that Malvolio is so easily directed when lead by Olivia. It could also suggest that ‘tickling’ so easily catches Malvolio into complete humiliation.
Act II Scene VI provides a greater in-sight on how ‘self-loving’ Malvolio really is. In the beginning of this scene we see that Malvolio is playing a role in the same way Olivia and Orsino were earlier in the play. Therefore we can see that not only is Malvolio being deceived by others, but is also deceiving himself. Malvolio instantly exposes us to this role, saying “Maria once told me she did affect me, and I have heard herself come thus near, that should she fancy it should be one of my complexion”. This portrays Malvolio’s outspoken confidence, as he is convinced Maria would like a man like himself, although we are aware that Malvolio’s fantasy is a pose without possibility. Sir Toby who is listening over Malvolio’s conversation calling him an “overweening rogue” quickly supports this.
Malvolio then shifts to the possibility of being ‘Count Malvolio’ for which Sir Toby and Fabian believe is an unrealistic desire for a servant so bitter and low in the society, responding within themselves “Ah, rogue”. Although, Malvolio speaks of his strong belief in the possibility, referring to ‘Lady Strachy’ who married her wardrobe manager. This idea of Malvolio deceiving himself acts as entertainment for Sir Toby and Fabian who are simultaneously deceiving Malvolio. Both Sir Toby and Fabian show their great satisfaction saying “O, peace! Now he’s deeply in. Look how imagination blows him” which once again reinforces how unrealistic Malvolio is and how he is playing a role.
Shakespeare shows that while Malvolio continues to imagine a marriage with Olivia, Sir Toby and Fabian continuously interrupt this image with their opposing comments such as “Fire and brimstone” and “O, peace, peace!” implying that they aren’t taking this seriously because Malvolio is on his high horse.
Furthermore, we see that Malvolio is also deceived by the ‘letter’ that is supposedly written by Olivia, however is a prank planned by Maria. The clash between Malvolio and the remaining characters is the central motivation for the prank. From the previous scene, we see that Malvolio breaks up their party, although it does not seem to be Malvolio’s fault considering they were being rather disrespectful. This is what provokes Maria and her cohort into scheming revenge against Malvolio. As Twelfth night is a play that celebrates chaos, Malvolio doesn’t reflect this idea but presents himself as the puritanical, self-loving, pleasure-hating character which strongly contrasts against the alcohol-loving, pleasure-loving characters of Maria and her cohort.
Following this role of being Olivia’s husband, Malvolio finds the letter written by Maria, which matches exactly what he’s been doing. Personally I believe the irony of finding the letter after being lost in the illusion of being Count Malvolio is what makes Malvolio believe the letter is for him. This is the last aspect of deception that connects to Malvolio in Act II Scene VI. While Malvolio is sure that “This is my lady’s hand” mentioning “…these be her very c’s, her u’s and her t’s,..” Sir Andrew mocks Malvolio for what he is actually saying, almost in disbelief that he can be so easily deceived. He somehow finds a link between “M.O.A.I….” by saying that “M” is for Malvolio, concluding that the letter was meant for him. However as Malvolio reads on we see the letter is handing him exactly what he was imagining before, as Malvolio believes its from Olivia saying, “By my birth I rank above you, but don’t be afraid of my greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” which again encourages Malvolio into believing the possibility of being Count Malvolio.
The letter specifically asks Malvolio to do everything he wouldn’t usually do, therefore it can be viewed as a disguise. Malvolio therefore disguises himself under the ‘desired’ appearance and personality Olivia tells him of in the letter, which easily convinces Malvolio that this will lead him to his desires.
Focusing specifically on the letter, it tells Malvolio to be rude, to talk about politics and act free and independent, to also wear yellow stockings and crisscrossing laces up his legs, and to remember that a happy life is waiting for him, and if he doesn’t want it he should act like his old bitter self. Although this letter is deceiving Malvolio, its also Malvolio’s connection to disguise, as he begins to follow what the letter orders to please Olivia and because this isn’t the norm for Malvolio it can be interpreted as a form of disguise.
Maria’s prank works because it plays off of Malvolio’s weaknesses, which is his self regard, his wish for a higher social rank and his delusions that Olivia might actually feel something for him. All of this is meant to teach Malvolio a lesson, and perhaps punish him for his bitterness and self-pride. It should outline his foolishness for even falling into the prank and potentially highlight to Malvolio some of his faults. Disguise and deception are closely linked in this scene, as one follows the other.

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