Twelfth Night

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How does Shakespeare present the character Malvolio in Twelfth Night?

William Shakespeare’s play, ‘Twelfth Night or What You Will,’ is an Elizabethan style of play written in 1601. It is a romantic comedy and the main themes depicted throughout the play include love, disguise, deception and comedy. ‘Twelfth Night’ was the name given to the last day of the Christmas celebrations, in England during the Elizabethan era. This celebration marked the two weeks of festivities. In other words, the Elizabethan audience were well aware that the play was entertainment for a special occasion. Characterisation is central to the effectiveness of this play, where Shakespeare uses a variety of techniques to expose the complicated lives and dramas of those living in Illyria. It is an excellent example of the Elizabethan romantic comedies of the time, which included pedantic and hypocritical characters such as Malvolio, and features such as disguise and deception.

Plays such as ‘Twelfth Night’, which discussed religion (in particular the Puritans, a religious group who had condemned theatres and other forms of entertainment) and social class and status through humour, would often include extraordinary characters such as Malvolio. Malvolio’s character revealed some of the main puritanical beliefs such as dressing plainly, a strict code of personal behaviour and the dislike of entertainment. During Shakespeare’s period, he would be considered to be a self-serving hypocrite as he was a clear depiction of a puritan. Malvolio’s puritanical character included all the characteristics that the Elizabethan audience would have disliked; therefore, in ‘Twelfth Night’ there is no sympathy for him. As the play progresses, the Elizabethan audience realise that Malvolio has a powerful ambition to rise above his social class (as he is a steward). Olivia’s high status in the play impacts on Malvolio. The idea that Olivia (of a higher social status) would have feelings for Malvolio (a man of...
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