Compare Act 2:1 of Sheridan's ‘the Rivals’ (Lines 139-270) with Act 4:2 of Shakespeare's ‘Twelfth Night.’ How Do the Playwrights Present the Themes of Mockery and Deceit in These Scenes?

Topics: Deception, Lie, Feste Pages: 6 (2530 words) Published: December 29, 2010
The themes of mockery and deceit are central to both Sheridan's 'The Rivals' and Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'." The act of mockery is defined using insulting or contemptuous action or speech, having a subject of laughter and derision, or performing an insincere imitation. There are many similarities in the way that both playwrights present the themes of mockery and deceit. These can be seen clearly in their presentation of language and characters. The techniques of mockery are presented in a similar way in both Act 2:1 of ‘The Rivals’ and Act 4:1 of ‘Twelfth Night’ because it is carried out in a similar way in both scenes. However, there are some aspects of the theme that are presented differently depending on the context in which the plays were written. It also depends on the role of the characters in the play. In ‘Twelfth Night,’ Malvolio’s role is to show the audience that even in the best and most enjoyable of worlds, someone must suffer, whereas in ‘The Rivals,’ through the mocking of Faulkland, Sheridan is mocking the current trend for sentimentality. Both playwrights present the theme of deception differently depending on the circumstances of the character. For example, in ‘The Rivals,’ Jack Absolute deceives Lydia because he loves her, whereas Feste deceives Malvolio for more sinister reasons such as revenge. An element of the theme of mockery that is presented similarly in both plays is the concept that mockery is used to gain status and power over others. In the scene from Twelfth Night, as Feste torments Malvolio, we begin to wonder if he is employing his talents to a good end. Malvolio, whose earlier humiliation is perhaps well deserved, now seems a helpless victim. Perhaps Malvolio touches a nerve in his bitter scrutiny at their first encounter in the play: ‘unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged’ (Act 1:5 81-2). Feste needs the approval of the audience and others to be happy. Malvolio’s refusal to give him this approval is the source of Feste’s need for power. Likewise, in the scene of ‘The Rivals,’ Jack feels the need to assert his authority by mocking Faulkland because he wants Faulkland to respect him and he wants to be seen as an example to follow. He says: ‘Am not I a lover; ay, and a romantic one too? Yet do I carry everywhere with me such a confounded farrago of hopes, fears, doubts, wishes,’ (lines 83-85.) He uses condescension as a method of mocking him and in doing this, he asserts his authority and Sheridan illustrates to the audience that mockery is a way of obtaining respect from others and asserting authority. The techniques used by Jack to mock Faulkland in ‘The Rivals’ and by Feste to mock Malvolio in ‘Twelfth Night’ are similar. Jack calls Faulkland a ‘rascal,’ ‘blockhead,’ and ‘puppy.’ Similarly, Feste says ‘thou dishonest satan,’ (line 31) and ‘out,’ (line 25,) meaning ‘to hell with you’. The language they use is derisive and condescending. Feste undermines Malvolio by questioning his religious beliefs, saying: ‘thou art more puzzled that the Egyptians in their fog,’ which compares the darkness in his room to the darkness of the Egyptians when they questioned God. He knows that religion is the most important thing to Malvolio, so it will provoke him the most. He uses Malvolio as an object used for making fun in order to get a reaction. Similarly, Jack teases Faulkand to provoke him, saying ‘Foh, man, is music not the ‘food of love?’ He teases Faulkland about Julia enjoying music because it is the thing that Faulkland is most worried about. He knows that Faulkland is worried that Julia has forgotten him in his absence as she is dancing and singing too much. However, elements of the presentation of the theme of mockery differ in the two plays. In this scene of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presents ridicule as something which is carried out by people who have no sense of morals and a lack of identity. The reason they do it is because they feel a sense of duty to...
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