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Malvolio Production Diary: First* Read, Part Three

III,i is Cesario and Feste, then Cesario and Toby/Andrew, then Cesario and Olivia. Nothing for Malvolio. III,ii is the Gang (as I have begun to think of Toby, Andrew, Feste, Fabian and Maria) setting up the Cesario duel. Maria, when she comes in, says Yond gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado and they rush off to see how ridiculous and risible Malvolio is. No pressure. III,iii is Sebastian and Antonio, nothing Malvolic there, although unless the scene is moved it’s seventy lines between come and laugh at Malvolio and Malvolio’s entrance. So no pressure there, no build-up of hopes, nope.

III,iv is the yellow-garter scene. He enters, dressed ridiculously, and capers. I notice here that even if the letter were real—even if Olivia loved him and had written that letter—his behaviour here is absurd. His dialogue is almost random. He seems to be quoting love songs ( Please one, and please all and Ay, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee) along with repeating phrases from the letter. I wonder if he has ever woo’d a woman before at all. Is he a virgin? Has he had whores but not a lover? Is he enjoying his great romance, or does he view it as a necessary charade? Is he—and this is probably an important question to consult with the director about—actually infatuated with Olivia, or just with her estate? Or at least, does he fancy himself in love with Olivia? Shakespeare is, in this play and others, very sharp about people who think themselves in love with somebody they don’t really know, but Malvolio presumably knows Olivia as well as he knows anyone. Did he, before Maria started work, think of himself as in love with Olivia, or not? Does he now?

After Olivia leaves, Malvolio has a twenty-line soliloquy (that’s not short) (if it’s not cut) congratulating himself for how well he handled himself in the previous bit, which was a total disaster. The forged letter is not what keeps him from recognizing what a disaster that meeting was. Toby, Fabian and Maria come in and pretend to believe he’s possessed. Why? For what audience? Malvolio seems unfazed by their actions, until he blows up with Go hang yourselves all! and storms out. Or is he angry? What would he be angry with them for, at this point? Or is he always angry with them?

The scene goes on after Malvolio leaves it, with the Cesario duel and the Antonio arrest. Terrible structure, Shakespeare! It’s a four-hundred-line scene with three or four totally different scenes within it. It’s also interesting that fifteen lines after Malvolio leaves, they all drop the subject and don’t refer to him again. Olivia may be upset by her steward going mad, but not enough to talk to Cesario about it (on stage, anyway). Andrew doesn’t ask how the Malvolio business went.

Speaking of structure and whatnot, the script arrived today via email, and it looks as if Malvolio has lost only one line. I probably won’t bother going through the non-Malvolio scenes in enough detail to know how many lines have been cut and from where. The scenes are all there and all in the Folio order; there’s even some Folio spelling left in. I’m not sure what that portends. At any rate, there isn’t anything particularly exciting about our playing script on first look. Which answers that question, anyway.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Is he enjoying his great romance, or does he view it as a necessary charade? Is he—and this is probably an important question to consult with the director about—actually infatuated with Olivia, or just with her estate? Or at least, does he fancy himself in love with Olivia?


I suppose another question is: does he actually know Olivia any better than Orsino does? A totally different kind of blindness, but where Orsino can't see past his dick, Malvolio perhaps can't see beyond his wand of office.


A reason to answer an either/or question with "yes" is the consideration that the division the question poses may not actually be substantive. Twelfth Night, like most of Shakespeare's comedies, is very deeply concerned with class and is representing a deeply hierarchical society. You might consider that Malvolio lacks the insight or inclination to distinguish between Olivia and her estate.

How much difference is there, beyond the poetry, between Orsino and Malvolio? How far are sexual desire and a desire for power distinguishable in either of them? Orsino, imagining the circumstance when Olivia returns his love, says,

O she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love with the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled,
Her sweet perfections, with one self king. (1.1.34-40)

Orsino's imagination of sexual satisfaction with Olivia is complexly entangled with images of rule and authority, although he lacks the insight to recognize that entanglement or the ways in which it is problematic. Malvolio's language in the letter scene suggests that he is fantasizing in nearly equal parts about sex and power: in his mind and observation, they are mutually enabling satisfactions.

That's interesting stuff. I suppose that for Malvolio, the idea of being Count is a turn-on in a quite specific way that has only somewhat to do with Olivia as such. This will color the idea of having greatness thrust upon him…


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