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Malvolio Production Diary: First* Read, Parts Four and Five

Finishing up the First* Read. Still asking questions, still trying not to answer them yet.

IV,i is Sebastian being mistaken for Cesario by various people. Including people who are involved in the Malvolio business, but who are not concerned with Malvolio at the present time.

IV,ii is the torture scene. Maria starts in charge, giving Feste a costume (unnecessarily, as she later points out) and a role to play. Why a priest? Why possession particularly, as opposed to other madness? Malvolio is within, probably unseen (tho’ not necessarily). How long has he been there? He still thinks the letter is legitimate, but does he know that Toby and Maria are mocking him, or that they believe he is possessed? How much of their dialogue in III,iv does he remember? Feste joins in the abuse, but his words don’t seem to hold real malice—it would actually be mild treatment for a real case of possession (or madness, for that matter). When Malvolio recognizes Feste’s voice, Malvolio begs him for help. Does he remember their enmity at this point? Feste makes him wait, but then promises to help him, and indeed (after the scene ends) does help him. Why? Toby is done with the whole joke, but Feste seems to be just getting going. Still, he gets a letter from Malvolio and carries it through three hundred lines of V,i before handing it over with a shrug. Actually, he mocks at it before it’s taken away from him—why bring it at all? Why let Malvolio write it? Or how long did it take him to return with that paper and pen?

V,i—well, Act Five only has the one scene. It’s the conclusion! Everybody comes and goes (tho’ not Maria, for some reason) and pairs up and shuts down and ends the play. Malvolio enters 340 lines in to the scene; he is the last loose end to be tied up. He is brought in (traditionally with straws in his hair) and accuses Olivia of doing him wrong. He repeats the bulk of her letter to him, again (he’s got to have memorized the thing right off) and then says tell me why. Olivia denies the letter; Fabian puts the blame on Toby; Feste claims the credit (why? And how accurately?) and Malvolio vows vengeance on the whole pack of ’em. Does he mean it? Is it grumbling or a real vow? Does he still blame Olivia, or is the whole pack aristocrats, in which he includes Cesario and Orsino as well as Olivia and Sir Toby and Maria?

Also, as a minor point: the Captain of I,ii is evidently in durance under Malvolio’s orders; what’s up with that? How long as the Captain been in prison, and under what pretext? Probably the author just threw that in as a way to segue from Viola’s story to Malvolio, but it’s hard not to draw a parallel between the obviously outrageous false imprisonment of Malvolio and Malvolio’s imprisonment of the Captain. I have never noticed it before.

A more significant point: I’ve been telling people that Malvolio has no verse at all, but is entirely a prose part. In fact, Malvolio’s speech in V,i is in verse. Why verse? Why now? True, the gentry are speaking in verse, but that’s true of the whole scene, and when Andrew and Toby come in, the conversation switches to prose, and Feste as well, and when Fabian reads the letter Malvolio wrote in his cell, it’s in prose. But when Malvolio comes in, it’s iambic pentameter:

Lady, you have. Pray you peruse that letter.
You must not now deny it is your hand.
Write from it if you can, in hand or phrase,
Or say ’tis not your seal, not your invention.

It’s an almost lovely little speech. But what does Malvolio think Olivia will say to it? He is not, clearly, expecting her to deny the letter (does he believe the denial, in fact?) but if she admits it, proclaims her love (he does not of course know that she is married) (unless he sees a ring? The ring from II,ii?) (another related question: how much of anything does he see and understand at this point? Does he even notice that there are two Cesarios?) and offers to marry him, would he at this point be willing? What did Malvolio, sitting in the dark, imagine his future to be? Not that he would have been thinking clearly, but how much of any of what happens while he is onstage in Act Five is a surprise? Olivia’s denial? Fabian’s confession? Feste’s taunt?

As an actor, of course, I dearly want to play the Tragedy of Malvolio. I dearly want to come on at the end and tear out the hearts of the audience who were jeering at me an hour earlier. That’s why Big Name actors play Malvolio instead of playing Toby, who has more lines and does more stuff. If that’s what the director wants to do, I am for it. But really, it’s Viola’s play, not Malvolio’s. Taking over the night to the detriment of the play is not really what I’m going for, here.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,