If I were directing Act 2 Scene 5, the feature I would most emphasise is the comic potential that underlies in the script. The immediate slapstick comedy that is noticed by everyone seems to cover up the dark comedy of the scene, which is where the comedy is leading to something nasty. This is particularly mirrored when Malvolio reads the letter, and although it is humorous, everybody knows that it is going to lead to disaster.
“M. Malvolio, M. why that begins my name”
This is the funniest part of the scene, so if I were directing the scene, this would be one point that I would particularly focus on. The audience play a big part in this scene, as they can see everything that goes on on the stage. When Malvolio reads the letter, the opening words are, “If this fall into thy hand, revolve”. By ‘revolve’, Malvolio is meant to ‘think’, but he takes it literally and actually turns round.
This is a form of irony that is used throughout the scene, when one thing is meant, but another is interpreted. There is a lot of comic potential here as Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian are lurking and hiding in the bushes behind Malvolio, every time he moves, the other three have to reposition themselves, so not to be seen. If one was to pop their head up, the other two could be seen pushing him back down. This is classic slapstick comedy and to the audience this would be hilarious, as they can see everything that goes on, but the characters do not.
In this scene, Malvolio’s character should be particularly emphasised and exaggerated. His posing to his own shadow and all his facial expressions are what makes his character so funny. The excitement on his face when he reads the letter and watching him trying to express something that resembles a smile is what the audience would love about his character. His continuous facial expressions throughout the whole play, especially this scene, are incredibly funny, but the end result will be catastrophic for Malvolio. This is where the dark comedy of the play starts to shine through. Although the prank of the letter is meant as a joke, it has been taken a bit far.
“Remember who commended thy yellow stockings, and wish’d to see thee ever cross-garter’d”
Maria, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian all know that Olivia is still in mourning over the loss of her brother. They also know that when Malvolio appears to her in yellow stockings and with a big smile on his face she will be furious, but this does not stop them, although Malvolio job is on the line. The only way that Maria, Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian look upon this prank is as a way to get revenge upon Malvolio for being such a Puritan and pompous. I think that it is a case of not knowing when to stop, as Maria and the others are prepared to go as far as they have to to get revenge, and not really considering the outcome of it all.
Throughout the scene, the dark comedy is used as a contrast to the slapstick comedy.
“Jove I thank thee, I will smile, I will do everything that thou wilt have me”.
“I will not give my part of this sport for a pension of thousands to be paid from the Sophy”.
Another of the elements that I would emphasise is the build up of comic anticipation. When Malvolio is reading the letter, the comedy is built up so that everyone, except the characters themselves, knows what is about to happen, but not when. This leaves people in hope of when ‘the big event’ is going to happen. When Malvolio is reading the letter, everyone can see how Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian are reacting, but people still wonder whether Malvolio will catch them out.
A lot of visual comedy is used in the scene, but also a lot of verbal comedy is used. This verbal comedy also builds up the anticipation.
“M.O.A.I doth sway my life. Nay but first let me see, let me see, let me see”.
The audience know that the letter is meant for him, but they have to wait for him to work it out. This must be great for the audience, as they know what is happening and they can see that Malvolio is walking straight into the trap that has been set up him. The reinforcement of the puzzlement in Malvolio’s mind builds the anticipation up even more, as he repeats the letters, M.O.A.I over and over again. All they can do though is wait for him to work out the riddle for himself.
A further point that I would emphasise would be the absurdity of all the characters. Malvolio’s vanity would be brought out and the way he is falling into the trap develops. Sir Toby seems to be the leader of Sir Andrew, Fabian and Maria and seems to hold the greatest resentment for Malvolio.
“O for a stone-bow to hit him in the eye”.
Malvolio’s fantasies indicate that he was not very fond of Sir Toby either, as when he is posing and talking to himself; he plays himself to be higher than Sir Toby. Sir Andrew plays a big part in the humour of this scene, as he just seems to copy or agree with whatever Sir Toby says. This makes him seem weak and a fool, although he already knows it.
(Sir Toby) Wilt thou set thy foot o’ my neck?
(Sir Andrew) Or o’ mine either?
Although Maria is the one is the one who wrote the letter, her part in this scene is not that big. What part she does have, seems to be of her being evil and not caring about Malvolio’s feelings. This should be shown when it is being acted out. Fabian does not have a great part in this scene either. He just seems to be there for the sake of watching Malvolio make a fool of himself.
In conclusion, I would say that this scene has a lot of comic potential and slapstick comedy, that when being directed needs to be brought out for it to achieve it’s full humour. But the dark comedy of the scene also has to be put across well so that the scene is fully understood.