Shakespeare creates comedy for the audience in a variety of ways during Act 3 Scene 4 of Twelfth Night, some techniques more subtle than others. These comic devices generate humour throughout the play through, in the eyes of the Elizabethans, outrageous puns based on the high or low status of the characters, play on words, dramatic irony and many other means. Shakespeare uses such comic devices in many of his famous Comedies, such as ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’, ‘Measure for Measure’ and ‘As You Like It’.
Shakespearean comedies often include a mix of tragedy and humour, although this tragic side could be seen as a modern interpretation of Elizabethan humour, or perhaps just an attempt on Shakespeare’s part to experiment and blend together two contrasting genres of play. Either way, the mix of humour and tragedy is one of the factors that singles out Shakespeare’s work as original and timeless. All Shakespearean comedies have five acts, of which the climax is the third act. This is certainly true for Twelfth Night, because this is the act in which the main plot, the sub-plot, and all of the confusion, comes to a head.Order now
Shakespearean heroes are often only introduced in the very early stages of the play through the conversation of other characters. Their personalities are nearly always strong and full of virtue, but they are often flawed in some way or have a serious problem, such as the fact that Viola is caught up in her disguise, desperately in love with Orsino but made to woo another woman for him. The plot of the play features many comic twists as it follows the entangled lives of a few inhabitants of Illyria; particularly focusing on Viola and her brother, Sebastian, as they are shipwrecked and separated along the shore.
Viola, thinking her brother is dead, dresses as a man and takes the name Cesario to work for the love-sick Duke Orsino, who is constantly pining for the affection of the grieving Lady Olivia. Olivia, mourning the death of her brother, promptly falls in love with Cesario when ‘he’ comes to woo her for ‘his’ Lord, thus showing the fickleness of love. Obviously, Viola (or Cesario) does not desire Olivia’s love, but actually longs for Orsino. Meanwhile, it becomes known to the audience that Sebastian has been rescued by a sailor, Antonio.
Sebastian becomes involved in a duel Sir Toby, Olivia’s uncle, is encouraging Andrew, Olivia’s dogged suitor, to fight against Cesario for Olivia’s hand. Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario, and Sebastian falls in love with Olivia. The two are quickly married. Lastly, Orsino and Viola, along with Sir Toby and Maria, also decide to marry. Cleverly entwined within this main story line is a hilarious sub-plot featuring the servants and other members of Olivia’s household. Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s lady in waiting Maria, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, servant Fabian and the fool, Feste, together plot the humourous downfall of Malvolio.
Malvolio is the puritanical, sombre and serious steward, who interrupts the merry-making of the other member’s of the household early on in the play. Maria fakes a letter from her Lady, Olivia, informing Cesario that his mistress is deeply in love with him and desires him to “be opposite with a kinsmen, surly with servants”, let his “tongue tang with arguments of state”, and for him to dress “cross-gartered” with yellow stockings. Malvolio falls for the trick, and fulfils the letter’s suggestions.
Olivia consequently thinks him mad, which is encouraged by the subtle taunting of her household. Malvolio is locked up and tormented further by Feste, who pretends to be priest. At the end of the play, Malvolio vows on revenge. The plot and sub-plot of Twelfth Night have a huge amount of potential for comedy, and Shakespeare fulfils this potential spectacularly well, playing on the different roles of the intricate characters, and using all sorts of comic devices, to make the play the well loved and famous piece of literature, and performance, that it is.
There are few recurring themes that feature in most Shakespearean comedies, such as confusion over identity, family tensions and the struggles of love, particularly for young lovers. A lot of these themes play a large part in Twelfth Night. For example, in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays there is a particularly clever servant, who often outstrips their master or mistress in intellect and wit. Feste the fool is a prime of example of such a servant, as he often makes remarks that, although they are encrypted within a riddle or some kind of joke, make a lot of sense or question the intellect of his superiors.
This intelligence creates humour for the audience as it makes a mockery of the characters with the high status, as they are made out to be intellectually inferior to a fool. Bottom, of ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is another good example of a Shakespearean fool. One theme of ‘Twelfth Night’, and one that recurs in many of Shakespeare’s plays, is confusion and farce. It begins when Viola lands on an unknown shore, and promptly dresses as a man in order to find work in Duke Orsino’s palace.
From then on the various gaps in the knowledge of characters, such as the fact that Malvolio does not know Maria wrote the letter he found; the longing of Olivia for Cesario, who is in fact a woman; and the unknowing Sir Andrew, who does not realise that Sir Toby and Fabian mock him behind his back. All of this, plus the constant mood, and even, in Malvolio’s case, personality, changes of the characters convey a huge sense of confusion that helps heighten comedy. The chaos throughout Twelfth Night makes the play more entertaining and humourous for the audience.
Love is another main theme of Twelfth Night. Firstly, throughout the play many of the characters fall in love-sometimes even twice, such as Orsino’s initial desire for Olivia, then eventually his realisation of his love for Viola. Malvolio’s obvious obsession with Olivia and the love between Sir Toby and Maria illustrate love shown between high and low characters, creating a comic device within the theme. Olivia also demonstrates the fickleness of love as initially she is in mourning and deems herself unable to think about love when wooed by Orsino.
Yet moments later she decides that she in love with Cesario, and declares that “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better”, in a mood that contrasts her apparently solemn state of mind at the beginning of the play. Many of the comic devices used in Twelfth Night are also used in some of Shakespeare’s other plays. For example, in many ways one of the three plots found within ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ is similar to the plot involving Malvolio and the fake letter written by Maria. A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ follows the story of Bottom, a low character, who acts superior to his co-workers and is portrayed as very opinionated. Bottom is very similar to Malvolio in that the latter also aggravates his peers by acting superior, and so provokes them to play a trick on him. In this way ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is also similar to ‘Twelfth Night’ because Puck, a minion of the high characters in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – the king and queen of the fairies- turns Bottom’s head into that of an ass, in a scene that is similar to that of Twelfth Night’s Act 3 Scene 4..
This means that both Malvolio and Bottom have their appearance changed, and therefore create humour through a visual device, due to trickery; and both Malvolio and Bottom are oblivious to the mockery they are being subjected to as well as the reason for their ridicule. Both plays use high and low characters to generate humour, playing on the fact that in Shakespeare’s time it was unthought-of for people to act or rise above their set social rank.
The fact that many of Shakespeare’s plays feature characters that do just that effectively shocked the audience and also helped to create comedy. Dramatic irony also features in both ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. In the case of Bottom and his head of an ass, the audience knows what has happened to him in order to repel those he is working with away from him, yet the character himself has no idea what is causing his peer’s strange reaction. This is humourous for the audience as they are able to laugh at Bottom’s confusion as well as his appearance.
The same applies to Malvolio; in ‘Twelfth Night’, the audience know the letter Malvolio is taking orders from is actually faked by Maria, yet the character himself does not, so he continues to act upon the letter’s demands, successfully making a fool of himself and earning the title of a “possessed” mad-man. Again, this would create comedy. One comic device Shakespeare cleverly uses during Twelfth Night is love triangles. One good example of a love triangle is that, initially, Orsino loves Olivia, who in turn loves Cesario, who loves Orsino.
The climax of this intriguing situation arises in Act 3 Scene 4, in which Malvolio finds himself the butt of most of the jokes. At one point he declares that Maria is his “sweet lady,” and continually flirts with her. Olivia, on the other hand, becomes practically obsessive over her love for Cesario, calling him back to her time and again. Cesario, or Viola, in turn longs for Duke Orsino, whom she becomes very close to throughout the play. Duke Orsino is on love with Olivia- a point he makes very clear at the start of the play, where he declares “if music is the food of love, play on; give me excess of it. This tangle of emotions and lust causes great confusion and helps to generate humour, as the characters fall in love often with the “wrong” people- this confusion also lends itself to the title of the play, which is named after, traditionally, the twelfth day after Christmas- at which time, status and normal conventions would be overturned and chaos and confusion would reign. This was also often known as ‘The Feast of Fools’- particularly fitting because throughout the play the characters act like fools, or as if they were partaking in this confusing celebration, despite the fact that the play is not actually set on Twelfth Night.
Confusion is in fact one of the main themes of the play. The fact that Olivia, an esteemed lady, falls in love with Cesario, a young page, is deemed bad enough in the opinion of an Elizabethan audience. But the added fact that Cesario is, in fact, Viola dressed as a man causes great hilarity and confusion. I would think of Twelfth Night as a complex love “web”, where a majority of character are in some way romantically involved with another. This would contribute to the comedy and confusion throughout.
The fact that Malvolio is in love with Olivia, who in turn is in love with Cesario, and calls her a “sweet lady” is humourous, especially from the point of view of an Elizabethan audience. The love triangles would have been particularly shocking, and therefore funny, for the audience during Shakespeare’s time period because the concept of Malvolio, the servant, being in love with Olivia, the lady, would have been seen as ridiculous and unconventional- this links into the humour behind high and low characters.
The fact that at the end of the play, everything comes together and the main, central cast of the play all become happily married to each other also creates humour. This is because it is ridiculous to think that everything would be resolved so happily. This ties in with the fact that throughout Twelfth Night many unlikely co-incidents occur, making the play amusing simply because it is so unlikely to happen. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses word play to generate humour for the audience.
Often this word play is on a basic level, intended to be understood and appreciated by even the less intelligent members of the Elizabethan audience, although there are more complex examples found in various parts of the play. One example of this can be found in Act 3 Scene 4, when Maria states that she hopes Malvolio “be not bewitched”. This is a play on words because on one hand it could be taken that she hopes Malvolio is not under the influence of witchcraft, but another interpretation of her words is that she could be implying that she hopes he is not ‘under the spell of love’ and so “bewitched” by Olivia.
In my opinion, this play on words would generate even more humour, simply because it is known by the audience that Maria encouraged Malvolio’s obsession with Olivia by writing the letter, and so her statement implying that she hopes he isn’t in love with her is clearly false- in fact, she is gaining fun and enjoyment out of his antics, and probably only said this to appear innocent and concerned to Olivia. By suggesting the idea that Malvolio is “sure possessed”, she introduces an explanation for his madness other than the true cause.
On top of this, in Act 3 Scene 4, Malvolio takes Olivia’s encouragement for him to “go to bed” as an invitation for him to sleep with her, instead of her intended meaning- that he needs to go to bed because he is obviously ill. He replies, calling her “sweetheart” and reassuring her that he will “come to thee”. This creates comedy because once again Malvolio is acting too bold and outright for what is expected of his relatively low rank, and also because the bawdy play on words creates comedy on a basic level.
It is obvious to the audience that Olivia does not intend her words to be read in this way, as being a beautiful young lady she would never consider him, and, furthermore, she is in the process of pursuing Cesario’s love. The fact that Malvolio’s lust causes him to read her words in this way is comical in itself, because his natural and previous personality in the play is serious, sombre, and far removed from lust or any behaviour of that sort.
This ties in with the fact that throughout Twelfth Night bawdy and black humour is used in order to appeal to those members of the audience who may not understand the more subtle or complicated comic devices. In Act 3 Scene 4, the jokes used by Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian to mock Malvolio after Olivia has left the scene could be deemed as cruel, and quite different from the simple desire to see the steward humiliated. In my opinion, this part of the play does involve black humour, because effectively the audience are laughing at Malvolio being bullied and wrongly labelled as being possessed by the devil- not at all a light-hearted accusation.
When Sir Toby says that “tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan” he is implying that Malvolio is playing games with the devil. This goes beyond simple teasing and could be seen as black humour, and so is amusing for the audience. I personally feel that the fact that Sir Toby and the servants are accusing Malvolio of being possessed by the devil particularly ironic and so amusing because it is a known fact in the play that Malvolio is a puritanical, very stark man who condemned such “evils” as merriment and drinking.
It would seem hilarious to the audience that such a man would be accused of committing as wrong a deed as “playing games” with the devil. Later the pure malice Sir Toby is demonstrating returns when he suggests Malvolio is put “in a dark room and bound”. He suggests this in order to get more pleasure out of mocking Malvolio, not simply to embarrass him. This shows a darker side of the light-hearted prank that Maria, Sir Toby and their companions set up. Bawdy humour is obviously present throughout Twelfth Night and in Act 3 Scene 4 in particular.
Firstly there is he aforementioned exampled of Malvolio taking Olivia’s words as an invitation for him to sleep with her. Also earlier in the play Sir Toby uses the word “accost”, meaning to pay a compliment, a lot when talking about flirting with Maria. He says to Sir Andrew “Accost is front her, board her, woo her, assail her. ” The visual comedy in Twelfth Night plays a large part as a lot of the statements made by the characters are not brilliantly humourous until they are paired with actions and costume.
One of the main comic scenes occurs in Act 3 Scene 4 where Malvolio dons a strange costume whilst fulfilling the demands of the fake letter. Proof of this is found when Malvolio says that “this cross gartering” causes “some obstruction in the blood”. There is also a pun when he states that he is “not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs”, meaning he is not sad, or in a black mood, but his legs are yellow.
The image of the stark, puritanical Malvolio dressed in such a gaudy outfit is hilarious, especially when paired with the fact that his actions and words are full of “ridiculous boldness”, which is in stark contrast to his true, or original, character. Visual comedy, which is a form of comic prop, provide humour that is easy to understand- the fact that Malvolio is dressed in yellow stockings whilst talking suggestively to Olivia is slapstick humour that can be understood by anyone in the audience.
In this particular scene, Shakespeare makes the most of the visual comedy by building up the suspense leading to the scene in order to make it even funnier. For a start, in Act 2 Scene 5, Malvolio reads aloud the letter for the first time, and the audience begin to greatly anticipate the scene in which he will fulfil the letter’s command to “see thee cross-gartered”. Furthermore, at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 4 Maria states that Malvolio is “sure possessed”; although at the time he is not on stage. This builds the suspense further, heightening the comedy when Malvolio does eventually appear, clad in his strange and laugh-provoking costume.
The fake letter, written by Maria, is another comic prop, essential to the central comic scenes of the play. Act 3 Scene 4 shows the consequent comedy of the letter through Malvolio’s strange “midsummer madness,” as he fulfils the demands of Maria, writing as though she were Olivia. The scene in which the letter is introduced to the audience sets up the dramatic irony for Act 3 Scene 4, meaning the audience know exactly what is happening, whereas Malvolio does not, allowing the audience to appreciate the comedic value of the scene.
The letter is a major comic prop as it essentially provides the main source of humour at the climax of the play. Another comic prop found in Twelfth Night, and particularly in Act 3 Scene 4, are the yellow stockings that Malvolio wears. These primarily generate humour when he claims that Olivia herself “commended thy yellow stockings” in her letter. Her shocked response “Thy yellow stockings? ” causes comedy, for the audience can laugh not only at Malvolio’s appearance but at Olivia’s confusion as well.
Additionally, the role of the fool during Twelfth Night plays a large part in conveying humour. Feste often comments on the actions and words of the other characters in a comic way, acting almost as a narrator at times. The fool would have been a familiar character for many noble families in the audience as they were very much a part of royal or privileged life during the Shakespearian period, and in my opinion this would help these people to relate slightly more to events in the play and make the ludicrous confusion of Twelfth Night seem slightly more probable.
Feste himself is accepted fully during the play by both the high and the low characters- one moment he is conversing with Olivia about whether or not he is a good fool and whether she is right to mourn for her brother; the next he is partaking in celebrations with Maria, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby. This means Feste is clever link created by Shakespeare that connects the two ‘ranks’ in Twelfth Night- he is able to move between the two different groups, commenting on them, and is also able to gain the full picture of the plot.
This is helpful for Shakespeare for it means that Feste effectively knows a lot of the same information that the audience knows, and so can act as a commentator on events, or a narrator, as mentioned above. I have come to think that the impression that Feste is a comic narrator is enhanced by the fact that in Act 5 Scene 1 – the last scene of the play- he has the final speaking part, singing a song that finishes with the words “But that’s all one, our play is done, And we’ll strive to please you every day”.
The fact that he possesses the last speaking part gives the impression he is closing the story, as often the narrator does, and this is backed up by the fact that he says “our play is done” – this could be seen as referring to the play Twelfth Night itself, and so to the audience. Shakespeare cleverly takes advantage of the fact that Feste is an allowed fool- someone allowed not only to tell jokes and entertain, but also to criticize their master or mistress as well- by introducing alternative views on events through him.
One example of this is when he tells Olivia that she is a fool “to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven”. By speaking out so boldly about such issues the fool often creates humour through outright mockery of the other people in the play in a way that no other character would feasibly be able to do without good reason. Feste is often made out to be wiser than his ‘superiors’, and once again this challenges the strict rank system by suggesting that he is in fact cleverer than those characters who are supposedly ‘higher’ that him. This creates comedy, through shock for the audience, and again mockery of the high characters.
Although Feste is the official fool throughout the course of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare cleverly uses Fabian during Act 3 Scene 4 when Feste does not feature. Fabian takes on the role of fool when mocking Sir Andrews challenge to Cesario for Olivia’s hand in marriage. Whilst Sir Toby reads aloud Andrew’s challenge, Fabian makes sarcastic and humourous comments, primarily directed towards the audience. He begins by mocking Sir Andrew as he enters by proclaiming “More matter for a May morning! ” This sets the tone as it shows Fabian thinks Sir Andrew slightly mad and obviously doesn’t take him seriously.
He then goes on to comment that a part of the challenge is “very brief, and to exceedingly good sense -less. ” The fact that Fabian utters the last part as an aside, directed solely at the audience and not at any of the other characters, makes Fabian seem more likeable to the audience and gets them involved in the play. His mocking tone at this point would also have generated great humour, especially as this part involves a kind of dramatic irony- where the audience laugh with Fabian at the unknowing Sir Andrew. This mockery is part of a sub-plot deeper than that of Malvolio and Maria’s letter, involving Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.
Sir Toby is actually manipulating Sir Andrew by hoping that if he helps him to marry Olivia, Sir Andrew will transfer a lot of his wealth to his new bride, and in turn Olivia would give Sir Toby some of the money. Sir Toby provides a glimpse of his intentions early on when talking to Maria about Sir Andrew- he states that Aguecheek “has three thousand ducats a year” and “he’s a fool. ” However, Sir Andrew is actually not as wealthy as he seems due to Sir Toby leeching money out of him, and so if he was to marry Olivia it would be unlikely that Toby would receive any huge bonus.
So for this reason the joke is on Sir Toby, although he doesn’t know it. This is also an example of dramatic irony, because the audience get the whole picture, whereas Sir Toby doesn’t and thinks he is the one in control. This creates humour as the audience is able to laugh at both Sir Andrew, as he is manipulated by Sir Toby, and Sir Toby himself, as in the end all his hard work would have been for nothing. This also adds to the effect that Sir Toby is, in a certain sense, a fool, for it makes him out to be unaware of the situation, assuming and therefore foolish.
However, the fact that Sir Toby not only attempts to deceive Sir Andrew but plays many pranks throughout Twelfth Night, and contributes to the main trick played on Malvolio that culminates in Act 3 Scene 4, depicts him as a different sort of fool- similar in many ways to Feste. One example of such a prank, similar to that in which Malvolio was branded as possessed in the first place, is when he takes part in the plot to dress Feste as Sit Topaz and further taunt the blindfolded Steward.
The fact that Fabian and Toby encourage Sir Andrew to fight Cesario is very amusing because they know very well that Sir Andrew is a cowardly man, and not a fighter. Therefore the prospect of him challenging another “man” for a fight is ridiculous, and an opportunity for entertainment, not only for the audience, but for the mischief-makers of Twelfth Night as well. What makes this even more interesting is that Cesario is actually girl- the audience are able to appreciate the full extent of Sir Andrew’s cowardice; especially during Shakespeare’s era, because obviously at that stage women were not expected to fight and were regarded as weaker.
This would have made Sir Andrew look even sillier. Dramatic irony itself plays a large part in heightening the comedy in Twelfth Night. Because the audience obviously get a much fuller picture of the overall situation, in some scenes they have superior knowledge of the situation than the characters, enabling them to laugh at certain passages knowing that the thoughts, words and actions of the characters are based on wrong assumptions. In essence, the characters themselves are ignorant of their own fate, whereas the audience are able to gain humour from knowing roughly where the play is heading.
On top of this, the audience sometimes know what a certain character is talking about when others in the scene are unable to fully understand. One such situation arises in Act 3 Scene 4 when Malvolio refers to the handwriting in the letter he received by stating “I think we do know the sweet Roman hand. ” Olivia meets this statement with utter confusion, as she knows nothing of the letter; yet the audience know exactly what Malvolio means, and are able to take humour from not only Malvolio’s hopeless and cringe worthy situation, but also from the confusion of Olivia.
The fact that Malvolio says that “we” know the “sweet Roman hand” could be seen as a reference to the audience in that he is including them in his speech as proof. This further involves the audience in the mayhem of the play. Another example of dramatic irony is when Maria calls for Malvolio, reasoning that “he is sad and civil”, and so suited to her mood. However, the audience know very well that because of the letter Malvolio will in fact be, hilariously, the very opposite of what his Mistress expects.
This creates the anticipation of humour to come, as well as comedy at the fact that Olivia is ignorant of what is about to happen. The concept of high and low characters is used a tremendous amount by Shakespeare during Twelfth Night. The theme of confusion is carried on through this comic device because often characters with low status act above their rank, or higher characters lower themselves. This heightens the comedy because in the Elizabethan era status was very important; it was unseemly for someone with a low status to act above their rank and vice versa.
It was also incredibly difficult and rare for anyone to move between different ranks, which makes the constant switching of rank of various characters in Twelfth Night shocking, and humourous. One example of Malvolio getting above his rank is when he responds to Maria with the statement “Yes, nightingales answer daws! ” This implies that at this point he sees himself as far superior to Maria, when in fact they are nearer equals. The fact that he sees himself as a nightingale talking to a common daw is humourous because he is so pompous and has a very high opinion of himself simply because of the letter he has received from ‘Olivia’.
In my opinion, it also heightens comedy because Malvolio is comparing himself to a bird of great stature that possesses a joyous, beautiful voice, which does not reflect Malvolio’s true, sombre, stark and serious personality. Throughout Twelfth Night, Sir Toby lowers himself to the level of the servants, even though he is in fact of a higher status. This apparent switch of status comes about through his drunken antic with Maria, Fabian, Feste and Sir Andrew. The fact that he acts in an almost immature way presents to the audience a contrast to how high characters are supposed to act, heightening the humour.
Sir Toby’s switch in status culminates when he marries the lady-in-waiting, Maria. At one point in the play he tries to justify this by stating that Maria is “a beagle, true bred. ” In Elizabethan times this shifting of ranks would have been very unusual, and for a person with a higher rank to marry one with a low rank was socially unacceptable. The fact that Sir Toby takes part in the mockery of Malvolio in Act 3 Scene 4 when he pretends that he thinks Malvolio is possessed by saying “what, man, defy the devil! “.
This lowers him once more to the lower level of the servants because he is joining them in the almost immature and cruel teasing of Malvolio. Once again this would create humour. I have come to the conclusion that throughout Twelfth Night, Shakespeare tries to make the point that in actual fact servants are often cleverer and more deserving of rank than their mistresses and masters. This is shown through the fact that at the start of the play, the ranks are stereotypically ‘correct’, yet as the play progresses, the ranks switch and merge.
Often characters with lower ranks outwit their superiors, such as Feste and his witty exchange with Olivia and Malvolio. This undoubtedly generates comedy, because it is shocking and so humourous for the audience. Shakespeare uses Malvolio’s soliloquy to create humour during Act 3 Scene 4 of Twelfth Night. The audience would find hilarious the way in which, throughout his love-stuck speech to himself and, unknowingly, the audience, Malvolio twists Olivia’s words in order to suit his desires.
Malvolio states that “when she went away” she said “‘let this fellow be looked to’- ‘fellow! ‘” He implies that this means that because she called him “fellow” and not Malvolio, like a Mistress would normal call a servant- by their name, it must mean she is attracted to him. This is amusing because Malvolio has twisted and exaggerated one loose word from Olivia’s mouth in order to assure himself that she likes him. Malvolio feels after his exchange with Olivia that he has “limed her”; meaning he feels that he has caught her in his “net” and that she now adores him.
Statements like this create comedy because the audience know they aren’t true, again bringing into the play the device of dramatic irony. It is ironic that he later says that “everything adheres together” and that “nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes”, because again this is entirely wrong- in actually fact, it is only his way of thinking that makes everything seem to “adhere together. ” Once again, Malvolio’s utter hopelessness and the fact that he is totally oblivious to how wrong he is would invoke laughter, as well as perhaps sympathy.
Malvolio’s soliloquy provides a perfect opportunity for Shakespeare to underline and elaborate the fact that Malvolio is so obsessed with Olivia that he refuses to face the fact that she doesn’t like him. The letter had a part to play in this as it convinced him that his love was requited. On top of this, the very image of Malvolio standing alone, wearing such ridiculous clothing and ranting wildly about how obvious it was that Olivia loved him, would be very amusing on its own- another example of visual comedy.
In conclusion, Shakespeare uses many different comic devices throughout Act 3 Scene 4 and the whole of Twelfth Night- a lot of which can be identified in other Shakespearean comedies. After reading through the text, I have come to the conclusion that the use of comic props and the role of the fool are the most effective, and two of the most important, comic devices used throughout the play, especially in Act 3 Scene 4.
The letter faked by Maria is essential to a lot of the humour in the scene, and sets up perfectly the dramatic irony of Malvolio’s belief that Olivia loves him. I feel that the letter is a prop that acts as a cornerstone for the sub plot- a central comic device that culminates in the hilarity and chaos of Malvolio’s dressing “cross gartered”, whilst flirting outrageously with the shocked and confused Olivia. The role of the fool is also a vital comic device because