The Garden Scene is one of the most important scenes in the development of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, whenever the play is presented, but different directors may choose to portray the scene in different ways.
The scene does not directly affect the main plot of the play, but is very significant in the primary sub-plot. Malvolio, the conceited steward of Olivia, is conned by Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch and Maria, Olivia’s lady in waiting. A letter is written by Maria and left for Malvolio to find, suggesting that Olivia loves him. In this scene, Malvolio finds and reads the letter, secretly observed by Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Fabian.Order now
This scene could be regarded as one of the most comic scenes of the play; the audience is shown Malvolio overcome with happiness at the idea of Olivia’s love, and the other characters views of his reaction. However, it becomes obvious that Malvolio has other reasons for wanting to marry Olivia. A marriage to her would significantly increase his social status ‘to be Count Malvolio.’
Malvolio’s delight with the letter was shown very clearly in the stage production. The actor playing Malvolio was skipping around the stage, shouting his emotions ‘I do not fool myself’… ‘My lady loves me’. This is a distinct contrast with the beginning of the scene, when Malvolio is quietly imagining being married to Olivia, and being ‘Count Orsino.’ He would ‘ask for Sir Toby’ … ‘extend my hand to him’ and say ‘Cousin Toby… You must amend your drunkenness’. Toby is extraordinarily angry with Malvolio’s pomposity, ‘O for a stone bow to hit him in the eye.’
There is a marked change in the character of Malvolio in this scene; before he finds the letter his is dull and very puritanical, but he finally believes that Olivia loves him; and becomes happy, smiling, even more helplessly in love, and later ‘yellow-stockinged’.
However, it is not just Malvolio’s character that changes in the scene. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew both learn how much Malvolio yearns to be socially above them, and although they suspected it, it has never been clearly displayed on stage. Maria shows her intelligence, both in the ability to form the plot, and the well-written letter, which is convincing enough for the gullible Malvolio to believe it is from Olivia.
Sir Toby and Sir Andrew both show that they are amused by a situation that is not drunken or slapstick, which shows the depth of their characters – they can be amused by a deeper plot, and foresee the comedy that will arise later in the play.
Fabian is a minor character in the play, but in the scene, he shows his intelligence, his character, his sense of humour, and his friendship with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. This is essential for the later scene in the play, in which Fabian and Sir Toby are attempting to start a fight between Viola (disguised as Cesario) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
The garden scene fits in well with one of the major themes of the play. Viola loves Orsino, Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Viola (who she thinks is Cesario.) Malvolio’s love for Olivia is yet another impossible and unfulfilled love.
The scene is also influential in developing the mood and atmosphere. Act 2 scene 4, which immediately precedes this scene, is set at the court of Orsino. Orsino is explaining his love of Olivia, to Viola, who he also believes is Cesario. However, it is clear that he is attracted to Viola, but cannot understand this, as he believes Viola is a male. Although this scene is amusing, it does not provoke the sense of comedy and anticipation apparent is scene 5. Scene 5 is required to ‘lift’ the mood, and keep the audience amused, especially if they are having difficulty in comprehending the primary plot.
The sense of comedy was added to in the added to, in the Globe production, by a very surreal prop. The hedge from which Malvolio is secretly observed was very mobile, and moved around the stage, almost as a separate character, containing three other characters. This amused the audience, and alterations were made to the original text to emphasise the comedy. One example of this was the addition of a pear. Initially, Malvolio has the pear, he takes a bite of it, and, on seeing the letter, lays it on a bench. When the bush moves to the bench, Fabian reaches out, takes a bite of the pear and returns it to the bench.
In the Globe theatre production, the Garden Scene immediately preceded the interval, and the audience had an amusing scene to discuss or think about during the break. The trap has been set, and the audience is soon to see ‘the fruits of thy sport.’
As with most of Shakespeare’s plays, much of the content (and especially the humour) was based around contemporary and topical events, and this is evident in the garden scene. In line 36, Malvolio remarks that ‘The Lady of the Stracy married the yeoman of the wardrobe’. This is not understood by the modern audience, but it may have had topical significance. William Stacy was a shareholder in another local theatre, and David Yeomans was a wardrobe keeper at the same theatre.
When examining the play it is important to realise that Malvolio is a distinct caricature of Sir William Knollys. He was the ‘controller of her majesty’s household’, one of Elizabeth I’s most superior servants. Being such a well-known figure made Knollys an easy target for satire, and much of the Shakespearian audiences would have recognised the parody.
A significant omission from this scene is Feste, a jester who to both Olivia and Orsino. In Act2 Scene3, when the plan is first formulated. Maria tells Sir Toby and Sir Andrew that they will both watch Malvolio find the letter ‘and the fool will make a third.’ However, Feste is not present, and Fabian has taken his place. There is no reason given for Feste’s absence, but I feel that his presence may have actually made the scene less amusing. His amusing and wry comments may have overpowered the observations of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, and he would have become a very influential character in this scene, which I assume Shakespeare was trying to avoid. This part of the plot remains primarily based around Maria and the two knights.