In Twelfth Night Shakespeare has used many different conventions of comedy. He used love at first sight, cross dressing and a love triangle in which Cesario (who is a female dressed as a man) falls in love with Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who in a bizarre twist to the story falls in love with Cesario (who she believes to be male). Mistaken identity is also used when Cesario’s brother Sebastian turns up and Olivia mistakes him for Cesario.
Most of the play’s humour however, revolves around the drunken antics of the two aristocrats, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and the trick they play on Malvolio, with the help of the servant Maria. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby also create humour when they have a drunken sword fight with Cesario. Shakespeare uses witty jokes to make fun of Malvolio, a hypocritical puritan, and lets the audience eavesdrop on him talking to himself to increase hatred for him and increase the suspense of seeing him tricked.
Finally, a Happy Ending is used where couples are paired off into relationships; Orsino and Cesario, Sebastian and Olivia and Sir Toby and Maria, which is typical for a Shakespeare comedy. Situational comedy is produced in Act II Scene III when Malvolio is pompous and rude to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, who are in fact of higher class than him, “Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? , this would make the audience feel that Malvolio is self important and is likely to make them feel dislike for him. Outraged by Malvolio’s behaviour another servant, Maria, decides to trick Malvolio into thinking that Olivia is in love with him by sending him a letter, telling him to smile more and wear yellow stockings cross gartered to impress her, to teach him not to be so self-important and arrogant.
This creates tension in the audience as Malvolio is already hated for being a Puritan. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony, where the audience and the people playing the trick know what is happening but Malvolio does not, “I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me” and the fact that he thinks that the letter is genuine creates humour and helps the audience to get involved in the practical joke and see his humiliation.
Shakespeare also uses farcical comedy to create humour and tension; the stage arrangement means that the audience can hear the letter’s conspirators struggling to restrain each other as the conceited Malvolio reads aloud the letter, but he cannot, even though he is closer to them than the audience is, which is absurd as he would be more likely to hear them than the audience would.
This creates tension in the audience because they are now looking forward to watching Malvolio learn his lesson and humour as it makes Malvolio look dim-witted for not hearing them. The Character based comedy, however, is produced partly by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s drunken antics and foolishness, “for many do call me a fool” and how close they are to ruining the joke by constantly cursing Malvolio loudly after everything he says, “Marry, hang thee, brock”, which makes the audience tense as they do not want the conspirator’s plan to fall through.
Malvolio also creates a lot of character based humour by talking to himself and revealing how vain he actually is by announcing his own attractiveness, “should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion” and how he has always wanted to win Olivia’s affections, especially to be able to boss the likes of Sir Toby around more, “Cousin Toby, my fortunes, having cast me your niece, give me this prerogative of speech” and “To be Count Malvolio” this makes the audience laugh at his stupidity and arrogance and shows him to be even more overconfident and boastful than they first thought, which increases the humour of the practical joke that he will later fall for and the tension of wanting to see the humiliation happen.
In addition, satirical humour – which is the use of humour to mock corruption and vice – is used largely in Act II Scene V. Shakespeare casts Malvolio to be a Puritan, a group that were hated at the beginning of the seventeenth century, as they were predominantly known for being killjoys and severely religious, which further increases the audiences desire to see him shown up.
However, Malvolio is not only a Puritan but he is also hypocritical; as Puritans are supposed to live simply without extravagance and ambition, but he secretly wants power, “Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown; having come from a day-bed, where I have left Olivia sleeping”, this increases hatred for him. Furthermore, Sirs Toby and Andrew are used to satirise the so called upper-class by being drunken and rebellious. The use of language adds greatly to the humour as Shakespeare creates a rude joke, through Malvolio, which the audience would find amusing. “These be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s; and thus makes she her great P’s”, this refers to sexual and bodily functions, which the audience would find rude and comical.
This joke is also a use of dramatic irony as the audience see the significance of the joke but Malvolio does not. Shakespeare also makes Malvolio seem like an animal about to be trapped, “Now is the woodcock near the gin”, this reminds the audience of the fact he is being tricked. Ironically Malvolio believes he is the one doing the trapping – of Olivia – when in actual fact he is the one being trapped metaphorically. Malvolio is also made to look pitiable by this reference to him being ‘prey’ and compared to an animal, “And with what wing the staniel checks at it” this makes him look pathetic and even more unlikeable which helps the audience to find the humiliation funnier and not feel sorry for him.
Comedy of Appearance is created when Malvolio falls for the trick being played on him and agrees to do what the letter tells him, “I will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings and cross-gartered” this increases the suspense of wanting to see how foolish he will look later on in the play. To show the audience exactly how much of a fool Malvolio is going to look when he approaches Olivia, Maria tells Sir Andrew, Sir Toby and Fabian, “he will come to her in yellow stockings, and ’tis a colour she abhors; and cross gartered, a fashion she detests; and he will smile upon her, which will now be so unsuitable to her disposition, being addicted to a melancholy as she is” this shows the extent to which Malvolio has been fooled and makes the audience think that the ending is going to be more exciting than first thought and the prospect of Malvolio coming on stage wearing yellow stockings would be comical.
Shakespeare has managed to use every convention of comedy in Act II; situational comedy is created in Scene III and in the trick in Scene V. Satire is used to mock Puritanism and the upper-class and comedy of character is created in both Malvolio and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Farce is created by the stage arrangement and the use of language creates humour in the form of a rude joke and in Maria’s speech to remind the audience of Malvolio’s pending humiliation. Finally Malvolio’s concession to wear yellow stockings cross-gartered creates comedy of appearance. Because of all these types of comedy in one scene, Act II Scene V becomes a key part of the play.