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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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Act I, Scene 3

This scene takes place at Olivia's house where Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle, complains that Olivia is overdoing it in her response to her brother’s death. Meanwhile, Maria, Olivia’s lady in waiting, reprimands him for his unbecoming behavior and excessive drinking late into the night. She also complains about Sir Toby's friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheck whom she refers to as "a foolish knight" who is staying at Olivia's house in the hope that she will accept his proposal of marriage. The play of words in the conversation between Sir Toby and Maria upsets Sir Andrew who is too obtuse to understand what is being said. After Maria leaves, Sir Andrew confesses that he is dejected about Olivia’s lack of interest and has decided to go back home. Sir Toby persuades him to stay, and the scene ends with both of them half-drunk and Sir Andrew pretending to dance.


Notes

The primary purpose of this scene is to introduce the reader to some of the characters of the minor theme or the subplot or from the romantic world of the nobles to the comic and bawdy world of Sir Toby Belch, Maria, and others. While the main plot functions on an elevated level of romance and courtly refinement, the subplot evokes a more 'earthy' humor often bordering on cruel tone. Its humor is less about the play on language and gender and more about situation and character. Sir Toby Belch is Olivia's uncle and guardian yet he does not have the good manners or grace that a knight should confer. His name, a pun on his habits, reveals his fondness for drink and other nightly pleasures. Sir Toby is in many ways like another Shakespearean knight, Sir John Falstaff. Yet where Falstaff is wittier and good-hearted, Toby reveals a manipulative underside. He panders to Andrew Aguecheek in order to live off his largesse and finance his drinking habit. Therefore, Toby has no qualms about encouraging Sir Andrew to pursue Olivia with a proposal of marriage. In fact, the longer Sir Andrew stays, the more money Sir Toby can milk from him.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek is foolish, easily influenced by others, and thinks highly enough of himself to think he is worthy to be Olivia’s suitor. In a word, Sir Andrew is a dolt and much fun is made of him by the other characters although he is often too obtuse and slow-witted to realize it. Sir Andrew's foolishness is contrasted with Maria's quick-wittedness and sarcasm, which match her dry humor. She is a favorite character type of Shakespeare’s: the firebrand maid or servant who can match wits with anyone and who shows herself to be smarter than others above her class. She and Feste, the soon to be introduced jester, both prevail at puns and witticisms. In this scene, it is Toby and Maria who make fun of Sir Andrew without his knowing it. He interprets their comments too literally and ends up looking like a buffoon.

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