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MonkeyNotes-Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
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Notes

Olivia, Malvolio and Feste are all introduced in this scene. Olivia has been heard about for quite some time so the audience has already pictured her as beautiful and fair. Yet in person she is also intelligent, dignified, and poised. She is clearly in command of her house as when she commands Feste to restrict himself from joking, yet she is also flexible and enjoys a good laugh despite her mourning. Her ability to let Feste poke fun at her mourning reveals that she is good-natured and not too serious about herself. In fact, it may be inferred that Feste has discovered her ruse; her extreme mourning may be nothing more than calling attention to herself.

It is clear she has no interest in the Duke and even implies that he is shallow and does not have the capacity to love deeply. Although bound by her vow of solitude, she is not exactly alone. She deals with the many characters who form part of her household, in a kind, yet firm manner. Two such characters are Malvolio and Feste, who are very different in attitude and personality. The jester tries to make her realize the folly of her vow, while Malvolio flatters and reinforces this grave side of her. He also is intolerant of the jester and Sir Toby’s behavior and remonstrates them. Malvolio is a grim, humorless person who typifies the attitude of Puritans to whom life is all seriousness and no joy.


Olivia's defense of Feste reveals that she does not agree with Malvolio’s attitude and that she also has a compassionate side. Although she rules the roost, she treats her household with respect regardless of their social status. She is also brutally honest as when she says to Malvolio, "O, you are sick of self-love and taste with a distempered appetite." While revealing Malvolio’s capacity for conceit and scorn for others who may be below him on a social scale, she touches on a main theme of the play, how self- delusion reveals a darker side of people. Malvolio, although only a steward, is not only self-righteous, but he is extremely malevolent towards those who are below him in social rank such as Feste and Maria.

The meeting between Viola\Cesario and Olivia is of dramatic importance. It is only when she hears Malvolio describe Viola to her that she allows him to come in. She then puts up a pretense of mourning, using the veil over her head, thereby adding mystery and allure to herself. However, as the scene continues, she moves from curiosity about the Duke's messenger to admiration, and by the end of the scene she has developed her own method of seduction: getting Viola to return to her by returning a nonexistent ring. Her falling in love with Viola\Cesario completes the love triangle, which has become extremely complicated. Viola now becomes the focal character of the main plot as she moves back and forth between the Duke's court, and Olivia's house carrying messages on behalf of the Duke. She literally becomes the bearer of knowledge, as she is the only one to understand the magnitude of the present circumstance. However, being a virtuous person, she remains true to the Duke and her job, willingly putting aside self-interest to plead the Duke's case with Olivia.

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