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Act IV, Scene 2
The scene shifts back to the other subplot, that of Malvolio. Having locked Malvolio in a dark room, Maria and Toby pull a few more pranks before the whole scheme is revealed. Disguising himself as a minister, Feste is made to dress as "Sir Topas the Curate" by Maria and Sir Toby. He talks to Malvolio, outside the dark room in which Malvolio has been locked up and attempts to convince Malvolio that the room is not dark, but that the darkness is in Malvolio's mind, i.e. the darkness of ignorance. He also provides him with enough latin phrases and pedantry which bring to light the question of existence. All of Malvolio’s answers are used to drum up even more piercing questions which are meant to torment him. Malvolio, thinking that the minister will deliver him from the darkness, is instead being psychologically browbeaten by his own superciliousness. Feste then pretends that he has left and Sir Toby, afraid that they have carried the intrigue too far, wants to put an end to it and tells Feste to speak in his natural voice. But after Toby and Maria leave, Feste carries on the joke, pretending that there are two people rather than one in Malvolio’s cell.
The subplot related to the intrigue against Malvolio also reaches an end in this scene, which prepares the audience for the denouement. Malvolio has been severely punished for his conceited and pompous behavior, and has been given a lesson in humility. In the scene, there is a blend of humor and pathos, as one almost feels sorry for Malvolio, who is becoming mentally unhinged by the high jinx of Sir Toby. Feste now takes on a disguise in order to pay back Malvolio for his disparaging comments.
Feste's versatile nature is evident in his role as Sir Topas. So skillfully does he imitate a pseudo-intellectual curate who promises everything but delivers nothing that Malvolio is taken in by his acting. Rather than quell Malvolio’s fears, which is what a curate should be doing, Sir Topas exacerbates them by commenting inanely to Malvolio’s stricken thoughts and telling him that "There is no darkness but ignorance," revealing that it is Malvolio who is the real fool here since he had the temerity to think Olivia was in love with him. As with Maria and Sir Toby, it is a victory of sorts for Feste when Malvolio asks him for his help since Malvolio is now pleading to the very person he has derided.
However, Feste goes a step further by extracting money from Malvolio to help him. This is to pay Feste literally for the offenses Malvolio has committed against him. What would be called today punitive damages. Earlier the reader may have observed that Antonio demanded his purse from Viola (whom he mistook for Sebastian) after he was arrested by the Duke's men. Perhaps Shakespeare wishes to indicate that even in romantic settings there lurks the grimness of a murky reality.
Not only Malvolio but Sir Toby also undergoes a character change or a "sobering up" as Olivia's rebuke has resulted in his need to bring his jokes to an end. His easygoing attitude, boisterous behavior, and bawdy jokes are missing in this scene and he ends up fleeing with Maria who has suddenly become his "raison d’etre."