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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Sir Toby
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2268  Tuesday, 2 October 2001

[1]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Oct 2001 12:59:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Oct 2001 12:32:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Oct 2001 14:22:19 -0400
        Subj:   Sir Toby

[4]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Oct 2001 20:31:32 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

[5]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Oct 2001 02:59:09 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

[6]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Oct 2001 19:12:22 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Oct 2001 12:59:25 -0400
Subject: 12.2253 Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

Eduardo del Rio asked:

>Am I mistaken in my reading of Twelfth Night that Sir Toby and Maria are
> rom different socio-economic levels?

This is probably, but not certainly true. Maria is described as Olivia's
"gentlewoman"--she might be a poor relation of the family, just as Sir
Toby is.

>If they are, how do they wind up
> together at the end of the play without much (if any) viable
> explanation?

Sir Toby is not a particularly respectable person, so even if he did
engage in a misalliance, this would not be the worst of his offenses
against convention.

Dana Shilling

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Oct 2001 12:32:32 -0500
Subject: 12.2253 Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

Opinions vary on Sir Toby and Maria but since mine is (obviously)
correct, I will offer it. Sir Toby is a landless knight, a gentleman by
birth but completely dependent on his niece for a comfortable existence.
You should put him toward the lower end of the upper class.

Maria is a waiting gentlewoman and companion to the orphaned Countess
Olivia. Her background is never told, but she is evidently also of that
impoverished lower fringe of the upper class, a degree or two lower than
Sir Toby but not really of a different order.

Confusion often arises because in 1, 3 Sir Toby deliberately misleads
Sir Andrew into thinking that Maria is his "niece's chambermaid," and
thus fair game for any gentleman-seducer. Maria takes up the hint and
begins acting like a pert and flirty serving girl, even putting his hand
right on her breast ("butt'ry bar"). But Sir A is such a goop he can't
even pick up a maid who would clearly hop out of her clothes at the
merest jingle of a few gold piece. (Actually she wouldn't, but that's
how Maria plays the part before putting Sir A in his place and mincing
away.)

On the other hand, while socially there is nothing bizarre about the
match, economically there could be some problems. Both are completely
dependent on the countess for leading a genteel existence. Once she
marries Sebastian, there is no need to have Sir Toby on the premises to
have a "man around the house," and she might follow through on threats
to dismiss him. (As Malvolio threatens in 2, 3, and Sir Toby worries
about in 4, 2.) She could even more easily get rid of Maria who is not
"consanguineous" -- except that Sir Toby marries her, making her such.

If Olivia and her new husband were to be unforgiving, Sir Toby and Lady
Maria Belch could find themselves in considerable trouble. I prefer to
assume (because I'm extravagantly fond of both those scapegraces) that
Olivia and Sebastian kept them on, if for no other reason than they were
fun to have there, but counting on Maria to keep Sir Toby's drinking
from becoming too noisy.

And since WS never wrote the rest of the story, I'm perfectly free to
imagine what I please,

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Oct 2001 14:22:19 -0400
Subject:        Sir Toby

Eduardo del Rio asks,

"Am I mistaken in my reading of Twelfth Night that Sir Toby and Maria
are from different socio-economic levels? If they are, how do they wind
up together at the end of the play without much (if any) viable
explanation?

The explanation is implicit in the dramatic action, I think. Like
Malvolio, Maria is a social climber, and her plot against him clears the
way for her own "rise." When she so completely "baffles" Malvolio, she
wins the heart of Sir Toby and, perhaps more important, "earns" her new
status as kinsman (by marriage) to Olivia.

It's worth noting that Maria shares Malvolio's ambitions but is more
clever about achieving them.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Oct 2001 20:31:32 EDT
Subject: 12.2253 Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

Eduardo del Rio asks whether Sir Toby and Maria are from different
socio-economic levels, so that there might be something inappropriate in
their marriage-a reasonable question, especially given the swift and
secretive way the marriage is performed, and the fact that Malvolio's
squelched aspiration to the hand of his mistress arouses Toby's anger
and foregrounds the issues.  The play itself does not speak directly to
Mr. del Rio's query.  What we know is that Sir Toby appears to be a
parasitical dependent of his niece, Olivia, and Maria an upper servant.
As a servant, indeed, Maria would have, according to late C16 English
customs and laws, no business marrying anyone without Olivia's blessing,
and would be subject to immediate dismissal should a clandestine
marriage come to her mistress's attention.  On the other hand, she is
not necessarily a social inferior.  A likely history makes her the
daughter of a gentleman unable to provide her with sufficient dowry to
allow her to marry in her class--perhaps an orphan, given that the play
makes no reference to any family.  Such people very often went into
service as the only viable way to insure their livelihood.  Similar
histories seem plausible for Nerissa in *Mer* and Margaret and Ursula in
*Ado*, all of whom treat their nominal mistresses very familiarly.
Indeed, such a history would be plausible for Malvolio.   Such a history
would put Maria and Toby on the same social footing.  As dependents of
Olivia, they are on a similar economic footing, too (although Maria
hseems to earn her keep in ways that Toby, the relative, does not), and
one might well wonder what they plan to live on in the future.  In any
case, on social grounds, the marriage is not inappropriate; on economic
grounds, its future would presumably depend on Olivia's generosity.

David Evett

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Oct 2001 02:59:09 -0400
Subject: 12.2253 Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

> I'm sure this question has been answered often and maybe the question
> itself is flawed, BUT:
>
> Am I mistaken in my reading of Twelfth Night that Sir Toby and Maria are
> from different socio-economic levels? If they are, how do they wind up
> together at the end of the play without much (if any) viable
> explanation?

The double standard of old allowed men to marry beneath their social
class but frowned upon women doing likewise.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Oct 2001 19:12:22 +1000
Subject: 12.2253 Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2253 Sir Toby

Yes, they are--Toby's gentry, Maria's not--but I don't think social
distinctions of that sort were really adhered to in the time, were
they?  Especially given Toby's disgrace.

Sophie Masson
Author site: http://www.northnet.com.au/~smasson

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