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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Malvolio, Toby, & Sir Andrew
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2342  Monday, 15 October 2001

[1]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:22:19 -0400
        Subj:   Malvolio, Toby, & Sir Andrew

[2]     From:   Jeannette Webber <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:03:26 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:05:05 -0400
        Subj:   Sir Toby

[4]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 12 Oct 2001 16:28:36 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2329 Re: Sir Toby

[5]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Oct 2001 09:59:30 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:22:19 -0400
Subject:        Malvolio, Toby, & Sir Andrew

Bruce Young argues quite persuasively, for our times, that interpreting
these characters is not a simple task.  The one caveat I have is that
from what I have seen, Elizabethans (and certainly Jacobeans) had a much
coarser sense of fun and games than we do.  They delighted, after all,
with their Queen at the sight of a bear tied to a stake and attacked by
dogs.

Sir Toby's denunciation of Sir Andrew reads to me a lot more like the
"why, I oughtta --" of the Three Stooges.  These two dunces are meant
for each other, and Sir Toby's pretense of superiority is so thoroughly
deflated by the end of the play that I find it hard to take his language
seriously.  He's upset at being shown up, and in true slapstick fashion
has to blame it on someone else -- Moe, Larry and Curly can't be too far
behind here.

As for Malvolio, again the fun people have at his expense, and the fun
the audience has, cannot help but reflect on popular attitudes towards
the Puritans who ran London, and who by _sheer_ coincidence hated the
theatre.  I think Shakespeare was caricaturing Puritans as moralists in
love more with their egos than with virtue, and as uppity folks who
would do anything -- even cross-garter -- to gain social status.

Granted, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" was not intended
to be prophetic in any way, but it turned out to be.

Andy White

(who played Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and hence 'was adored, once, too!')

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeannette Webber <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:03:26 EDT
Subject: 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW

Bruce Young says it well:

<<But I don't think the play, considered carefully and as a whole, wants
us simply to enjoy the tormenting of Malvolio and side with his
opponents.  Maria and probably Feste come off mainly sympathetically,
but our response to Toby and Andrew will be mixed.  I find Toby
especially hard to entirely like, partly because Olivia's and Maria's
criticism (even some of Malvolio's) seem justified, and even more
because by the end Toby reveals a side of his character worse than
drunkenness or even than Malvolio's stupidity: Toby's self-centeredness
and lack of sympathy for others are more conscious and deliberate than
Malvolio's, revealing themselves in his manipulation of Andrew (compare
Iago with Roderigo) and in his savagely turning on him at the end ("an
ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-fac'd knave, a gull!"
[5.1.206-07]). >>

Sir Toby's parting shot to Sir Andrew, who thought at least they could
be companions in injury, is painful to watch and makes one wonder of
Maria has herself such a deal. He may be drunk and hurting, but still .
. . .  Another line worth mention in this thread:  after Feste plays his
Sir Topas joke on Malvolio and before Sir Toby and Sir Andrew attack
Sebastian, even Toby realizes that their game has gone too far:  "I
would we were well rid of this knavery.  If he may be conveniently
deliver'd, I would he were, for I am now so far in offense with my niece
that I cannot pursue with any safety his sport ['t] the upshot." [IV,
ii, 67-70]

Jeannette Webber

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Oct 2001 12:05:05 -0400
Subject:        Sir Toby

Bruce Young writes:

"It may be true that we (moderns) are more tolerant of folly and more
sympathetic with suffering than Shakespeare and his contemporaries
were.  But maybe we shouldn't congratulate (or condemn) ourselves too
quickly.  The differences between ourselves and our predecessors may not
be quite so stark as we're imagining."

Just so. The claim that Elizabethans were hard-headed realists while we
today are mere sentimentalists was often made by the old historicists,
most aggressively by John Dover Wilson. But Wilson's claim led to some
very bad criticism indeed, including his notorious conclusion that the
Rejection scene in 2H4 was "delightful," and his assertion that Hal's
fooling with Francis wouldn't have bothered an Elizabethan audience
because people like Francis were considered virtually subhuman (!).

Are there differences between responses 400 years ago and today? Of
course. But they are likely to be differences in degree, not kind.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 12 Oct 2001 16:28:36 -0400
Subject: 12.2329 Re: Sir Toby
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2329 Re: Sir Toby

Don Bloom tells us:

>I am not much interested in "inferences" as compared to "texts." >

And then he gives us an example of his interests:

>Of course, speaking quite practically and a sensible
>down-to-earth-fashion, Sebastian couldn't possibly have fallen in love
>with Olivia since, as you say, he doesn't know her. Except (A) this is
>Illyria, or perhaps Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, or Faerie; and (B) even in this
>workaday world people do fall in love on very short notice. Shakespeare
>doesn't ask us to believe it (doubtless we are much too wise, not to say
>cynical, for that), only to accept it for the nonce. It's fun, and this
>play, of all plays ever written, is supposed to be fun.

I find this example full of inferences.  Illyria is inferred to be
Cloud-Cuckoo-Land or Faerie. Actually it has a place on the map, near
the contemporary Bosnia or Croatia, not exactly a never-never-land in
Shakespeare's day.  And then it is inferred that we can use "workaday"
criteria to understand what goes on in the inferred Land of Faerie.
Then it is inferred that Shakespeare himself asks us to accept that
Sebastian can fall in love at first sight. And finally it is inferred
that this play "is supposed to be fun."

And behind all these inferences is the unspoken inference that plays
interpret themselves, that we auditors, readers, directors, and actors
are completely constrained by the text's interpretation of itself.
Where is Stanley Fish when you need him?

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Oct 2001 09:59:30 +0200
Subject: 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2332 Re: Malvolio, Toby, and LLW

> Apparently, for all his faults, Malvolio is a valued servant.

Is it not possible that Malvolio is a valued servant *because of* his
"faults"?

David Schalkwyk

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