The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0585 Thursday, 22 June 2006
Date: Wednesday, 21 Jun 2006 12:08:41 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
This is the second of my two Twelfth Night questions:
In most productions that I have seen of the play, Sir Toby remains
unrepentant through the end. His final words are usually delivered as
rather harsh comments on the ignorance of Sir Andrew. However, something
rather curious suggests to me that there is another way to interpret
these lines (and consequently Toby's character). In 5.1.204 (Arden
edition), Toby's line is written: "Will you help? An ass head, ... ;"
however, the First Folio is written: "Will you helpe an Ass-head , ... ."
Now, I realize that just about every editor since Rowe has added the
question mark, assuming a compositor's error, but I wonder if it isn't
possible that Shakespeare meant Toby to refer to himself as the asshead,
and not Sir Andrew. After all, since at least his interrupted duel with
Sebastian (if not even earlier), he seems far out of his usual role as
lord of misrule. He is concerned about being out of favor with Olivia,
and we soon find out that he married Maria (ostensibly because of her
maneuvering the jest against Malvolio), probably before this scene. He
also, even earlier, offered to "have mercy" on Malvolio. Earlier in 5.1,
he said he hates a drunken rogue. Could he be referring to himself as
well as Dick Surgeon?
My main question is, does Toby grow softer as a character? Is there
movement towards some kind of redemption? Considering the nature of the
play itself, the idea is appealing and logical to me. If we restore the
Folio punctuation to his last lines, he could be trying to redeem
himself regarding his treatment of Andrew. Of course the rest of the
line is a bit problematic (he says knave twice, but are both of them
referring to Andrew? Is it possible he says them without bitterness or
meanness? Is it possible that the first one is directed towards himself?).
Sorry if the post is too long, but I'm really curious about your
reactions. I find very little literature on whether Toby is a dynamic
character or not.
Paul E. Doniger
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