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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0585  Thursday, 22 June 2006

From: 		Paul E. Doniger <
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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.

Thanks again,
Paul E. Doniger

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