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Maria in Twelfth Night: Character Traits & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
In this lesson, we will discuss the character of Maria from William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and we'll look at how her machinations and tricks on Malvolio satisfy her need for payback and ultimately improve her status in the world. Read the lesson, and test yourself with the quiz!

Everyone Loves a Joker

Think back to your group of friends in school. Everyone in the group was probably different and filled different niches, some of them even stereotypical. The jock, the nerd, the slacker...and then there was the funny guy or girl. This class clown always had the best and most memorable jokes, even if they were at the expense of you or your friends. The jokester role in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is definitely filled by the character of Maria.

In the comic play, Maria is a central figure in Lady Olivia's household. She teams up with other characters to play jokes on Malvolio, and at the end of the play, she gets her own happy ending. Pretty nice conclusion for the practical joker of the group!

Character Traits

Maria is loyal to her mistress, Lady Olivia. However, she uses that trust and loyalty to copy Olivia's handwriting to play a trick on Malvolio, the steward of Olivia's household. She, along with Sir Toby, Feste the clown, and Sir Andrew, are mistreated by Malvolio, and decide to play an elaborate joke on him. They drop a note from 'Lady Olivia' in Malvolio's path, and watch him in secret as he picks it up. It tells him to smile weirdly all the time, to wear yellow stockings, and to wear his garters crossed, among other strange behavior. Malvolio does all of these things, and ends up looking like a fool in front of Olivia.

Taking the joke further, Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste lock Malvolio in a dark room and send Feste in pretending to be a priest, who tells Malvolio that is he indeed crazy. All of these jokes satisfy Maria's need to get payback on Malvolio for treating her unkindly, and for threatening her, as well as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste. Maria is not only a jokester, but she is seen as the rational one and the architect of the jokes in her group of coconspirators.

Maria laughs at Malvolio.
Maria laughs at Malvolios stockings

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