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Twelfth Night Act 4 Scene 2: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and extensive experience working in the business world as Director of Marketing and Business Development at a financial advice firm.

This lesson discusses act 4, scene 2 of William Shakespeare's comedic play, ''Twelfth Night.'' We learn more about the joke being played on Malvolio, and the pranksters begin to contemplate the extremes to which it has gone.

Way Too Far

Do you and your friends like to play jokes on each other or other people? Everyone gets a good laugh, and sometimes you feel that people deserve those mean tricks, especially if they are guilty of treating you and your friends like dirt. However, sometimes those jokes go way too far. You end up really upsetting someone, and now it's you who feels guilty - even though that person may have really treated you badly before. Now it's you who looks like the jerk.

This is the situation in which Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby, and her lady-in-waiting Maria find themselves in act 4, scene 2 of William Shakespeare's comedic play, Twelfth Night. Despite the fact that Malvolio, Olivia's haughty steward, has been a huge pain, Sir Toby knows that if Olivia finds out the lengths this prank has reached his whole crew, including Maria, Olivia's suitor Sir Andrew, and Feste the clown, are all in big trouble. Meanwhile, Malvolio is starting to think that he might just be crazy.

Scene Summary

Maria, Feste the clown, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew are loving their trick on Malvolio. Not only did they get him to wear crazy clothing, smile crazily, and act like a loon in general, they have now confined him to a dark, windowless room. To make matters worse, Feste the clown is impersonating a fictional priest named Sir Topas and speaking with Malvolio.

When Malvolio begs Sir Topas to let him out of the dark room, the fake priest teases him by saying that the room is full of windows like barricades that shine like ebony, so he must obviously be crazy. Malvolio denies that he is actually crazy, and Feste as the wily priest asks him ridiculous questions to try and prove his sanity, or lack thereof. At this point, you have to feel rather sorry for Malvolio.

Meanwhile, Sir Toby and Maria, while still having fun, know that this prank has dragged on long enough, and are getting rather bored. Sir Toby also astutely realizes that if his niece Olivia finds out what the group has been up to, she is going to be ticked off. Add that to her unhappiness about his and Sir Andrew's already drunken shenanigans, and he may soon find himself out of his cushy digs at the house that Olivia owns. With this in mind, Feste says that he will get Malvolio writing implements and paper to write to Olivia for his release.

The joke is on Malvolio, as he embarrasses himself before Olivia
Malvolio looking a fool in front of Olivia

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