Explore and Debate the Character of Malvolio. How Far Is He a Comic Character?

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Comedy is defined as “Professional entertainment consisting of jokes and sketches, intended to make an audience laugh: a cabaret with music, dancing, and comedy” . In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night there is definitely ‘entertainment consisting jokes and sketches’ involving the lower class puritan character Malvolio, who is ‘intended to make an audience laugh’. The character Malvolio to a certain extent can be described as a comic character. However, the character of Malvolio is laughed at the audience do not necessarily laugh with him, most notably during act 2 scene 5. This act shows that Malvolio is a fool, but not only a fool and desperate fool, whose persona changes when it comes to the love of Lady Olivia. Malvolio is not the average Shakespearean comic fool who is played by an actor for laughs. Shakespeare’s creation of Malvolio is perhaps for more of a sinister agenda? A cruel mockery of a stereotypical uptight puritan with a joke taken too far, for example the letter in act 2 scene 5. A puritan is: somebody who lives by a strict moral or religious code, especially somebody who is suspicious of pleasure. Malvolio’s laughs do not come from one-liners or cheap gags- the crux of the play is centred on a cruel trick played on Malvolio that concludes tragically with imprisonment and insanity Shakespeare’s comedy can be described as “a play characterized by its humorous or satirical tone and its depiction of amusing people or incidents, in which the characters ultimately triumph over adversity” . Twelfth Night there is undeniably an ‘amusing tone’ and evidently ‘amusing incidents’ however, not all of the characters ‘triumph over adversity’. The character of Malvolio is distressed in order to force the audience to explore the borders between farce and cruelty. This definition highlights and contributes to the debate whether Malvolio is really a comic character in
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