“To what extent does the final scene (Act 5 . Scene 1) of Twelfth Night muddle our expectations of how a dramatic comedy should be resolved?”
Twelfth Night or What You Will, is the only play of Shakespeare’s to receive a double title that could also display / suggest a split personality. The play stirs moods of gleeful humour and mournful sorrow with a usual comic resolution to the final scene in the play, Malvolio’s last words “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” warn of unfinished business and the play ends with the possible suggestion of a less comical story to come.
The final scene starts of very typically with the Duke Orsino’s unrequited love for Olivia Viola is still cross dressing in disguise as ‘Cesario’ and acting as the Dukes noble servant who is none the wiser that Olivia has fallen for him. Feste still has the letter that Malvolio has written to Olivia asking and begging her for help, Fabin and Feste have a sort of ‘power struggle’ between themselves over the letter as Fabin tries to read it. Orsino soon arrives and exchanges some banter between Feste and himself before sending him to fetch Olivia, this shows who has the real power. This causal banter sets a merry tone to the end of the play and at this point in the play we know that everything will come together and be solved, such as identity issues, but as an audience we are unsure how this will happen.
With the arrival of Antonio the atmosphere turns from a rather cheerful to a rather tense and uncomfortable one; throughout the play we notice there is no sense of comedy about him and he has no banter. However, as an audience we do feel sorry for him as he is an loser in the play who quite openly expresses his love for Sebastian which also puts him in even more danger than he already creates for himself. When Orsino asks Antonio why he came to Illyria, knowing it would be dangerous he explains that he was to serve the “ungrateful boy” by Orsino’s side – Cesario which he still mistakes to be Sebastian. Antonio’s description of the “Pure love” for his master after saving him from the shipwreck and defending him since is quite an open statement of his love for Sebastian. Where as all the other characters have only talked of their love he has acted on it and stayed devoted and loyal to Sebastian, so we feel sorry for him because of this uncomfortable and confusing situation he has been put in.
In a lot of comedies you do get class boundaries being broken and blurred along with genders being blurred to due to the cross-dressing of the characters which then lead to a confused sense of a characters sexuality. For example, the Duke and Cesario. It is although clear that Antonio has no confusion of his own sexuality; he is just obsessed. In this part of the scene Shakespeare has a serious exploration of homosexual obsession, talking and acting about it as much as it can be allowed as it would not be acceptable in his time to talk too openly about it as it is now. This is a huge and also unexpected tone change in the scene!
In this Act it is the first time that the Duke and Olivia actually meet, being able to talk face to face and not have the need of the ‘page boy’ of which Olivia turns out to be very fond of. When Olivia and her attendants enter the Duke uses lyrical and romantic language “Here come the countess; now heaven walks on earth!”. Although, he use of this language here and also at the start of the play (“If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting”) suggests that he more in love with the idea of being in love with Olivia. Of course, Olivia reacts as the audience expected she would and rejects him,*Stage Direction* “Signs to prevent Orsino from speaking”. This is not expected by the audience at all; the stage direction is highly unusual and humiliates the Duke in front of his people, creating a shift in the mood and enraging Orsino as he realizes Olivia has a thing for Cesario thinking he has wooed her in secret.
The language, its tone and also the level of threats the Duke uses in response to this is very tense, aggressive and abusive. “You uncivil lady” / “Marble-breasted tyrant” this is very dramatic language and also being extremely harsh towards Olivia which is highly unusual for a comedy and much more typical for a piece of serious drama or tragedy. The Duke tells Olivia he should kill her out of “savage jealousy” / “Him will tear out of that cruel eye” or kill Cesario just to spite Olivia, removing him from her sight, mind and life. The Duke is being abusive to Olivia in front of her house staff which is both humiliating for them all as we do not expect that level of abuse. “I’ll sacrifice the lamb that I do love to spite a ravens heart within a dove”, the ‘lamb’ being Cesario and a ‘ravens heart within a dove’ being Olivia’s hidden inside her beauty this threatening to kill that of which he loves makes the Duke appear to be confused on who he does love himself – which is very typical for a comedy but is not very comical in this tense atmosphere. This poetic threat is normally typical of a tragedy rather than a comedy.
In all the confusion, Viola/Cesario replies to Orsino saying that to give him rest, he would die “a thousand deaths” because he loves Orsino more than he could ever love a wife which leaves Olivia horrified, revealing that ‘Cesario’ is supposedly her husband. In hope of restoring order the Priest gives evidence of the marriage “contract of eternal love” between Cesario and Olivia but only adds to the chaos and confusion. We expected that this would come out at some point in the final scene but not being in such a dramatic and tense context. “O thou dissembling cub!” the Duke carries on with his aggressive threats but aims them directly at Cesario because he has supposedly abused and broken his trust. Rounding off with another rhyming couplet aimed at Cesario “Farewell, and take her; but direct thy feet where thou and I henceforth may never meet” he threatens to kill him if they ever meet again.
At this point in the play the audience are unsure of where this is going to go and what is to happen after reaching such a dramatic highpoint in the scene. The entry of Sir Andrew Aguecheek releases this tension and is a light relief for the audience, he is some what of a buffoon and a typical character we expected to see. Bleeding and calling for a surgeon, Sir Andrew accuses Cesario of injuring him creating general puzzlement throughout the group. Sir Toby who is also bleeding, enters with Feste and also accuses Cesario of his injuries. Olivia sends them away to have their injuries tended and demands to know who is actually responsible. Andrew and Toby’s dramatic entry brings us back to the the comic sub-plot of the servants; adding to the bewilderment of Cesario’s true identity.
There is a moment in the scene after both Sir Andrew and Toby enter that was not expected at all, which is when Sir Toby rejects Sir Andrew. “Will you help? An ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!”. We know that comedy can be cruel, but this rejection of Sir Toby’s loyal friend leaves the audience feeling a little comfortable with the harsh and brutal end to the friendship.
It’s at this moment, after the unexpected drama and tension has delayed it, Sebastian rushes in and we reach the high point we have all been waiting for and we all know what is going to happen. Orsino exclaims that Cesario and Sebastian are identical “one face, one voice, one habit, and two persons” and the revelation of getting together and exposing who they really are is quite typical, predictable and expected. Although, this revelation is predicted there is something moving about the moment of which brother and sister are reunited together once again, which is not expected in a comedy play and quite possibly because as the play has gone on we as an audience have gotten quite attached to Viola. This ‘moving’ atmosphere and attachment to a character in a comedy play is unusual, but on the other hand the audience might be feeling attached to Viola because of the previous drama and tension she was placed in.
Malvolio is the typical comic villain you expect to see in a comedy, although he appears at the very end of the scene which is unusual and causes the mood of the current cheerful atmosphere to dampen. He is also not a very ‘comic character’ in this part of the scene he makes and leaves with vicious threats and we are no longer laughing any more. He is humiliated and makes a fool of himself in front of Olivia’s household when he realizes that the letter was a hoax and walks off-stage furious, while everyone else is celebrating, this just shows how love can be cruel. Malvolio is a classic comic villain and what he represents “Self righteous” and a puritan makes him ‘fair game’ because he is a particularity dislikeable character, which means the audience have less sympathy for him as a character.