Shakespeare – Module 5: Comedy: Twelfth Night Scene Analysis – 2 of 6

WHAT: Today you will explore Act 2, Scene 5 when Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria play a trick on Malvolio.

By the end of this study session you will be able to:

✔ Say what happens to Malvolio in this scene.
✔ Say how Malvolio comes across in this scene.

Today you will need:
✎ A pen
☰ Some paper to write on
♫ Some headphones or a space where you can play videos out loud

1) Watch this summary of Twelfth Night to recap what happens. (3 minutes)

2) Read this summary of Act 2, Scene 5:

Malvolio is a minor character but he ends up being the focus of this scene. He is very unpopular because he is always grumpy and too serious. He ruins things when the other minor characters try to party and have fun. To get revenge, the others play a trick on him. They know that he is in love with Lady Olivia, so they write a fake love letter and leave it in the garden for him to find, whilst they hide behind the plants and listen to him talk out loud to himself as he reads the letter. Malvolio is convinced that the letter is from Olivia. It tricks him into thinking she loves him too. The letter also tells him to wear ridiculous things like yellow socks, which Olivia actually hates.

3) Watch this short video about the scene. (3.27 minutes)

a) Who does Malvolio think the letter is from?

Lady Olivia

b) Who actually wrote the letter?


c) Even though the letter is unclear, why does Malvolio assume it must be for him?

Possibly because he’s quite arrogant and because he’s believing what he wants to believe.

d) What does the letter say that Olivia wants Malvolio to do when he next sees her?

Wear yellow stockings that are cross gartered, and be smiling.

e) Does Olivia like the colour yellow?

No! She hates it.

4) Read the part of the scene where Malvolio finds the letter.
The left hand side shows the original Shakespeare text; the right side shows the modern English translation.
Just look at page 4 to the top of page 9.

5) Answer these questions:

a) Malvolio wants to marry Olivia because he believes it will help him to rise up through the social ranks (i.e. he’ll become more important). What does this tell us about the kind of man he is?

b) This scene is like a play within a play. Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew are watching Malvolio from behind the trees in the garden. It is like a form of entertainment for them. What do they now represent: the actors or the audience? Explain your answer.

c) Which quotation suggests something is affecting Malvolio’s blood supply?
– “yes, nightingales answer daws”
– “not black in my mind”
– “this does some obstruction of the blood”

d) Do you feel any sympathy for Malvolio in this scene? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? Explain your thoughts.

6) Finally, would you say this scene is funny? What comedy conventions has Shakespeare used here?