Twelfth Night | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Twelfth Night | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Late at night, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are boisterously drinking and partying. They invite the Fool to join them, and he serenades them with a love song, followed by a loud, drunken "catch" (or round song). Maria comes in to quiet them, followed shortly by Malvolio. Malvolio scolds them all severely for behaving inappropriately in a house of mourning, and they decide to take revenge on him.

Maria offers to write a letter, supposedly written by Olivia, that implies Olivia is in love with Malvolio. Maria says her handwriting is very similar to Olivia's. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and the Fool will all join Maria to secretly watch Malvolio "accidentally" find the letter. They are eager to see how he reacts. The night, however, ends on a melancholy note as Sir Andrew continues to complain of spending too much money and having no luck with Olivia.

Analysis

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew now demonstrate exactly the sort of behavior expected of low comedy characters. They are drunk and rowdy, and they persuade the Fool to join them in their revelry. A "catch" is a song sung in rounds (e.g., one person starts singing, a moment later the second person joins in starting at the beginning, then the third, and so on, as in "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"). Sir Toby and Sir Andrew's song is a repetition of the phrase "Hold Thy Peace." Because "hold thy peace" means "be quiet," their loud singing is already humorous. The lyrics can also be interpreted as having a sexual meaning (with "piece" referring to the male sexual organ), which would fit with Sir Toby's style of humor.

While Sir Toby is the instigator of most of the pandemonium, Maria is the one who thinks up a way to trick the dour, sanctimonious Malvolio. If Malvolio wasn't so awful to them, the trick might never have happened. Malvolio is doing his job as steward in trying to maintain order in the household, but he is extravagantly harsh in his comments. He tells Sir Toby that Olivia wants to kick her uncle out of the house, though nothing Olivia ever says supports such a claim. Malvolio threatens to blame Maria for the men's revels even though she only came to quiet them down. It's hard to feel sorry for Malvolio. He deserves what he gets.

In spite of the scene's chaos, there is a melancholy tinge to it as well. The Fool sings a love song—at Sir Toby and Sir Andrew's request—emphasizing the passing of time. At the end of the scene, Sir Andrew sounds sorrowful. Sir Toby claims Maria adores him, and Sir Andrew responds with "I was adored once, too." He also complains about running out of money, but Sir Toby assures him that Olivia will marry him and he'll be rich. The audience, of course, knows the unlikelihood of such a union. Sir Andrew is being used, and he will suffer for it. He is a foolish character, and no doubt many audience members would feel he, too, deserves what he gets.

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