Sir Toby, Olivia’s uncle, and Maria, Olivia’s servant, enter the scene at her lady’s house. Sir Toby is often lewd and crude—but funny— due to his overindulgence in alcohol. Maria warns him that Olivia is quite displeased with his staying out late at night and his overindulgences, but Toby does not take it to heart. Maria also criticizes Toby for bringing his foolish friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek to woo Olivia. Again Toby balks, saying that Andrew is a fine match for his niece, for he is handsome and rich. Maria does not approve, saying that Andrew is just one of Toby’s drinking companions. It soon becomes clear that Toby’s relationship with Andrew is based purely on Andrew’s available, free-flowing cash, and perhaps also because Toby is entertained by Andrew’s stupidity.
Sir Andrew enters the scene. He proves himself to be a bumbling fool when he can’t seem to get Maria’s name right. She exits. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew continue the scene by joking around when Andrew brings up the fact that Olivia does not seem to be impressed by his courting. Andrew plans to leave the next morning and surmises that Olivia will probably end up with Orsino. Toby disagrees and convinces Andrew that he should stay one month longer. He also compliments Andrew’s dancing skills and convinces him to perform to close out the scene.
Close Reading Analysis:
- Discussion Points:
Characterization of Sir Toby Belch:
Toby comes into the scene tipsy and boisterous. He tries to represent himself as an uncle with his niece’s good virtue in mind; yet as the scene progresses, it is Toby’s selfish misjudgment that clearly comes across.
Characterization of Maria:
Maria enters the scene chastising Toby and his late night debacles, saying that they distress her mistress so. This establishes Maria’s loyalty to Olivia, and her bawdy nature demonstrates that she is Toby’s equal in wit. Her wit is further illustrated throughout the scene with playful comments and references to her anatomy as the “buttery bar.”
Characterization of Sir Andrew Aguecheek:
Sir Andrew is represented as quite the fool with his misuse of Maria’s name and his play on the word “accost.” His musings with Toby and his dancing antics establish him as a fool or buffoon.
Question: What are the boundaries of decorum? How appropriate is Sir Toby’s behavior in Olivia’s house, especially considering that it is a house of mourning?
- Vocabulary and Literary Devices:
1. Use of the word “plague” (Line 65)
Constant reference foreshadowing the threat of death and disease
2. Explanation of the word prodigal in Maria’s describing Andrew as: He’s a very fool and a prodigal (Line 24). “Prodigal” means foolishly wasteful, lavish, or yielding abundantly.
3. Malapropism: accost“Accost” means either to brazenly affront someone or to sexually assault them; Andrew misunderstands and thinks “accost” is Maria’s name, when Toby is actually playfully encouraging Andrew to make a pass at her.
4. Aside: Excellent. It hangs like flax on a distaff, and I hope to see a huswife take thee between her legs and spin it off.(Lines 99-101).
Here is a line Toby would not directly say to Andrew’s character. He is making jest in bawdy humor about syphilis.
5. Dance Terms: necessary to understand the bawdy humor
Sir Andrew mentions how much he enjoys a dance in his conversation with Toby about staying to woo Olivia a month longer.
(Lines 110-111) I delight in masques and revels sometimes altogether.
Toby then responds to goad Andrew along in his dancing confidence with:
(Line 112) Art thou good at these kickshawses, knight?
(Line 116) galliard
(Line 119) back-trick
(Line 125) coranto
These all lend themselves to the action a character would take on the stage.
In Line 125, Toby even continues to brag saying, My very walk should be a jig. I would not so much as make water but in a sink-a-pace.
The mention of urine made this line funny in Shakespeare’s day as in ours.
1. Humor and comedy often lies in what is considered to be socially vulgar or inappropriate. How does Shakespeare use “off-color” comments to evoke laughter from the audience. Additionally, what physical actions would the actors use to help elicit this same response?
*Preview prior to watching in class to deem appropriateness.
1.VIDEO Watch the entire scene (Lines 1-138)from Twelfth Night Act 1 Sc 3 QuickTime Video.
Ask the students to critique the actors. Are their movements too suggestive? Would you perform it differently? Discuss.
Manners, Etiquette, and Appropriateness
Who determines what is deemed appropriate by a society? Where did the rules of etiquette originate? Every culture has gestures that are crude and lewd. Identify some and explain their origin.