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4 of Crowns - Malvolio

Dramatis Personae: Malvolio.

Roman à clef : Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor.

 Text & Context: Malvolio is a Puritan. He disapproves of pleasure, especially in others. He is apt to believe his stern and proper ways will be rewarded. The number 4 suggests a square, and Malvolio is a square. The name itself means "ill will", and holds a dark mirror to Viola and Olivia, as well as perhaps the author's Will.

 Elizabethan Twelfth Night celebrations employed a Lord of Misrule - usually a man of lower social status or no-count, here Toby Belch - and a whipping-boy to be butt of the festivity's ridicule - here, Malvolio, the would-be count who counts himself better than others.

 When Maria's trick is played on him, it is his own block-headedness and ambition which contribute to his abuse. The dark he is cast into, which Feste claims is blazoned with light, is emblematic of Malvolio's nature and mind. It is a letter which has dropped him into this pit, and a letter on which he rests his hope of release. A modern spectator will be forgiven for feelings of pity for Malvolio, having no first-hand experience of Puritanism, but Shakespeare makes it clear Malvolio himself would feel no pity and has, when all is said and done, learned nothing. In his last words - "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you" - may be seen the puritan revenge on these happy players half a century later, when the Long Parliament of 1642 closed England's theatres. 

 It may be worth noting that at the end of Twelfth Night, one man remains incarcerated, indeed in the custody of Malvolio - Sebastian's shipmate Antonio, whose willingness to put his purse and his person at his friend's disposal suggests a very similar love in another Antonio, the merchant of Venice.

 Subtext: The character Malvolio is a satire on Sir Christopher Hatton, a early rival of the author's for Queen Elizabeth's attentions. Her majesty's nicknames for Hatton, having "danced his way into the Queen's favour in a galliard", were "mutton" and "sheep" This is alluded to numerous times in Twelfth Night, often by Toby, from "I can cut the mutton to't" to "niggardly rascally sheep-biter". Hatton's signature, or posy, was Foelix Infortunatus, which the author had previously mocked in the character of "Master F.I." in his A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres. Here again the unctuous fortune-hunter Hatton is mocked, in the Fortunatus Infoelix signature of Maria's letter.


Intertext: Staffs 4 Orsino; Queen of Staffs Viola; Crowns 2 Feste; Cups 5 Olivia

Cups 9 Sir Toby Belch.

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