William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (ctd.)

In Olivia’s home, Maria brings a gown and a fake beard in order to dress up Feste as a clergyman Sir Topas, who has come to bring Malvolio spiritual comfort. Malvolio is now locked up in a dark room. Feste as Topas enters an absurd dialogue with him – he does a version of “gaslighting” and when Malvolio complains the room is dark, he claims it’s as light as ebony. Malvolio asks Topas to test his sanity by asking him any question. Feste asks him about Pythagoras’ views on wildfowl and Malvolio answers correctly that Pythagoras believed that human souls can enter animals’ bodies after death. When Feste asks Malvolio about his view on the matter, Malvolio answers that he disagrees with it since he considers human soul too noble. Feste threatens that he is going to keep Malvolio in prison until he holds Pythagoras’ views and pretends to leave. Maria observes correctly that the whole dress-up was unnecessary since Malvolio can’t see Feste. I wonder whether it’s a palimpsest of the older version, or whether Shakespeare was afraid his audience would not have got the point of the whole scene if Feste had done just voice impersonation. Toby tells Feste now to speak with Malvolio as Feste and let him know about the outcome; he would like to end the whole charade because he is in Olivia’s bad books and does not want to risk it any further. He leaves with Maria. Feste now in his normal voice starts to sing and Malvolio, identifying him, begs him to bring some ink and paper so that he could write a letter to Olivia. Feste now pretends to be returning Topas, scolding Feste for talking with the madman. I’m sure it was a great opportunity for the actor to show off. Finally “Topas leaves” and Feste promises to bring Malvolio what he wants. Malvolio promises him great rewards.

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