Christianity In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Throughout the Elizabethan era, Christianity played a pivotal role in the development of government and support (or lack thereof) of individuals. The Puritans attempted to close theaters, and, according to scholar R. Balfour Daniels “sought to circumscribe life and hold it in with a stern and austere restraint” (Daniels, 41). Additionally, Elizabethan England had three contradictory and competing forms of Christianity. The Anglican Church, also known as Protestantism, was used in government and the official religion of the Queen, and any who criticized it were often killed. Puritans opposed the Protestants, and Catholics, the more traditional sect, was practiced by a significant minority (Raffel, 38-39). The religious and pious figures in Shakespeare’s…show more content…
When Olivia is first entertained by the Fool, she recognizes that “[Malvolio] [is] sick of self-love,” revealing Malvolio’s arrogance (Twelfth Night 1.5, 89-92). This arrogance is linked to his Christian self-righteousness when Maria describes him as “a affectioned ass…[that] persuaded of himself,...that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him, (TN 2.3, 145-150). Thus, Maria identifies that Malvolio’s self-love is tied up in his piousness, and that he uses his moral superiority as justification for his high opinion of himself. Malvolio takes this pride and sense of superiority further by desiring to be “Count Malvolio,” and imagining Sir Toby “curts[ying]” to him, indicating not only his desire for prestige and power, but his belief that Sir Toby is physically lower than himself because of his “drunkenness,”(TN 2.5, 34, 60-73). Malvolio thus uses his Puritanism as fuel for his actions and desires, imagining himself to be morally superior to Sir Toby and therefore more entitled to a higher social position. Later on, after Malvolio falls for Maria’s plan and dresses “in yellow stockings” to woo Olivia, Maria notes that “Malvolio is turned heathen,” and that his dress is something “no Christian that means to be saved...can ever believe,” revealing that Malvolio is not as pious as previously noted, and thus suggests a hypocrisy in his sanctimonious attitude (TN 3.3, 67-71). Through the contradictory and laughable behavior of the proud and pious Malvolio, Shakespeare presents a less than admirable religious figure, thus revealing the ways in which piety can be manipulated for more self-serving
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