The Insanity Of Malvolio In Twelfth Night

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In Twelfth Night, Malvolio plays the important role of the victim, and it is only through this role that he experiences and understands the subtleties and nuances of sanity. His encounter with Sir Topas presents sanity from a different angle, highlighting the role of perspective in the determination of madness, while also shedding light on the contradictions between rationality and reality. Sir Topas shows Malvolio through their encounter the inherent futility in trying to prove his sanity to others. Although Malvolio seemingly appears to have a tragic ending, we find that he exits the play with a newfound lucidness and control that he previously was missing. The encounter between Malvolio and Sir Topas not only marks a turning point for Malvolio…show more content…
For example, Feste says to Olivia, “I wear not motley in my brain.” (i.v.54-55). So although he may dress like a fool he does not have the intelligence of a fool and therefore should not be seen as someone who is dull. Feste is cautioning against making connections between what can be seen and what cannot, the actions and appearance of Feste do not shed light on his sanity as they are mutually exclusive. He later addresses this point again when interrogating Malvolio, “Nay, I’ll ne’er believe a madman till I see his brains.” (iv.ii.122-123). The impossibility of this request not only drives the point that Feste is incapable of determining sanity because he cannot ever see Malvolio’s brain, but that there is inherent danger in letting him analyze Malvolio’s sanity. Figuratively letting Feste look at Malvolio’s brain gives Feste control over Malvolio and his thoughts. This is drawing the comparison that Malvolio would lose control of the part of…show more content…
Sir Topas says to Malvolio, “Sayst thou that house is dark?” to which Malvolio replies, “As hell, Sir Topas.” (iv.ii.35-37). This is interesting as not only is Feste trying to alter Malvolio’s senses, but it is also shedding light on the topic of sanity. Sir Topas attempts to take away Malvolio’s sight and utterly deplete his perception of reality, which is why the darkness plays such a pivotal role. Malvolio, can see nothing, yet Sir Topas is trying to convince him there is light, he has to make him see something when there is in fact nothing. This leaves Malvolio with no way to prove his sanity, as he can either agree the room is bright and contradict reality, or he can stick to the belief that the room is dark and be deemed insane by Sir Topas. Sir Topas is just demonstrating the contradictory nature of determining sanity, and the fact that it is a vicious circle, as no matter what Malvolio say’s Sir Topas can say he is mad. He immediately after gives an example of this confliction between sanity and reality, “Why, it hath bay windows transparent as barricoes, and the [clerestories] toward the south-north are as lustrous as ebony; and yet complainest thou of obstruction?” (iv.ii.38-41). These lines are full of contradictions, such as, bay windows as transparent as barriers, and high windows as
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