Staging Violence and Terror

Violence as the ‘Dark Room’ of Comedy: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

by Margret Fetzer

Whereas violence is traditionally associated with Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories, this paper sets out to explore the relationship between violence and comedy through a close reading of Twelfth Night where the dark room which Malvolio is confined to may be read as symptomatic of the workings of comedy in general. Violence is that aspect of comedy that is preferably left in the dark, but at the same time, it is the very place where comedy is primarily produced, where the pictures of comedy are developed, at least in the sense that audiences almost always laugh at or about someone. Especially in its connectedness to the main plot, the Malvolio subplot of Twelfth Night turns out to be quite a cruel joke. This paper explores why audiences are still quite happy to laugh at the rather violent treatment Olivia’s steward meets with.

Even though it is said to be Shakespeare’s last romantic comedy, Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will, probably written in 1601, is generally not considered a tragicomedy, a dark comedy, a problem play or whatever else may be the labels critics have come up with to account for Shakespeare’s notorious flaunting of established literary genres. On the contrary, audiences and critics alike generally tend to praise the play’s lightness of tone and its festive atmosphere.[1] In this paper, I would like to introduce a different reading which points out the intrinsic connectedness between violence and comic festivity in Twelfth Night. My focus will be on the Malvolio subplot. This emphasis seems justified considering that, together with the introduction of the fool, this subplot was added by Shakespeare himself and is known to have been commented upon by John Manningham, a contemporary spectator of the play who praised the gulling of Malvolio as “a good device”, and later on by as illustrious a critic as Samuel Johnson.[2] The assumption of the Malvolio plot being ‘violently’ funny can be based on no lesser an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary: in one of its entries, the verb “to violence” is reported as having been used in the sense of “to compel or constrain; to force (a person) to or from a place, etc. […]” during the 17th century[3] – the dark room Malvolio is destined for immediately comes to mind. I would like to argue that violence may be seen as the dark room of comedy in general, on the one hand designating a place that is preferably kept out of view and hardly ever illuminated, on the other hand the place where comedy largely originates from, the ‘dark room’ where laughter is processed and developed to give us the picture of comedy. The dark room in Twelfth Night is therefore not only a symbol of Malvolio’s imprisonment in self-love and his inability to see himself.[4]

Most critics are quite unanimous in pronouncing the treatment Olivia’s steward meets with as justified: Roger Warren argues that Malvolio is rightfully chastised and satirised for having based his whole life on fantasy, meaning he more or less gets what he deserves, and William C. Carroll very neutrally refers to the Malvolio subplot as an instance of “comic denial”. Only Jason Scott-Warren declares that “the gulling of Malvolio in Twelfth Night is a joke that goes too far”.[5] What goes unnoticed is that the Malvolio subplot constitutes more than just a (violent) joke: here, as in most other Shakespearean plays, the subplot is subservient to the main plot and its happy resolution into a series of marriages. In Act 2.3, Maria addresses Olivia’s uncle as “Sweet Sir Toby” (2.3.132) and protests: “If I do not gull him [i.e. Malvolio] into a nayword, and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed: I know I can do it” (2.3.135–138).[6] As concerns the overall dramatic structure of the play, the gulling of Malvolio is highly significant as a means of improving Maria’s chances with Sir Toby, a chance which had already been hinted at by the fool in 1.5: “if Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria” (1.5.26–27). Maria soon turns into an “internal plotter—effectively a surrogate playwright”[7], and we are not surprised to find that it is her who elaborates upon Malvolio’s deficiencies and his exaggerated self-love to goad Sir Toby on. However, whereas Maria seems to be proved right when Malvolio is seen to muse why his lady treats him “with a more exalted respect than any one else that follows her” (2.5.27–28), this impression of his is not altogether false: from all that we have seen so far, Olivia has entrusted him with the delicate mission of forcing a ring on Cesario and asks him about his opinion on the quality of Feste’s foolery. Also, in 3.4, she will call for him because “He is sad and civil, / And suits well for a servant with my fortunes” (3.4.5–6). Having found him ‘mad’, she gives orders to look after him carefully, since, so she declares, she “would not have him miscarry for the half of [her] dowry” (3.4.62–63). Not all of Malvolio’s self-conceit can thus be said to be based on fantasy.

Sir Toby is not even for a moment in doubt about Maria’s motives in suggesting the Malvolio project: “She’s a beagle, true-bred, and one that adores me: what o’ that?” (2.3.179–180), and in eager anticipation of the fun to come, he is quite generous with the terms of endearment he reserves for her: “Here comes the little villain. How now, my metal of India?” (2.5.13–14). As a consequence, we may wonder who Maria is thinking of when, addressing the letter, she commands “Lie thou there: for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling” (2.5.21–22). After all, Sir Toby may also be said to have proved a trout “caught with tickling” since, after Malvolio has left the stage, he is in absolute revels about Maria:

Sir Toby: I could marry this wench for this device.

Sir Andy: So could I too.

Sir Toby: And ask no other dowry with her but such another jest. (2.5.184–5)

In more than one sense, this is Maria’s cue: she re-enters the stage at this very moment, having been conspicuously absent from the eavesdropping scene itself. Apparently she is not nearly as interested in the gulling as is Sir Toby, and one may suspect that her extraordinary ability to write such an apt letter to gull Malvolio results from her herself being only too familiar with the kind of secret yearnings he harbours. Hers is quite a cruel and one-sided kind of empathy, though, for although she is later on to marry Sir Toby, she does not have any tolerance whatsoever for Malvolio’s fantasies about marrying Olivia. This lack of emotional empathy also provides a link to the main plot where Viola admonishes the Duke to picture himself in somebody else’s shoes:

Viola: Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love as great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her:
You tell her so. Must she not then be answer’d? (2.4.90–93)

Maria at least does not bother to empathise any further with Malvolio than serves her purpose. Instead, she reminds Sir Toby and Sir Andrew not to miss the next act of the Malvolio gull, and there is some dramatic irony in how Malvolio seems to be addressing himself to Maria when he means to compliment his lady in 3.4:

Maria: Why appear you with this ridiculous boldness before my lady?

Malvolio: ‘Be not afraid of greatness’: ’twas well writ. (3.4.36–38)

In the final scene then, the purpose of Fabian’s account of the ‘sportful malice’ (5.1.364) directed against Malvolio is to play it down, but he inadvertently also gives away what else there was at stake in the plot set up against Malvolio:

Fabian: Maria writ
The letter, at Sir Toby’s great importance,
In recompense whereof he hath married her. (5.1.361–363)

Malvolio was thus by no means merely the victim of a ‘sportful malice’, but served as a means to a clear-cut purpose; he has therefore been at least as violently used as ‘abused’ (4.2.90). Gulling Malvolio has conveniently served Maria’s purposes as well as the larger structure of the play by drawing most of the laughs and bringing about another marriage to make the harmonious comic ending complete. And yet, one feels slightly uncomfortable about the way in which having someone “in a dark room and bound” (3.4.136–138), clearly a rather violent act, contributed so decisively to the comic success of Twelfth Night. This uneasy amalgamation of the comic and the violent or brutal, however, happens to be quite in keeping with the qualities of comedy in general.

In his book on comedy, T. G. A. Nelson right from the start acknowledges laughter and reconciliation as the two driving forces behind comedy that may indeed often be found to be in conflict with one another. Having recourse to Freud, who “recognized that hostile and cynical jokes were more common, and usually more potent than innocent ones”, he concludes that “[W]hen we laugh, we usually laugh at someone or something” for, speaking with Beckett’s Nell from Endgame, “‘[n]othing [...] is funnier than unhappiness’”.[8] In the case of Twelfth Night, Malvolio’s unhappy fate is extremely funny, and we laugh at him because we are made to feel superior to him, believing ourselves to be less self-conceited and thus less prone to being duped as he is. However, Nelson makes it clear that this so-called superiority theory which goes back to Thomas Hobbes, namely “[t]he suggestion that laughter, which may be specific to human beings, arises from malicious delight in superiority to others is not flattering to humanity”. For Nelson, the generic conflict between laughter and harmony also explains why “philosophers and critics from Plato to Sartre and Eco have found reasons for distrusting comedy, festivity, and laughter”. The mocking laughter directed at Malvolio marks his “expulsion from a festive group”[9]: once he finds out how he has been duped, he leaves the stage with the cry “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you!” (5.1.377), thus excluding himself from the reconciliatory tableau of the comedy’s final scene. Someone else, however, is absent, too: Neither Maria nor Sir Toby, Malvolio’s principal malefactors, are present in Act 5, although their recent union would normally predestine them for joining the marital merriness of the comedy’s finale. One may suspect that the events which brought their marriage about are not that easily accommodated with the more innocent enthusiasm of the other couples. It makes you slightly nervous though, to speculate on what may be going on off-stage between Malvolio, Maria and Sir Toby.

One could argue that racking one’s brains about the moral dilemma of potential violence in Twelfth Night is beside the point in the first place since such an approach might be criticised for neglecting the carnivalesque character of comedy in general and the festive mood of Twelfth Night in particular. After all, Twelfth Night was a time of merry-making where social hierarchies were deliberately overturned and moral ideals suspended and where the lower body was for once allowed to reign over the upper body.[10] Heavy drinking and dancing as well as playing tricks upon others such as practised by Sir Toby and friends would have been seasonally sanctioned, and the marriage between Maria and Sir Toby could be seen as an appropriate testimony to the carnivalistic inversion of social hierarchy—after all, according to the “Dramatis Personae”, Maria, Olivia’s waiting-gentlewoman, has married above her station in being betrothed to Sir Toby Belch, kinsman to Olivia, a countess. Malvolio, on the other hand, appears to be truly out of season since he is frequently described as impersonating that very law (e.g. against drinking and brawling) which is supposedly suspended during carnival. As Indira Ghose writes, “the structure of the sub-plot, the gulling of Malvolio, reflects exactly the motif of Carnival vs. Lent. […] The Lenten part in this play is taken by Malvolio, the Puritanical steward of the household who objects to the carousing of the carnivalesque figures”, or, in the words of Anthony Gash, “[t]he Christmas lord of misrule, Toby Belch, is opposed to the prim Lenten puppet Malvolio”.[11] According to Ghose, “the theatre took on the function of Carnival in Renaissance England”[12], and one may easily conclude that Twelfth Night thus represents a perfect example of carnivalist revelry.

And yet, the mockery of Malvolio that ensues is by no means purely carnivalistic and carried out for its own sake. First of all, it serves, as we have seen, as a means to a purpose, namely to enhance Maria’s chances with Sir Toby. More importantly, however, there is a constant undercurrent that Malvolio effectively deserves to be treated thus: “it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him: and on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work” says Maria (2.3.151–153), and Sir Toby later intends to confine him to a dark room “for our pleasure, and his penance” (3.4.138–9). Malvolio is thus sentenced to be duped and later even to be held prisoner “in a dark room and bound” (3.4.136–7) for his faults; paradoxically then, this trick played upon Malvolio as the representative of the law reintroduces law and order through the backdoor, turning carnivalesque mockery into a legalised procedure. Even if we allow for a definition of carnivalization that includes punishment and setting someone right as essential elements, it is quite clear that the opposition between Carnival and Lent, the “Christmas lord of misrule” (my emphasis) and the “prim Lenten puppet” are not as clear-cut as Ghose and Gash would have it be.

Michael D. Bristol shows some awareness of the complexity of the carnivalesque when pointing out that “Carnival is not anti-authoritarian”, emphasising that it is “put into operation as resistance to any tendency to absolutize authority”.[13] The carnivalistic thus does not define itself through its opposition to the Lenten principle, but rather by its refusal to be easily defined in the first place. In fact, it may even prove to be self-contradictory: It is striking how Sir Toby, witnessing Malvolio’s daydream of marrying Olivia and thus raising himself above his station, as well as his erotic phantasies about “having come from a day-bed, where I have left Olivia sleeping” (5.2.48–49), is on the verge of losing all his previous composure—while Malvolio’s social ambition and his physical yearnings are for once perfectly at one with the festive spirit of Twelfth Night since “[o]ne of the most widespread characteristics of festivity is the temporary inversion of social order”[14]. After all, Sir Toby will later on also marry below himself. The opposition between a gay Sir Toby and his friends on the one hand and Malvolio as Lenten and Puritan spoil-sport on the other is thus a simplification. Although cruelty, violence and punishment is implicated in the concept of carnival and Malvolio’s being not only ‘ill-willed’ himself, but also ‘ill-willed’ by others may therefore be said to be in keeping with the notion of the carnivalesque, his social ambitions and his burgeoning erotic fantasies would seem to allow for his inclusion into the festive mood of Twelfth Night. Instead, he is denied access to the carnivalistic feast and literally shut away.

As we have seen then, the Malvolio plot is not only the funniest, but also the most problematic, the most violently funny element of Shakespeare’s last romantic comedy. It now remains to ask why audiences, as well as the majority of critics, fail to acknowledge the calculating violence underlying this subplot or refuse to recognise it as violence altogether. Violence and the ways in which it is perceived or not perceived strongly rely on generic framing and representation. According to Shakespeare’s text, we never get to see Malvolio in his dark room or how he is dragged there and bound; all we get is Sir Toby’s plan to do so in 3.5, and the next we hear of Malvolio is from “within” (4.2). Nowhere are we given details about his imprisonment, but it appears that he is held in complete darkness and not able to see what is going on outside of his prison: having dressed up as Sir Topas, the Clown is informed by Maria: “Thou might’st have done this without thy beard and gown, he sees thee not” (4.2.66–67). While Malvolio’s treatment may have been common for the mentally deranged at the time it surly also sounds like a promising strategy for driving a sane person mad in the first place. As Fabian notes: “Why, we shall make him mad indeed” (3.4.134). But the audience’s emotions are carefully monitored and guided by the presence of an on-stage audience consisting of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Fabian, Maria and the fool—who at the same time all also play quite a significant part in directing the Malvolio play we and they are watching. This eaves-dropping device is a common characteristic of the genre: since comedy has always been famous for putting one’s perceptions of reality to the test, “[m]etafictional techniques, which lend themselves to such procedures, are for that reason peculiarly suited to comedy”.[15]

And indeed, when we witness Sir Toby and his company laughing at Malvolio’s being duped, this is nothing less than a mise-en-abyme of the mechanism of comedy in general, where “nothing is funnier than unhappiness”. By characterising laughter “in its dialectic of exclusion and inclusion” as an activity that produces a sense of shared identity between the “‘laughter-maker’” and the “‘laugher(s)’” while at the same time isolating and exposing the “‘butt of laughter’”, Manfred Pfister in fact illustrates that any instance of laughter already contains “a more or less marked element of self-conscious performance and theatrical representation, complete with actors and audiences”.[16] Lest we don’t miss the meta-theatrical dimension, Shakespeare has Fabian remind us: “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction” (3.4.128–129). We, as members of the audience in front of the stage, are bound to identify with the audience present on-stage, especially since laughter has always been known for its infectiousness, something TV comedies hope to take advantage of by inserting canned laughter in the places where spectators are meant to laugh. Furthermore, if Ira Clark is right in assuming that “stage violence is funny because it is harmless” as “[d]ramatic presentation itself provides the first remove from the threat of actual damage”, it could be argued that the staging of the Malvolio plot as a play within the play distances audiences even further from the potential violence that may be involved, especially since, as F.B. Tromly notes, “[i]n none of the other romantic comedies is the discrepancy between the Olympian awareness of the audience and the limited awareness of the characters so sustained”. [17] And so we laugh and cannot help doing so while we, together with the on-stage spectators, watch Malvolio revelling in his private fantasies, making a complete fool of himself when he appears in yellow stockings, cross-gartered and smiling before Olivia and adopts a familiarity with her that is ridiculously out of place, or even when he is crying from his dark house and forced to humbly beg the fool for light, ink, and paper.

And yet, even though we may laugh, there are still a number of hints which may make us slightly uneasy about the treatment Olivia’s steward meets with. In eager anticipation of the gulling, Sir Toby enthuses that “[t]o anger him we’ll have the bear again, and we will fool him black and blue” (2.5.9–10). The parallels between the entertainments of theatre and bear-baiting were widely acknowledged in Shakespeare’s time, and Sir Toby’s gloating further highlights the parallels between the gulling of Malvolio and a play within the play. On the other hand, however, his likening of Malvolio to a bear also clashes painfully with the answer Malvolio provides to the fool’s alias Sir Topas’s quizzing him on “the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wildfowl”, namely “[t]hat the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird”. Malvolio replies: “I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion” (4.2.51–57). At present, however, Malvolio is treated as a baited animal, and his opinion that human beings, distinguishing themselves by possessing a soul, should be treated with more respect than bears or birds, is ignored by the ones directing the play he finds himself in. “In acknowledging a strong affinity between humors comedy and animal baiting, Jonson and Shakespeare demonstrate their disquiet about the medium in which they worked”,[18] and by the time we get to 4.2, Sir Toby also begins to feel uneasy about the whole project: “I would we were well rid of this knavery. If he may be conveniently delivered, I would he were” (4.2.69–71). In the final scene, Fabian too shows some awareness of the conflict between the forces of laughter and final harmony that is so pertinent to the genre of comedy when he implores Olivia: “And let no quarrel, nor no brawl to come, / Taint the condition of this present hour” (5.1.355–356). This hour is, after all the laughs at Malvolio’s cost, now dedicated to harmony. Malvolio’s exit with the words “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you!” (5.1.377), which follows soon after Fabian’s speech, can be read performatively in this context: through leaving the stage, he revenges himself on his environment by tainting the final comic reconciliation which should harmoniously include and unite all characters.

Why then, do we still laugh? We laugh because we want to. T.W. Craik and J.M. Lothian, the authors of the Arden introduction to Twelfth Night, for example sharply criticise Laurence Olivier’s tearful intonation of Malvolio’s final line since he might thus “damage the tone of the ending” when “[t]he final mood should surely be one of harmony”.[19] And the audience’s sense of being lightly entertained should not be put at risk, for Malvolio has a point when he emphasises the fool’s dependence on his audience in the first act: “unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged” (1.5.85–6) says he about the fool. Likewise, our laughs are essential to maintain the comedy, and thus they must be triggered and itched out at any cost. Spectators will consider something funny if they wish to and will then no longer be prepared to judge it to be violent. Undoubtedly, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Fabian, Maria and the fool just want to have a good laugh—and because this is what they expect to get out of gulling Malvolio, this is what they see it as—and what they make us see it as. And we are easily persuaded: After all, we have come to see a comedy and are only too willing to allow ourselves to be deluded by the supposedly purely festive and comic spirit of Twelfth Night.

Interestingly enough, both audiences, the one on stage and the one in the theatre’s auditorium, are herein not that different from Malvolio whose reading of the forged letter exemplifies how one’s perception of reality may be shaped by one’s desires and expectations. Perusing the letter, he famously reads Olivia’s “very C’s, her U’s, and her T’s” (2.5.88) from it and is more than ready to bend the words on the page to his liking: “If I could make that resemble something in me!” (2.5.120–121). Olivia for her part is likewise tempted to make the world fit her desires when she exclaims to Viola: “I would you were as I would have you be” (3.1.144), and later on, she explicitly acknowledges the parallels between Malvolio and herself: “I am as mad as he / If sad and merry madness equal be” (3.4.5). From this phenomenological and reader-response oriented point of view, one might even argue that, when rereading Twelfth Night under the auspices of “Shakespeare and Violence”, it would indeed be quite likely that one would find what one was looking for—you tend to get ‘what you will’. Comedy as a genre thrives on the effectiveness of “disguisings, deceptions, and mistakings: that is to say, on the provisional nature of our perceptions and interpretations of reality”, and this generic preoccupation thematically links the subplot to the main plot that is very obviously motivated through “disguisings, deceptions, and mistakings”, famously and happily to be resolved in the play’s final scene.[20]

What then, to sum up, is comedy, and what is its relationship to violence? Violence, as I have argued, is that aspect of comedy that is preferably left in the dark, it is a space that is hardly ever exposed to the light and very rarely at center-stage, a room that is never made quite accessible to the audience’s sight. In a second sense, however, violence, the dark room of comedy, constitutes the very origin of comedy: it is the ‘dark room’ where comedy is primarily made and produced, where the pictures of comedies are developed, at least in the sense that we as spectators almost always laugh at or about something or someone. Violence is thus almost as essential an ingredient to comedy as it is to tragedy, but whereas violence in the tragedies is openly staged and frequently leads to some kind of tragic resolution, as may be argued in the case of Hamlet, which ends with the prospect of Fortinbras as a new, more dynamic and determined emperor (he has, after all, Hamlet’s “dying voice”), the picture of comedy is carefully retouched to banish violence to the periphery of the happy ending: “And let no quarrel, nor no brawl to come, / Taint the condition of this present hour” (5.1.355–356). Still, the differences between what’s tragic and what’s comic in Shakespeare, are not hard and fast, not only in the tragicomedies, but even in his supposedly most comical comedies such as Twelfth Night. According to Manfred Pfister, “in England […] the mingling of laughter and tears, of the laughable and the pathetic or even the horrifying, and their tragicomic juxtaposition or conflation are the rule rather than the exception”[21], and one of the most prominent representatives of this tradition is Shakespeare - the English bard.


[1] Cf. J.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik, “Introduction”, in William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. byJ.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Arden, 2003 [1975]), xvii–xcviii.

[2] Lothian and Craik (2003), p. lx. Cf. also William C. Carroll, “Romantic Comedies”, in Stanley Wells, Lena Cowlin Orlin, eds., An Oxford Guide to Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003), 175–192, p. 180, 187.

[3] “violence, v.” In: Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) (Second Edition),

[4] Carroll (2003), p. 187.

[5] Roger Warren, “‘Smiling at grief’: some techniques of comedy in Twelfth Night and Così fan tutte”, ShS 32 (1979), 79–84, Carroll (2003), p. 178; Jason Scott-Warren, “When Theaters Were Bear-Gardens; or, What’s at Stake in the Comedy of Humours”, ShQ 54 (2003), 63–82, p. 80.

[6] William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. byJ.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Arden, 2003 [1975]).

[7] Scott-Warren (2003), p. 76.

[8] T.G.A. Nelson: Comedy: An Introduction to Comedy in Literature, Drama, and Cinema, (Oxford, New York: Oxford UP, 1990), p. 3.

[9] Ibid., p. 5, 186, 179.

[10] Cf. Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997).

[11] Indira Ghose, “Licence to Laugh: Festive Laughter in Twelfth Night”, in Manfred Pfister, ed., A History of English Laughter: Laughter from Beowulf to Beckett and Beyond (Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi 2002), 35–46, p. 38. Anthony Gash, “Carnival and the Sacred: The Winter’s Tale and Measure for Measure”, in Ronald Knowles, ed., Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin, (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1998), 177–210, p. 198.

[12] Ghose (2002), p. 40.

[13] Michael D. Bristol: Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (New York, London: Routledge, 1989 [1985]), p. 212.

[14] Nelson (1990), p. 171.

[15] Nelson (1990), p. 152. Another instance of metafictionality / metatheatricality can be seen in the duel Sir Toby sets up between Cesario / Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, deluding either about the other’s intentions and martial prowess.

[16] Manfred Pfister, “Introduction”, in Manfred Pfister, ed., A History of English Laughter: Laughter from Beowulf to Beckett and Beyond (Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2002), v–x,–vii.

[17] Ira Clark, “Comic Violence on the Late Tudor and Early Stuart Stage: A Theory and an Appreciation”, Exemplaria: A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 13:1 (2001), 253–286, p. 256. F.B. Tromly, “Twelfth Night: Folly’s Talents and the Ethics of Shakespearean Comedy”, Mosaic 7:3 (1974), 53–68, p. 57.

[18] Scott-Warren (2003), p. 81.

[19] Lothian and Craik (2003), p. xcviii.

[20] Nelson (1990), p. 138. Madness is another concept that characteristically occurs in this context of deceptions and mistakings, cf. Sebastian: “Are all the people mad?” (5.1.26).

[21] Pfister (2002), p. 8.


Obwohl Gewalt bei Shakespeare eher mit den Tragödien oder Historien in Verbindung gebracht wird, stellt sie zugleich einen unabdingbaren Bestandteil der Komödien dar. Am Beispiel von Twelfth Night wird deutlich, daß Gewalt in der Komödie nicht nur als dunkler Hintergrund, sondern auch als Dunkelkammer fungiert, in der die Bilder des Lachens für das Publikum primär entwickelt werden. Die Gewalt, der Malvolio zum Opfer fällt, indem er in einen „dark room“ verbannt wird, erweist sich daher als symptomatisch für den Mechanismus der Komödie im allgemeinen.