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"Perverse fantasies"? Rehabilitating Malvolio's reading.

It is now a commonplace notion that Malvolio's reading of Maria's letter in 2.5 of Twelfth Night satirizes the Puritans' approach to interpreting the Bible. (1) The play's first audiences seem to have appreciated the joke: in his diary of a Candlemas performance at the Middle Temple on 2 February 1601, John Manningham singled out the gulling of Malvolio as "a good practise" (Bruce 18). While perhaps more sympathetic, modern critics still routinely attribute Malvolio's interpretation of Maria's letter to "his complete isolation from reality" (Greif 270). In his introduction to the play, David Bevington offers the standard view of Malvolio as a solipsistic reader who "tortures the text to make it yield a suitable meaning, much in the style of Puritan theologizing" (336).

Without question, Malvolio has his flaws: he "taste[s] with a distempered appetite" and is, as Olivia says, "sick of self-love" (1.5.90-91). (2) It is this self-love that leads him--so goes the argument--to identify himself as the letter's addressee. Malvolio is austere, a killjoy of others' fun, and an egregiously bad reader who deserves, in the eyes of Toby and his cohort, imprisonment and a mock exorcism that borders on psychological and physical torture. They punish him not only for his hostile sobriety, but also and more immediately for his reading of Maria's letter, an act that his detractors--characters and some critics alike--consider misreading on a grand, even delusional, scale (Garber 530; Bloom 238). This consensus on Malvolio's alleged misreading is in need of serious revision: his hermeneutic, far from being the mark of Puritan excess, is remarkably astute.

Malvolio is an outsider in Olivia's household, identified by Maria as being "sometimes a kind of Puritan" (2.3.140). His detractors attack him for reading as a Puritan would, yet Shakespeare takes pains to rehabilitate Malvolio's reading. First, while his reading may seem to fulfill the stereotype or caricature of Puritan exegesis, Malvolio is in reality a shrewd interpreter of the kind of language that Olivia, were she really in love with him, would (and later most certainly does) use. Maria wrote the letter, but its style is Olivia's. Second, Malvolio reads as a textual pragmatist who does not believe that texts are self-interpreting; they cannot, in other words, be understood apart from social contexts, including oral ones, available to corroborate or invalidate his reading of the letter. He repeatedly makes use of those contexts. Malvolio has been much maligned for believing he is the letter's addressee, but this is scarcely a mistake: it is written specifically for him and to him in everything but the use of his name--and Maria virtually dangles that before him, too.

Moreover, Shakespeare uses Malvolio's reading as a way of touching on the Reformation dispute over hermeneutics--"the art of understanding texts" (Gadamer 164) (3)--yet at the same time he expands the notion of textuality to include the "text" of the body. Once Shakespeare establishes that people can also be "read" or interpreted, he suggests a striking parallel between Malvolio's reading of the letter and Sebastian's and Viola's "reading" of each other's identity in the play's recognition scene. While brother and sister reunite and marry others, Malvolio is excluded and purports to seek revenge. But the difference in their respective ends owes nothing to the respective quality of their readings--they are nearly identical--and everything to a misreading of Malvolio as one who pursues "perverse fantasies" in lieu of a careful hermeneutic.

REFORMATION HERMENEUTICS, REFORMATION VIOLENCE

The writing and reading of letters is a prominent feature of Twelfth Night's design. At Toby's exhortation to "taunt [Cesario] with the license of ink" (3.2.44-45), Sir Andrew writes a letter so inept--"excellently ignorant" (3.4.188)--that Toby ignores it and improvises a challenge by way of mouth. Similarly, once he is imprisoned, Malvolio asks Feste to "help me to a candle, and pen, ink, and paper" (4.2.81-82), thinking that Olivia will need no hermeneutic rigor to make sense of his plain style. He is mocked to the end, however, with Feste telling Olivia that he only belatedly brought Malvolio's letter to her because "as a madman's epistles are no gospels, so it skills not much when they are deliver'd" (5.1.287-88). He then reads the letter, presumably in deranged fashion, eliciting Olivia's "How now, art thou mad?" (line 293). His reply, "No madam, I do but read madness" (294), signals his intention to render Malvolio's letter unintelligible. Even under ideal circumstances--never the case in Twelfth Night--hermeneutics is susceptible to the possibility of misreading.

Because of Maria's duplicitous intention "to make," as Manningham noted, "the Steward beleeve his Lady widdowe was in love with him" (Bruce 18), Malvolio's perusal of her letter would seem to offer the play's quintessential example of misinterpretation. The letter's cryptic, quasi-evocation of his name--"M. O. A. I. doth sway my life" (2.5.107) (4)--tantalizes him: "what should that alphabetical position portend? If I could make that resemble something in me!" (lines 118-20). Malvolio desperately wants to find his name in the anagram, which is, as the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer notes, a legitimate hermeneutical tactic: the reader "must not try to disregard himself and his particular hermeneutical situation. He must relate the text to this situation if he wants to understand at all" (340, 324). (5) Malvolio relates the text to his situation, but his critics (again, both those inside and outside the play) would have us believe that he carries this hermeneutic to an absurd extreme.

Malvolio's reading of the letter also has an inescapable Reformation context. Because he is described as being "sometimes a kind of Puritan," Malvolio may be a Puritan or, if not, occasionally act like one (6); whatever the case, Maria and her confederates believe that he certainly reads like one. As Maurice Hunt notes, "juggling the alphabetical letters of [M.O.A.I.] to suggest his own name reflects conformists' accounts of Puritans willfully twisting the literal sense of biblical passages to create meanings justifying their narrow beliefs" (80). (7) Yet, as we shall see, it is not at all clear that Malvolio actually juggles the letters in M.O.A.I.; audiences almost always think he does because his adversaries in the scene tell them as much. By having others describe him as "a kind of Puritan" and allege that he twists the meaning of the letter, Shakespeare raises the issue of Reformation hermeneutics with its long history, one that I need only briefly rehearse here. (8)

In 1546 the Catholic Council of Trent took up the gauntlet first thrown down by Luther and Tyndale, declaring that no person, lay or otherwise, "must, relying on his own judgment [...] dare to interpret Holy Scripture by twisting it to his own personal understanding [...]" (qtd. in Simpson 54). (9) The statement was clearly a response to, and caricature of, the Protestant push for vernacular translations so that the laity could read without priestly mediation or guidance. (10) Yet in England by the turn of the seventeenth century the hermeneutical debate had largely shifted away from Protestant reformers and Catholics (Henry's break from Rome lay, after all, three generations in the past (11)) to the daily, internal struggle between conforming members of the Church of England and various nonconformists, Puritans among them. As early as 1542-43, the English statute "An Acte for the Advancement of True Religion" warned of "seditious" persons [i.e., nonconformists] who through "their perverse froward and malicious minds, wills, and intents, [intend] to subvert the very true and perfect exposition [...] of the said Scripture, after their perverse fantasies" (Statutes 894). It is no stretch of the imagination to say that Toby and his co-conspirators view Malvolio's desire of marrying the Countess Olivia as a "perverse fantasy" abetted by the tortuously self-serving interpretation that they believe he brings to the letter.

As James Simpson remarks, "[i]n the Reformation, modes of reading became the criterion of institutional inclusion and exclusion--exclusion of all the evangelical's obvious enemies [Jews and Catholics], but also, more interestingly, of other evangelical readers" (30, brackets Simpson's). (12) Twelfth Night contains a "whole pack" of those who oppose Malvolio's hermeneutical method (5.1.378); they see to it that there are spiritual consequences for his alleged misreading. He is bound "in hideous darkness" (4.2.30), then both catechized and exorcised by Sir Topas, a curate whose treatment recalls that of Doctor Pinch in The Comedy of Errors: "Mistress, both man and master is possess'd: / I know it by their pale and deadly looks. / They must be bound and laid in some dark room" (4.4.92-94). (13) Maria pronounces his excommunication: "Yond gull Malvolio is turn'd heathen, a very renegade; for there is no Christian that means to be sav'd by believing rightly can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness" (3.2.69-73). Shakespeare's etymological rendering of "orthodoxy" as "believing rightly" is at the heart of Maria's charge: Malvolio is a heretic and reads as such. If hermeneutics is, as Friedrich Schleiermacher defined it, "the art of avoiding misunderstandings" (qtd. in Gadamer 185), Malvolio is a bad reader, or a Puritan, which from a conformist perspective is much the same thing.

Although Malvolio's possible Puritanism has been the subject of much discussion, less attention has been paid to the religious affiliation of the other Illyrians. Anthony Nuttall claims there is no "factional grouping" in the play (241), an untenable assertion given that as soon as Sir Andrew learns Malvolio is "a kind of puritan," he exclaims, "O, if I thought that, I'd beat him like a dog!" (2.3.140-41). Andrew never explains his antipathy to Puritanism, yet it is clearly evident and an important reason they all close ranks against Malvolio. (14) The other Illyrians are neither Puritans nor Catholics; they belong, as Hunt and Peter Milward have demonstrated, to the world of official (conforming) Protestantism. (15) Although their denominational affiliation is never mentioned, Maria and her cohorts evince conformist disdain for Malvolio and his ilk, especially for his reading of the letter, which confirms for them their worst suspicions of his Puritanism. One could say of Maria (or of any in her circle) that she is, to use the play's own indistinct formula, "sometimes a kind of conformist." (16)

And what was it about Puritan hermeneutics that conformists opposed? Tyndale himself encouraged a presentist, personal application of Scripture among his evangelical readers: "As thou readest therefore think that every syllable pertaineth to thine own self [...]" (8). Malvolio does this, to be sure, and it is this alleged egoism that rendered Puritans vulnerable to charges that they pursued perverse fantasies while reading. (17) Thomas Hobbes, for one, acerbically quipped, "After the Bible was translated into English every man, nay, every boy and wench that could read English, thought they spoke with God Almighty and understood what he said" (28). For his supposedly heretical reading--what Hunt calls "the arbitrariness of Malvolio's willful interpretation" (79)--he finds himself imprisoned. Behind his jailers' antics lies a cold reality: English heretics were routinely sentenced to one-month prison sentences; a recidivist faced either burning or the threat of having "his body to be committed to perpetual prison" (Statutes 895). As Simpson notes, Reformation hermeneutics "unleashes an aggression and, not infrequently, a violence between different groups of evangelical readers themselves" (30). Toby and company imprison Malvolio for his supposed misreading, but their supposal turns out to be their own willful interpretation of Malvolio's careful reading of the letter.

MALVOLIO'S READING

The twelve nights of the play's title includes the Feast of Fools (festum fatuorum), whose festive inversion of social hierarchies would be fully realized in Illyria if the countess were to marry her majordomo. Instead, Malvolio is left out, deservedly so in the eyes of some critics: "Malvolio's absurd and egotistical reading" (Simmons 181) represents what David Willbern sees as "a fall from grace which is not only personal and social, but has spiritual resonance as well" (87). (18) Though this is the consensus view, it hinges rather precariously on the assumption that Malvolio misreads the letter. Yet just how unreasonable is it for him to attribute the language of the letter to Olivia? Are Maria's self-described "impossible passages of grossness" inconsistent with how Olivia actually speaks?

The first thing to notice is that although the letter does not use Malvolio's name, the clues it provides render doing so virtually unnecessary: "thou art made if thou desir'st to be so; if not, let me see thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and not worthy to touch Fortune's fingers" (2.5.155-56). To whom else could her use of "steward" refer? It is of course one of many false trails meant to mislead him. Even with the reference to "steward," the absence of his name ought to give Malvolio pause--as, in fact, it does: "If this should be thee, Malvolio?"; "what should that alphabetical position portend?" (lines 118-20). His questions indicate that he does not leap immediately to conclusions. Malvolio will ultimately believe that he is the addressee, but only after a careful--recursive--reading of the letter in its entirety.

Second, Olivia acknowledges that Maria's handwriting is "much like the character of her own" (5.1.346); yet Maria also possesses an uncanny ability to imitate Olivia's idiolect. "Be not afraid of greatness" and "thou art made if thou desir'st to be so" may sound like "impossible passages of grossness," but they bear striking resemblance to the language Olivia actually uses. (19) Late in the play she exhorts Cesario, whom she thinks she has just married, "Fear not, Cesario, take thy fortunes up; / Be that thou know'st thou art, and then thou art / As great as that thou fear'st" (5.1.146-48). This is how she really speaks to one she loves, and it is precisely the style of Maria's letter. The letter's cryptic salutation is similarly consistent with what Malvolio knows about her language: "'To the unknown belov'd, this, and my good wishes':--her very phrases!" (90-91). Is this just wish fulfillment on his part? Hardly. When Olivia sees the letter at the end of the play, Malvolio challenges her, "Write [differently] from it, if you can, in hand or phrase" (5.1.332, italics mine). She can only "confess" the truth of the remarkable mimicry (346). Thus Malvolio, far from egregiously misreading the letter, astutely begins to locate Olivia's voice in its cadences.

Third, notice the letter's multiple exhortations: "be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Thy Fates open their hands, let thy blood and spirit embrace them. [...] Go to, thou art made if thou desir'st to be so; if not, let me see thee a steward still [...]" (2.5.144-47, 155-56). It is as if the letter takes its cue from Olivia's repeated commands to her beloved Cesario: "Be not afraid, good youth" (3.1.131); "Get you to your lord" (1.5.279); "let him send no more" (280); "Hold little faith" (5.1.171). She commands everyone: "Open't and read it" (Feste at 5.1.288); "Read it you, sirrah" (Fabian, 301); and "See him deliver'd, Fabian, bring him hither" (315). So consistent is Shakespeare's representation of Olivia that he reveals her imperiousness in her very first utterance: "Take the fool away" (1.5.38).

Maria's letter is similarly rife with the imperative mood: "Cast thy humble slough"; "be opposite with a kinsman"; "let thy tongue tang with arguments of state"; "put thyself into the trick of singularity" (3.4.68-72). Her language puts Malvolio in the mood, both figuratively and grammatically: "Go off, I discard you. Let me enjoy my private. Go off"; "Go hang yourselves all!"(89-90, 123). He attempts to appropriate Olivia's language in anticipation, he hopes, of their union. Although Malvolio imagines the match even before he reads the letter (2.5.23-80), he is scarcely the perverse fantasist his detractors make him out to be, a Puritan who reads according to his own lights. This is merely a caricature of Puritan hermeneutics (20) and of Malvolio's actual reading practice as well. Not only does he rely on the clues that the letter provides, he also has recourse, as we have seen, to the riddling language that Olivia actually uses when she speaks to Cesario: "To one of your receiving / Enough is shown" (3.1.120-21).

Perhaps because of the bias of Malvolio's detractors in the scene, Shakespeare rehabilitates his reading of the letter before it even begins: "Maria once told me she did affect me, and I have heard herself come thus near, that should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion" (2.5.23-26). Malvolio's recounting of Maria's statement is of course hearsay, but there is no evidence in the play that he misremembers (quite the opposite, in fact [2.1.5-11]) or, worse, lies about what others have told him--even Toby concedes that he is "virtuous" (2.3.114). One cannot, however, trust Maria, but even if Olivia made no such statement to her, it does not change the fact that Maria's allegation serves as one piece of evidence to persuade Malvolio that Olivia might affect him. Maria could also make such a claim with clever impunity: "affect" can refer either to loving someone--the definition Malvolio wishes were true--or merely "to have affection for or liking" someone, which, as both Maria and Malvolio both know, is at the very least how Olivia feels toward him. (21)

Olivia keeps to herself while she is in mourning, yet she is typically in Malvolio's company, and is quite solicitous about his health when he later appears cross-gartered before her: "Let some of my people have a special care of him. I would not have him miscarry for the half of my dowry" (3.4.62-63). (22) Everything she does indicates her trust in him. As Olivia's steward, Malvolio is in control of the domestic affairs of her household; if he were as inept as Manningham and others have thought, how has he risen to this important managerial position? She gives him multiple household responsibilities, all of which he seems to accomplish with dispatch (e.g., 1.5.297-305; 2.2.16). (23) Her willingness to give up half her dowry (a dowry reserved for marriage, it is worth noting) indicates that Olivia almost certainly does affect, though not love, him.

Even more intriguing is Olivia's comment to Malvolio that "should she fancy, it should be one of [Malvolio's] complexion." Since Olivia is not present to verify that she actually made the statement, this is another bit of hearsay--yet it, too, has the ring of truth, of authenticity, about it. The statement is elusive, evasive even: she may not fancy anyone, but if she were to, having a "complexion"--a word that can refer to one's appearance, skin color, even temperament (24)--similar to that of Malvolio would be the sine qua non of her attraction. The entire comment is noncommittal and, strikingly, as cryptic as (and certainly in the style of) Maria's letter: it again maps Olivia's idiolect. To indicate that there is something about his complexion she finds attractive is an odd statement for Olivia to make in Malvolio's presence unless she absolutely trusts him. Yet Malvolio does not leap to conclusions; he wonders, quite understandably, "What should I think on't?" (2.5.28). There is no indication in the play that Olivia actually loves Malvolio, but he clearly aspires to the match, and it is not unreasonable for him to regard her statement as giving him hope. Her remark about his complexion is cryptic, neither refusing nor accepting him as a possible match--in pointed contrast to her repeated refusals of Orsino. Curiously enough, Maria's use of M.O.A.I. also appears to be calibrated to the "complexion," though not identical likeness, of Malvolio's name.

As if that weren't enough initial evidence, Malvolio tells us that "she uses me with a more exalted respect than anyone else that follows her" (2.5.26-28). Olivia's later concern for him when he is cross-gartered corroborates the claim; her last line in the play, "He hath been most notoriously abus'd" (5.1.379), is further evidence of her sympathy. Together, these three pieces of evidence, all of which he considers before he discovers the letter, offer an intriguing prelude to his subsequent reading of it. Olivia's remark that she might marry someone of Malvolio's complexion tantalizes him, but it is in the end as indefinite as the letter's lack of a named addressee. Malvolio certainly fantasizes about a future marriage to her, yet he also clearly does not yet believe with certainty that she loves him. He only fantasizes in soliloquy; when he is around Olivia he is all business. Toby calls him "an overweening rogue" (2.5.29) for the supposed presumptuousness of his perverse fantasy, but it is not unreasonable (and quite human) in light of what Malvolio has heard from and about her as well as from her own behavior toward him. Then, after considering such evidence, to receive a love letter written in what appears to be Olivia's hand, in her distinctive style, is to confirm for him--with such "clear lights of favor," as he later says (5.1.336)--that her earlier uncertainty about falling in love has been settled in his favor.

When Malvolio then picks up the letter, his reading of the tantalizing anagram could potentially be quite self-serving: "M. O. A. I. This simulation is not as the former; and yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for every one of these letters are in my name" (2.5.139-41). Malvolio wishes that he could "crush" the letter, perhaps crinkling the paper so as to transpose the "A" and the "I," but there is no indication that he ever does so, literally or figuratively. Instead, he notes that the arrangement of the letters "suffers under probation" (128), unlike the many other parts of the letter that "simulate" his person with "no obstruction" (117-18)--Maria's use of "let me see thee a steward still" is a good example. Even his use of "crush" registers a possible awareness that he would be doing some violence to the text if he were to make the letters correspond to the order of those in his name. Malvolio is also correct that the letters are in his name, and almost certainly rearranged as they are in order to tantalize him, to induce him to transpose them. Without question, he wishes he could "crush" it "a little," but instead of doing so, he simply moves on to the remainder of the letter. Given the other overwhelming evidence identifying him as the addressee, Malvolio probably does think, on some level, that the anagram is not inconsistent with the letter's cryptic style--and he is correct. Nonetheless, he indicates his uncertainty or wariness about positively connecting M. O. A. I. to his name. (25)

Shakespeare teases us with the possibility that Malvolio might crush the letters and thus fulfill the caricature of Puritan solipsism, but there is no evidence that he actually does so. Given Shakespeare's famed complementarity, his ability to play both sides of an issue, it is no surprise that the issue is unresolved in a delicate balance, one that gets lost before the repeated ejaculations of Toby and his confederates, all of whom believe that Malvolio's application of the letter to his situation is a self-serving fantasy. Having drawn their conclusion about his reading before it ever takes place--"I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him," Maria declares (2.5.19-20)--they offer their derisive running commentary with such effectiveness that audiences have a difficult time being guarded in their appraisal of Malvolio's reading. In effect, they function as early modern talking heads, eavesdropping pundits who tell us what to think of Malvolio's reading as it unfolds. Yet they are hardly nonpartisan.

In wishing to portray Malvolio in the worst possible light, Maria acknowledges only her ability to mimic Olivia's handwriting (2.3.159-61), not her uncanny ability to ventriloquize Olivia's linguistic style as well. Maria downplays the full extent of her imitative prowess, saying she has written "some obscure epistles of love" (155-56) full of "impossible passages of grossness"--passages that are, if one cares to notice, entirely consistent with Olivia's idiolect. In their conformist disdain for Malvolio, Maria and the others want to see him as someone who twists any writing to suit his purposes and then studiously avoids additional evidence that might invalidate his interpretation. A careful reader--a textual pragmatist--would examine such evidence, and this is, again, what Malvolio does. Everything in the letter and everything he knows about Olivia's speech patterns, what she has told him, and what she may well have told Maria about him, points to the conclusion that Malvolio reaches. He wishes to reach that conclusion, to be sure, but he does not simply jump to it: rather, "each circumstance / Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump" (5.1.251-52). The lines are Viola's, and, as we shall see, she and Sebastian later mimic Malvolio's hermeneutic circumspection.

How then is there such near-unanimity in seeing Malvolio as such a bad, self-serving reader? Why have we, in fact, misread him? In our own defense we can say that his foes' animadversions throughout 2.5 incline us to adopt their self-serving (dare I say puritanical?) interpretation of his hermeneutic. They are far from charitable, however; Malvolio's use of both written and oral contexts is surely the mark of a conscientious reader. (It is even, ironically enough, part of conformist, High Church, tradition. (26)) Maria and the others disregard all evidence to the contrary and insist that his reading deserves whatever punishment the "whirligig of time" brings in. They look after him--not quite as Olivia had intended--with "a special care" (3.4.62). Talk about misreading.

There are, however, two possible flaws in Malvolio's reading. The first occurs when he appears before Olivia cross-gartered and speaks to her in the language of the letter (3.4.14-63); he does not trust the evidence of her confusion and incredulity. Yet everything he knows about her and has read in the letter confirms for him that she is merely acting in public as if there is nothing between the two of them. Such indirection, even outright denial, is also evident in her speech to Cesario, whom she does love: "Be not afraid, good youth, I will not have you" (3.1.131). Second, Maria tells us that Olivia "detests" yellow stockings and cross-gartering (2.5.198-200). Malvolio flatly contradicts her: "She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered, and in this she manifests herself to my love [...]" (166-68). Ought we to believe that Maria speaks the truth here and that Malvolio is delusional? While Malvolio is prone to fantasizing about a prospective relationship with Olivia, he hardly conjures things out of thin air as Maria does the love letter. Why should we accept Maria's word over Malvolio's when her duplicity is abundantly evident?

Marjorie Garber suggests that Maria's contradiction of Malvolio's claim makes "it clear that Olivia was only being polite" (517). This, however, would be distinctly out of character for Olivia. She reproves Feste when he displeases her; has little time for Toby's nonsense; is repeatedly gruff with Cesario; and rebuffs Orsino's importunities with dispatch, telling him on the last occasion, "If [your suit] be aught to the old tune, my lord / It is as fat and fulsome to mine ear / As howling after music" (5.1.102-04). She had no problem, again, telling Malvolio that he is "sick of self-love" (1.5.90-91), and her continual use of imperatives is hardly the height of politesse. Still, it is possible that she may dislike the fashion and have commended it on Malvolio for some reason; or, alternatively, Maria may actually be falsifying Olivia's real approval of such attire. Because the event happened before the play opens and is only briefly related, it is impossible to determine with any certainty why Olivia had apparently praised Malvolio, or what she really thinks of his clothing. (27) What we know for certain is that Malvolio is not delusional: Maria is well aware that Olivia had commended his outfit--why else would she enjoin him in the letter, "Remember who commended thy yellow stockings, and wish'd to see thee ever cross-garter'd" (2.5.153-54)? Maria uses that piece of information, once again, to make him identify himself as the letter's addressee. It is similarly clear that Malvolio is not distorting the letter, but testing it against the oral context of what Olivia had said to him.

Malvolio knows, too, that a marriage between social unequals is possible--"the Lady of the Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe" (2.5.39-40). (28) Toby can't believe that Olivia would marry a mere steward, but she is prepared to (and one could say does) marry Cesario, who is also a servant. (29) Despite this evidence of the possibility of such a marriage, all that he can envision while eavesdropping on Malvolio's reading is his own perverse fantasy of wrath: "Fire and brimstone!" (50); "Bolts and shackles!" (56); "Shall this fellow live?" (62); and "I'll cudgel him" (133). (30) But as Stephen Booth remarks, against the weight of critical opinion and with his usual eye for detail, "[t]he credentials of and in that letter are awfully convincing. The letter gives Malvolio plentiful and persuasive evidence that Olivia loves him. [...] Sherlock Holmes himself would accept Maria's letter as a love letter from Olivia to Malvolio" (147.) In the end, poor Malvolio is shut out not by the purported inadequacy of his reading but by the inhuman sport of his coreligionists.

SEBASTIAN AND VIOLA'S "READING"

The attention paid (and censure given) to Malvolio's supposed misreading can lead us to overlook similar charges of misreading that characters level against one another. What is remarkable is how Shakespeare continually glances at Reformation hermeneutics as a way of framing the issue. (31) When Cesario claims that Orsino's love for Olivia is the first "chapter" of his heart, Olivia responds, "O, I have read it; it is heresy" (1.5.225-28)--the same charge lodged against Malvolio for his reading. The play's subtitle, "what you will," is an apt subtitle for a play about interpretive willing--here Orsino wills himself into a potential marriage to Olivia, even though she never gives him (as she had Malvolio) the least bit of encouragement. Feste, too, twice "catechizes" others on the proper hermeneutic method: Olivia is taught to believe she should not mourn because her brother's soul "is in heaven" (1.5.38-69), while Malvolio is nonsensically instructed in how not to "dispossess the soul of [his] grandam" (4.2.20-61). (32) And when Olivia calls Feste a fool, he disclaims against her misreading of him: "Misprision in the highest degree!" (1.5.55).

Hermeneutic miscues, or even the mere allegation of such, are potentially dangerous. Violence often ensues, including the harm that comes not only to Malvolio, but to Toby and Aguecheek (5.1.190-97), as well as the threatened executions of Antonio (60-72) and Cesario (117-30). That the play is a comedy suggests, generically at least, the possibility of making intelligible sense of the world in which one lives; the continual misunderstandings nonetheless underscore the need to exercise hermeneutic care. To the extent that things can be made well, the play points to a kind of hermeneutics writ large wherein words and other visual markers such as the body require careful examination. Strikingly, the play suggests that the act of reading encompasses texts such as Maria's letter but also the text of the body, as in the "text" that lies in Orsino's heretical bosom (1.5.223-28). Later, in response to Cesario's question, "what manner of man is [Andrew]?," Fabian answers, "Nothing of that wonderful promise, to read him by his form, as you are like to find him in the proof of his valor" (3.4.264-66, italics mine). (33)

Shakespeare thus makes explicit what he does implicitly throughout the play: "textualize" persons so that they can be "read" or interpreted, as in his adversaries' insistence that Malvolio's cross-gartering must be interpreted as madness. (34) Reading others by their form is everywhere: Cesario and Andrew each comically misreads the other as a ferocious adversary (3.4); Olivia (4.3) and Feste (4.1) mistake Sebastian for Cesario; Antonio mistakes Cesario for Sebastian (5.1); Orsino mythologizes Olivia as a nubile Diana and thus misreads both women (1.1.18-22); and Sir Andrew, a knight, misinterprets Olivia, a countess, as being within his marital ambit. He also mistakes Toby for a friend, only to receive Toby's vicious, "Will you help?--an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-fac'd knave, a gull!" (5.1.205-06). Misreading, be it books or people, is serious business, and nowhere is this more evident than in the play's recognition scene.

When Viola and Sebastian finally share the stage in 5.1, they each must discover who the other one, a mirror image, really is. This is no easy task: she is in disguise and he has had great trouble interpreting events throughout the play. He does not, after all, know who Olivia is, why she thinks she knows him, or why she wants to marry him. To complicate matters, each believes the other to have died in the shipwreck. Seeing Cesario, his apparent double, Sebastian fumbles at comprehending:
  Do I stand there? I never had a brother;
  Nor can there be that deity in my nature
  Of here and everywhere. I had a sister,
  Whom the blind waves and surges have devoured.
  Of charity, what kin are you to me?
  What countryman? What name? What parentage? (5.1.226-31)


Sebastian examines the text of Viola's physical body. His repeated questioning, including the verbalizing of his own hermeneutic, imitates Malvolio's own piecing together of the letter. The similarity should tip us off that this scene functions as a clever if subtle reprise of 2.5.

The siblings' mutual appearance confuses them and everyone else on stage; like Malvolio, they cannot simply rely merely on the surface of the text--the appearance of the body--before them. "A hermeneutically trained consciousness," as Gadamer remarks, "must be, from the start, sensitive to the text's alterity" (269)--sensitive, that is, to what the text says, not forcing it to mean "what you will." Disguised as Cesario, the text of Viola's body is as cryptic to Sebastian--as hard to read--as Maria's letter was to Malvolio. Yet because Cesario looks just like Sebastian--"One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons" (5.1.216)--one can see in Sebastian's questioning the same desire of Malvolio to make the tantalizing M.O.A.I "resemble something in me!" Yet the transvestite Cesario gives neither no more nor no less appearance of being Viola than M.O.A.I. does of being Malvolio; Cesario is and is not Viola. Likewise, Sebastian both is and cannot be the dead brother Viola lost.

Sebastian quickly realizes that even though Cesario is nearly identical to him in appearance, he can be neither Sebastian--"Do I stand there?"--nor an identical twin--"I never had a brother" (226). He similarly rules out the divinity that could make possible his simultaneous appearance in two places: "Nor can there be that deity in my nature / Of here and everywhere" (227-28). Sebastian's hermeneutical "questioning of things" (Gadamer 269) (35) forces him by default to consider his fraternal twin sister, but having presumed that she--"Whom the blind waves and surges have devoured"--died at sea, the possibility of her resurrection from the dead appears just as implausible as the other alternatives already dismissed. His only apparent recourse, given her resemblance to him, is to consider whether she is potentially part of his extended family: "what kin are you to me? / What countryman? What name? What parentage?" (230-31). It is a wrong road, but the questions are sufficient to test and correct his hypothesis.

Viola, too, must read against the countervailing presumption of her brother's death at sea:
  Of Messaline; Sebastian was my father;
  Such a Sebastian was my brother too;
  So went he suited to his watery tomb.
  If spirits can assume both form and suit,
  You come to fright us. (232-36)


Viola must first rule out the appearance of a wraith. Stirring somewhere in her mind must also be the recollection that Antonio's recent mistaking of her for Sebastian had made her entertain the possibility of Sebastian's survival: "Prove true, imagination, O, prove true, / That I, dear brother, be now ta'en for you" (3.4.375-76). In addition, the mention of places and names begins to persuade Sebastian: "Were you a woman, as the rest [of the evidence] goes even, / I should [...] say, 'Thrice welcome, drowned Viola!'" (5.1.239-41). After such concerted effort, stichomythia leads to quick resolution:
  VIOLA: My father had a mole upon his brow.
  SEBASTIAN: And so had mine.
  VIOLA: And died that day when Viola from her birth
     Had numbered thirteen years.
  SEBASTIAN: O, that record is lively in my soul!
     He finished indeed his mortal act
     That day that made my sister thirteen years. (242-48)


Their recourse to family history is the mark of textual pragmatism: they confirm their suspicions with information outside the "text" of the other's body, in part because those texts, as in the case of Malvolio's letter, are hardly self-explicating.

Viola closes the exchange with a final caution that they not jump to false readings: "Do not embrace me till each circumstance / Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump / That I am Viola" (251-53). Her tantalizing allusion to the "Noli me tangere" topos derives from Christ's words to Mary Magdalene in the gospel of John: "Touch me not: for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17). (36) Twelfth Night fittingly commemorates the Epiphany as it re-creates another, a quasi-resurrection from the dead that requires a careful hermeneutic, an imaginative suspension of disbelief, and perhaps even a modicum of faith that one can read signs in the world and make intelligible sense of them. (37) Viola warily acknowledges that their interpretation may prove illusory; for now, however, they show themselves willing to accept the provisionality of their reading and to adjust it, if necessary, in time.

Does Sebastian and Viola's hermeneutic care stand in contrast to Malvolio's reading? The answer is no. Sebastian and Viola have recourse to the "text" of the other person, which, because Viola is cross-dressed, is as misleading as the text of Maria's letter was to Malvolio. Viola promises to dispense with her "masculine usurp'd attire" (5.1.250) so that she can be correctly interpreted as a woman. Malvolio had changed his clothes, too, so as to confirm to Olivia that he understood the letter's injunctions, but no such joyous union with Olivia awaits him, in stark contrast to the reunion between the twins. To their advantage, Viola and Sebastian can test their reading with and against one another, testing each other's history against their mutual presumption of the other's death. Moreover, they read in the absence of Toby, Feste, Maria, and Fabian, none of whom is present to distract us from their efforts to make sense of what they see. Malvolio tests the letter with every available resource he has, and reads it correctly as being addressed to him, but he has the disadvantage of having Toby and the others actively working to distort his reading of the letter as well as audiences' perceptions of his hermeneutic care. The letter also commands Malvolio not to be tentative but, instead, to usurp the clothing and the role of Olivia's presumed beloved.

Finally, as Nuttall comments,
  The jokers assume that Malvolio will be caught by the chance of
  social climbing. In fact he is caught by something more elementary,
  by the thought that he is loved. There is a subtle pathos in the fact
  that this inadequate human being, so deficient in warmth towards
  others, should still be vulnerable at this point. Suddenly we see,
  Malvolio is human. (243)


Malvolio wants as desperately to be loved as Sebastian and Viola each wants to believe that the other has survived the shipwreck. Shakespeare points not to Malvolio's bad reading but to the difficulties of interpretation: one can do one's best and still get it wrong, especially in the face of the malevolence of others. Manningham has bequeathed us a longstanding tradition of misreading Malvolio as a gull worthy of being duped, but he is every bit as careful a reader as Sebastian and Viola. Malvolio has some faults, but even in this regard Shakespeare rehabilitates him: Fabian confesses that they wrote the letter "Upon some stubborn and uncourteous parts / We had conceiv'd against him" (5.1.361-62). Malvolio may be stubborn and uncourteous, but their "conceptions" of him may well be worse than he really is. (38) Thus, instead of reading Malvolio as one who is imprisoned because of his tortuous reading, we ought to regard him as one who, despite his careful hermeneutic, is tortured for it.

WORKS CITED

Aristotle. Poetics. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. Vol. 2. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984.

Bevington, David, ed. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. 6th ed. New York: Pearson, 2009.

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Penguin, 1998.

Booth, Stephen. Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998.

Bruce, John, ed. Diary of John Manningham. 1603. New York: Johnson Reprint, 1963.

Foxe, John. Acts and Monuments. Vol. 8. New York: AMS Press, 1965.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. 2nd ed. Trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. New York: Continuum, 1995.

Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

The Geneva Bible: A Facsimile of the 1560 Edition. Introd. Lloyd E. Berry. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989.

Greif, Karen. "Plays and Playing in Twelfth Night." Twelfth Night: Critical Essays. Ed. Stanley Wells. New York: Garland, 1986. 261-88.

Hobbes, Thomas. 1668. Behemoth: the history of the causes of the civil wars of England, and of the counsels and artifices by which they were carried on from year 1640 to the year 1660. Ed. William Moleswith. New York: Burt Franklin, 1969.

Hunt, Maurice. Shakespeare's Religious Allusiveness: Its Play and Tolerance. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.

Ko, Yu Jin. "The Comic Close of Twelfth Night and Viola's Noli me tangere." Shakespeare Quarterly 48.4 (1997): 391-405.

Linge, David E., trans. and ed. "Editor's Introduction." Philosophical Hermeneutics. By Hans-Georg Gadamer. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976. x-lviii.

Milward, Peter. "The Religious Dimension of Shakespeare's Illyria." Shakespeare and the Mediterranean. Ed. Tom Clayton, Susan Brock, and Vicente Fores. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2004. 380-87.

Nuttall, A. D. Shakespeare the Thinker. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007.

The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Sasek, Lawrence, ed. Images of English Puritanism: A Collection of Contemporary Sources, 1589-1646. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.

Simmons, J. L. "A Source for Shakespeare's Malvolio: The Elizabethan Controversy with the Puritans." The Huntington Library Quarterly 36.3 (May 1973): 181-201.

Simpson, James. Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and Its Reformation Opponents. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007.

Spufford, Margaret. "'I bought me a primer,' or, 'how godly were the multitude?': The basic religious concepts of those who could read in the seventeenth century." The World of Rural Dissenters, 1520-1725. Ed. Margaret Spufford. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 64-85.

Statutes of the Realm. Ed. T. Edlyn Tomlins. 1810-28. Vol. 3. London: Dawsons, 1963.

Tyndale, William. Tyndale's Old Testament: Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Joshua to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah. Ed. and introd. David Daniell. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992.

Willbern, David. "Malvolio's Fall." Shakespeare Quarterly 29.1 (Winter 1978): 85-90.

I am indebted to Geoff Bowden, Sheryl Meyering, the anonymous reader for PLL, and to my research assistant, Adam Marshall, for their comments on previous drafts of this essay. I am also grateful to Abbie Ries and Brittani Boston for their proofreading of the manuscript.

(1) See in particular Donna B. Hamilton's Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1992) 93-106, Simmons, and Hunt.

(2) The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. All references to Shakespeare's plays are to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text.

(3) Gadamer is particularly instructive because of both his phenomenological approach to hermeneutics, which nicely mirrors Shakespeare's own exploration in the play, and his rejection of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey's position that the subjective intention of the author is what the reader must recover. On Gadamer's decisive influence in the development of twentieth-century hermeneutics, see Linge x-lviii.

(4) Critics have speculated wildly in their effort to interpret M.O.A.I. For a review of the literature, see Peter J. Smith's "M. O. A. I. 'What Should That Alphabetical Position Portend?' An Answer to the Metamorphic Malvolio" (Renaissance Quarterly 51.4 [1998]: 1199-1224).

(5) The temporal and historical situations are part of what Gadamer describes as the reader's "horizon." In the words of Linge, "Such horizons constitute the interpreter's own immediate participation in traditions that are not themselves the object of understanding but the condition of its occurrence" (xii).

(6) Still, Peter Milward remarks, "he is described by Maria as 'a kind of Puritan,' which means--for all the learned reservations of commentators--still a Puritan, if not quite so extreme as the Brownists [...]" ("The Religious Dimension" 382). Although the point is overstated, Malvolio's puritanical traits--abstemiousness, severity--are readily apparent.

(7) For a corroborating view, see Stevie Davies's William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (New York: Penguin, 1993) 96-105.

(8) The controversy over hermeneutics can hardly be overstated and is well documented. See, for instance, Alan J. Hauser and Duane F. Watson's (eds.) A History of Biblical Interpretation (3 vols. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 2003-) esp. vol. 2; Werner Schwarz's Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1955); and Gerald Bray's "The Renaissance and Reformation" (Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1996. 165-224).

(9) The translation is Simpson's. For the Latin text, see Henricus Denziger and Adolphus Schonmetzer's (eds.) Enchiridion Symbolorum, definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum (Barcelona: Herder, 1967) 366.

(10) The martyrologist John Foxe was one of countless evangelicals to reciprocate in kind: in interpreting scripture, the Catholic clergy were said in his Actes and Monuments (1570) to "darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry [...] wresting the Scripture unto their own purpose, contrary unto the process, order, and meaning of the text [...]" (1226).

(11) This is not to deny the persistence of English Catholicism, which faced active persecution in Elizabeth's reign. For the history of that perseverance, see especially Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c.1400-c.1580 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1992) and Robert S. Miola's Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007). "Papistry" was a continuing target among evangelical polemicists, but increasingly the derogatory term was directed by Puritans at practices within the Church of England. See also Simpson 179.

(12) Simpson believes that "Protestant" is the incorrect term to use; he uses "evangelical" instead.

(13) Milward, "The Religious Dimension" 382-83, argues that Feste adopts the role of a Puritan curate.

(14) Maria would seem to disagree with this ascription of Malvolio's religious affiliation when she says, "The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser [...]" (146). Her point, however, is not that Malvolio is not a Puritan, but rather that if he is one (and she is the one who had declared it so), it is overshadowed by his inconstancy, his "time-pleasing."

(15) On the Protestantism of the play, in contradistinction to Shakespeare's typical use of a Protestant/Catholic binary, see Hunt, 72-75, and Milward's "The Religious Dimension" 383, as well as his Shakespeare the Papist (Naples, FL: Sapientia P, 2005) 124-25. Milward's identification of Illyria as Protestant is especially persuasive since Milward is acutely sensitive to the Catholicism of Shakespeare's plays; he if anyone would detect it were it there. Jeffrey Knapp, in Shakespeare's Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 2002) 174, and Hamilton also regard the conformist/Puritan divide as a given.

(16) To the charge that official (Church of England) Protestantism is literally out of place in Illyria, one must also explain the references to Puritans and Brownists (3.2.31), which are also distinctively English. As Marjorie Garber argues, "I am presuming here that Illyria = England, following the custom of other Shakespearean plays. [...] In Shakespeare's time, 'Illyria' would have been a place-name without a place" (529-30).

(17) In Basilikon Doron (1603), James I faults the Puritans for "making the Scriptures to be ruled by their conscience, and not their conscience by the Scripture [...]" (qtd. in Sasek 218-219).

(18) As Nuttall comments, "Scholars and commentators may strain to explain how very unpleasant Malvolio is so that we can feel less bad about the way he is treated" (246).

(19) Aristotle would describe the language of the letter as a "likely impossibility" ([1460.sup.a]1): impossible to believe one actually speaks like that, but on closer inspection it proves true, given what we know of Olivia.

(20) Tyndale and Luther both rejected "private interpretation" in favor of reading guided by the Holy Spirit, which they argued would lead believers into all truth. On evangelicals' resistance to "private interpretation," see Simpson 134-37.

(21) OED, s.v. "affect."

(22) Maria later corroborates Olivia's offer of half her dowry: "My lady would not lose him for more than I'll say" (3.4.104-05). Maria's hesitancy to state such a large amount probably indicates her unwillingness to admit just how highly Olivia regards Malvolio.

(23) In 2.2 Malvolio "returns" the ring that Olivia is actually giving to Viola as a cryptic token of affection. Viola figures this out, Malvolio does not, and thus it could be argued that the scene demonstrates how Viola is a more astute reader than Malvolio. Yet Malvolio was not present during Olivia and Viola's conversation, has no knowledge that Viola gave no ring to Olivia on Orsino's behalf, and is subsequently told that the ring should be returned by way of the servant (1.5.301-02). Malvolio is simply--understandably--ignorant of what happened between Olivia and Viola. Viola picks up on the subtext (she knows she gave Olivia no ring), but there is no reason that Malvolio should. The scene shows how carefully Malvolio follows Olivia's instructions (5-11), and he has no reason (much less inclination) to see the returning of the ring as anything other than yet another refusal of Orsino's importunities.

(24) OED, s.v. "complexion."

(25) When he later appears before Olivia cross-gartered (3.4), he quotes from the letter, yet makes no mention of the anagram. The absence of his mentioning it cannot constitute dispositive evidence of his wariness to recite it to her, but the absence is striking because M. O. A. I. is the closest Maria ever comes to using his name in the letter.

(26) The Catholic Church, for instance, insists that the Bible must be construed alongside the traditions of oral teachings from the time of the apostles on. The teaching authority of the church, the magisterium, informs Roman Catholicism's understanding of Scripture.

(27) We don't even know that Olivia objects to his cross-gartering when he later appears clothed in this fashion before her. It is funny for audiences to see such bright colors on Malvolio, and this may also surprise Olivia. Maria and the others tell Olivia that Malvolio is mad, and this as much as his unusual behavior in the scene convinces her that something is amiss. We assume that Olivia objects to his yellow stockings, but she never says so; all we have to rely on is Maria's word for it, which, again, contradicts what Olivia told Malvolio.

(28) This reference has never been historically identified, but there are ample examples of such marriages. Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1614) is another literary example based on historical precedents.

(29) Toby himself marries Maria. In similarly good Saturnalian fashion, Olivia is no respecter of class: she is not afraid of marrying down, or of disowning and virtually kicking her uncle out, as Malvolio, the steward, informs Toby (2.3.95-101). I should note, too, that Cesario does claim gentle birth when he is asked about his parentage: "Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: / I am a gentleman" (1.5.278-79). Still, his fortunes are depressed and he is a servant.

(30) Maria's "I can hardly forbear hurling things at him" (3.2.81) illustrates why she will be such a good match for Toby: theirs will also be a marriage of social unequals, but they are joined at the hip morally.

(31) Nuttall denies this point, arguing that Shakespeare "writes as if the Reformation hasn't even happened--and we are all friends" (20). He further adds that "his plays are eloquent of nothing so much as a rosy unconsciousness of division. Neither the Reformation nor the shock waves it produced in the counter-culture of Catholicism--the Council of Trent--make any palpable impression on the plays" (17). While I respect Nuttall's fine criticism, the weight of critical opinion is against him here.

(32) Catechetical instruction was pervasive during Elizabeth's reign: Margaret Spufford estimates that by the time the play was written over one million catechisms were in circulation among an English population of approximately four million (73). See also Beatrice Groves's Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604 (Oxford: Clarendon P, 2007)13-14.

(33) The passage suggests the difficulty of reading accurately on the basis of form. Earlier, Olivia had told Cesario that he also misinterprets her: "Under your hard construction must I sit [...]" (3.1.115).

(34) Gadamer would have no problem with the textualizing of persons, as he emphasizes the intersubjective, dialectical nature of understanding. A text can be one of the subjects that must interact with another subject, a reader, but so too can readers be counterpoised against one another as objects of interpretation (as we shall see with Viola and Sebastian) with no literal text present.

(35) The full quotation from Gadamer reads "The hermeneutical task becomes of itself a questioning of things and is always in part so defined" (269, italics his).

(36) In two articles, "Viola's 'Do Not Embrace Me' as Icon" (Notes & Queries 35 [1988]: 473-74) and "Soft Touch: On the Renaissance Staging and Meaning of the 'Noli me tangere' Icon" (Comparative Drama 36.1/2 [Spring/Summer 2002]: 36-49), Cynthia Lewis was the first to notice and discuss the allusion. See, too, my analysis of the moment in Shakespearean Resurrection: The Art of Almost Raising the Dead (Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 2009) 55-58.

(37) For an alternative view in which this scene "contains no promise of transcendent fulfillment" (398), see Ko. The play evokes the language of the Resurrection, substituting in its place the romance convention of a recognition scene (Aristotle's anagnorisis) between the twins. Such may not be, strictly speaking, transcendent fulfillment, but the quasi-resurrection--Shakespeare's evocation of the sacred in the midst of the mundane--succeeds well enough in most stage and film productions I have seen.

(38) Bevington for one glosses "conceived against him" as "seen and resented in him," which would indicate that they are merely observing Malvolio's character flaws, not "devising" them, as Evans glosses the word in the Riverside edition. OED notes that "conceive" can mean "observe" (10), but this is a rare usage dating from 1450. Much more common is the connotation "imagined," which is figuratively connected with the literal sense of giving birth to, the primary meaning of the word. Shakespeare's use of the word here suggests that Malvolio's detractors may be exaggerating any faults they do observe.

SEAN BENSON is associate professor of English at Malone University. His first book, Shakespearean Resurrection: The Art of Almost Raising the Dead, was recently published (Duquesne 2009), and he is at work on a second book: Othello and Domestic Tragedy: The Nobility of the Moor.
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