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Twelfth Night A2S5 Malvolio finds a letter

A2S5 of Twelfth Night  is a favourite comic scene with audiences. In it, Malvolio finds a letter, left by Maria, which purports to come from Olivia, the lady of the house of which Malvolio is the steward, +which says that she is in love with Malvolio. He reads the letter, with Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian listening to him from within / behind a box hedge.

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The humour of the scene comes from a variety of sources:

  • First, Malvolio is overheard speaking his private fantasies out loud, by the very people he is having the fantasies about, particularly Sir Toby.
  • Second, his long speech is interrupted  by asides from the overhearers who ‘pop up’ from behind the box hedge to make them  There can be something mechanical about these heads appearing and disappearing, which amuses audiences greatly and, of course, their asides are witty.
  • Third, Malvolio demonstrates a very human characteristic by building a completely false idea of what is going on from little shreds of evidence. From this comes paranoia, much gossip, office politics, the interest in ‘who done its’ and perhaps, in the end, one type of madness.

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In this video reading, this humour is added to, by the voice of the actress, Eliza Langland. We’ve ‘down-pitched’ her voice to be like a male . The resulting voice is rather like a particularly smug Edinburgh lawyer, or banker, or accountant. This is of course completely appropriate for Malvolio, who is, perhaps a Puritan. The Scots also have a long history of Puritanism, and perhaps that still shows in this Edinburgh accent. Anyway, for most Scots, it should be amusing, as they hear that ‘slightly superior’ Edinburgh accent.

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But there’s something else that the video reading demonstrates. That is how useful ‘Parts and Cues’ format can be for an actor. The scene is not a monologue. Malvolio’s speech is continuously interrupted by Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian popping up to make smart asides. For the audience, this can be so funny, that the meaning of what Malvolio is saying is not appreciated at the front of their minds. Even Malvolio, in rehearsal, may find that the other actors and the director, may be focused so much on the mechanics of the interrupts from the other actors, that he finds it difficult to focus on what the speech means for Malvolio’s characterization.

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The video reading shows the script in ‘Parts and Cues’ mode, so the actor playing Malvolio can read his speech in this scene with no interrupts. Watch the Video Reading now, and then look at the speech in Highlight Text format below, and you’ll see the difference:

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With only Malvolio speaking, some things should be fairly obvious:

  • Malvolio finds a letter which say Olivia loves him. He does not seem at all interested in her love, mentioning her only once in the 8 minute monologue.
  • His immediate thought is how he can use his new position, to exert power over Sir Toby.
  • He thanks Jove, the most powerful of the gods for his good fortune. Venus, the goddess of love, doesn’t get a mention.

In a play which, among other things, shows some of the many forms, of love, Malvolio demonstrates, as Olivia says in A1S5: ‘O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite.’

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Now, to see the difference when the scene is played with all the script, click on the folloowing link which will open up a new tab showing A2S5 of Twelfth Night with Malvolio’s text in ‘Highlight Text’ form. You’ll need to scroll down to Malvolio’s first speech, highlit in yellow.

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See how differently the scene plays, and how Malvolio’s monologue gets lost in the other action going on!

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All this to say that ‘Parts and Cues’ mode can be very useful for studying a particular character. Though, of course, Highlight Text mode, helps to give context.

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Let’s Play (using Parts and Cues and Highlight Text),

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‘The Director’,
Players-Shakespeare.com
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