William shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” is a comedy in which customary practices are subverted and misrule is sovereign. Within this comedy there exists five characters who exemplify this upside down world and fuel one of Shakespeare most humorous subplots. These characters are Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Feste Fabian and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. As individuals these characters are unique but when put together they make up the unruliest gang of pranksters ever to enter Illyria. Sir Toby Belch, uncle to countess Olivia is the most outspoken of the rogues. He is a drunk, and often takes advantage of his kinship to Olivia.
He is the frequent trouble-maker, always causing some scene or commotion. He is supposed to have duties within the court but rarely does he carry them out and his greatest concern is with drinking and having fun. Sir toby also refuses to take Olivia’s mourning for her dead brother seriously.” What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus” (1. 2) He wants his friend, Sir Aguecheek, to woe her. This is out of the question, however.
The main plight of Sir Belch is to get rid of Malvolio, Olivia’s pomp ass steward. Toby hates him and is sick of his tattling and pretentious nature. So being the gang leader of the other four, he gets everyone involved in his plan. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a companion of Belch. he is not very intellegent and often times quite ludicrous. He is definitely not someone to Olivia’s liking, and his hopeless pursuit of her, subjects him to many indignities.
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Becuase of his nature, Sir Toby finds it very easy to take advantage of Sir Andrew and does so whenever it suits him. A perfect example of this type of foolery occurs in Act 3, Scene 2. In this scene Sir Andrew is beginning to realize that Olivia is out of his reach and in love with Cesa rio but Sir Toby wants him to see the picture differently. He and Fabian, a member of Olivia’s household, very easily change the story around to confuse Andrew. Sir Toby: … Challenge me the Count’s youth to fight with him, hurt him in eleven places.
My niece shall take note of it; and assure thyself, there is no love-broker in the world can more prevail in man’s condemnation with woman than report of valor. : Fabian: There is no way but this Sir Andrew. Sir Andrew: Will either of you bear me a challenge to him Sir Toby: Go, write it in a marital hand, be curs t and brief. Andrew believes Sir Toby and Fabian and goes after what he thinks is the young page. It is this type of behavior that makes Sir andrew Aguecheek provide a comic contrast to the entanglements of the more credible lovers.
He also helps in the design of the plight against Malvolio, assisting Belch in making the steward into a complete mockery. As just mentioned, there is also the character of Fabian, who enters this comic subplot later in the play. He is a member of Olivia’s household and it is unclear as to how he comes into the play. He seems to be another friend of Sir Toby, who desires to have a little bit of fun at the expense of other people. The only woman in this gang of rogues is Maria. She is a gentlewoman to Olivia and is also fond of Belch.
Though being quite sly in nature, Maria appears to be an honest person compared to the other members of the household. Because of her double sided persona, Maria is able to mastermind behind much of the trickery but still appear faithful to her duties. She figures mainly in the subplot against Malvolio. She is much softer than Toby but her ideas are more complicated and intellegent. The most intellegent character is this play is feste, the court fool. Feste has many talents.
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he is the wonderful ability to make others look stupid by using wordplay, and by using music he has the ability to touch the souls of everyone he sings to. He also hates Malvolio however, and in the end uses his wit and talent to completely humiliate him. The literal action of these characters, in terms of their role in the play, is to carry out the comic subplot. As a group they all execute Sir Toby’s hopes of banishing Malvolio from Olivia’s court.
But the literal action of these characters is quite different from their significance. Belch, Aguecheek, Fabian, Feste and Maria represent the madness that not only exsisted in Illyria, within the play, but also the madness of Renaissance England. These five characters represent all those who were looked down upon in society. And most likely were the characters that Shakespeare’s audience best related to.
Also in terms of significance within the play, the five characters I’ve been discussing, help to examine the class system that exsisted in Europe during this time.