In our visitor centre there is a looped recording of great moments from shakespeare which plays as visitors wait to buy their tickets to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, everyone who works here probably knows it by heart whether they realise it or not!
But one line always stays with me as I pass through reception and on up the stairs to my office. And that is a line of Malvolio’s from Twelfth Night. You will remember the strand of that story about how Malvolio is tricked into believing the lady Olivia whom he stewards for is in love with him? Malvilo is directed (he thinks by her) to do all kinds of crazy things to please her – like wearing the famous yellow stockings.
In one scene Olivia thinking Malvolio’s wits have gone suggests he goes to bed (to rest), Malvolio thinking she is in love with him hears quite a different suggestion and replies “To bed! Ay, Sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee!”
Poor Malvolio! That little quote in which, in the recording, Malvolio’s voice is full of hope and dawning happiness always strikes me as terribly sad, knowing as I do that Malvolio’s dreams will come to nothing.
I know, you will tell me that I am not supposed to feel sorry for Malvolio because after all he is pompous, a kill joy and a party pooper. But oh the things he does for love.
If we see his behaviour as a vain attempt to impress Olivia it can take on a new more forgivable flavour. Who has not done something a little foolish for love. Go on, admit it. Pause, think about it, what was it? Now consider what Malvolio does… he tries to protect his beloved, who is grieving for her brother from the inappropriately raucous behaviour of her cousin and his cronies… he puts on airs and graces that he hopes will impress her… he puts down people who he sees as competition for her regard… he smiles and he wears slightly inappropriate clothes all in a bid to get her attention. Is that so bad? Is it even as bad as let’s say Orsino, who threatens to kill his rival, or Antonio who risks his own life for his beloved Sebastian? Actually isn’t Malvolio’s behaviour quite mild, quite human in it’s own way?
So please, next time you are in the theatre laughing at Malvolio in his yellow stockings and his false hope, pause and just think about the things we do for love and perhaps you will take a moment, as I do, to feel compassion for him. Unrequited love is bad enough but to believe for one glorious moment that that love is requited and to have that taken from you…. Poor Malvolio.
And that is the thought that usually accompanies me up the stairs to my office.
I ask our new followers on twitter which of Shakespeare’s characters they would most like to have dinner with. Malvolio has never got a single invitation, so Malvolio, come on, let’s go for a pizza and share our lost hopes and over dessert I’ll help you plan your revenge!