Twelfth Night Character Essay on Sir Toby. Advice or Comments? Watch
Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents Sir Toby in Twelfth night
The obnoxious character of Sir Toby Belch is presented as a catalyst for comedy and within the play , which can be seen through his smart remarks and his overindulgence in food and drink in Olivia’s courts at the beginning of the play. His lack of restrain at this crucial time in Olivia’s life, emphasises his lack of respect that he has for family and implies his bad behaviour will be constant throughout the play. During Olivia’s time of mourning he questions ‘What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to life’, his satirical comment about ‘care’ being an ‘enemy to life’ indicates his attitude towards life, as being short and should be enjoyed while it lasts, which contrast with Olivia and Orsino's opinions who are much more weary and sincere about life in general. His ratification of life embodies the spirit of the festive atmosphere within the play, presenting the characteristics of a conventional comedy, as he articulates the inversion of the social order which is seen as ironic due to in contemporary society inferiors would respect their superiors. The contemporary audience would have recognised this and found it amusing and comedic due to the power the superiors hold within the household. Due to Twelfth Night being an epiphany play Sir Toby’s indulgence in food and drink presents the dynamic functions of festivity which Hollander supports through the belief that the ‘surfeiting the appetite that it will sicken and die, leaving fulfilled the tempered, harmonious self’, which can be seen through Sir Toby as his persona is used to liven the depressive atmosphere within the court. Shakespeare uses the stock characters to construct his dramatic play, with Sir Toby representing Brighella, who is usually presented as insatiable and witty, emphasising the theme of festivity within the play, which indicates that this is a comedy play.
Sir Toby is presented as the polar opposite of Malvolio who represents selflessness and monotonous - as well as potentially the Puritan society at the time- which opposes celebration and merriment. This especially emphasises the drama that happens with these two characters which brings out the comedic overtones from within the play which helps the audience view Shakespeare's criticism and fabrications made against the Puritans in general, which the audience would have recognised. This can be seen through Malvolio’s imagined fantasy of finally being able to regulate Sir Toby’s behaviour which can be seen through his gloatment of ‘quenching (my) familiar simile with an austere regard of control’ indicating the pleasure of his power over his inferior.Dramatic irony is created in as the audience can relish in the reaction of the Sir Toby as he observes Malvolio’s reaccountment of the fantasy, which establishes the two polar opposites of them both and their rivalry which justifies Malvolio's decievement later in the play. The play is reference to the ‘Feast of Fools’ festival which takes place on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, this emphasises the role reversal which happens between the superior and inferior, presenting Sir Toby as a ‘Lord of Misrule’ which can be seen through the role he plays in the trickery of Malvolio and the manipulation of Sir Andrew, which presents Sir Toby to have a bawdy and rebellious nature, which contrasts with the solemn and sincere attributes of Malvolio. Kiernan Ryan quotes ‘Sir Toby’s misrule is customary of the Twelfth Night festival’, this foregrounds the climax of the Christmas season indicating the social implications of festivity which can be seen through the dramatisation of the antagonist between the puritanical Malvolio and the gluttonous Sir Toby.
Sir Toby is presented as a selfish and egotistical character which can be seen through his exploitation of Sir Andrew expressing his garrulous nature presenting him in control of his ‘friend’. He is a symbolism for vitality and good spirit which further proves the point of his being a catalyst for comedy, this can be seen through Maria’s indictment of his overindulgence in food and drink. ‘Confine? I’ll confine myself no finer than i am’, this statement indicates that he lacks the ability to restrain himself from his pleasures which expresses his disorderly conduct, the questioning of confinement at a time of Olivia’s mourning presenting Sir Toby’s grotesque behaviour. However, the limits of his own body are shown when he gets hurt during sir Andrew's fight with Cesario, which expresses his limits despite his excessive attributes. Sir Toby is characterised to recreate one of Henry's IV plays character :Falstaff who is also a boisterous and disreputable knight which is what Shakespeare was influenced by. John H Summers believes that ‘Every character has its mask’ which suggest that Sir Toby’s excessive and overindulgent nature is a way to mask his feelings about the death of his nephew, especially as this play is a masquerade which makes the argument a possibility.