The Gulling of Malvolio

Act 2 Scene 5 – Key Scene

In this scene Maria puts into practice her plan to make a fool of Malvolio. She has written a letter, imitating Olivia’s handwriting to make Malvolio believe the letter is expressing Olivia’s love for him. She leaves the letter in the garden where Malvolio will find it and tells Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian to hide where they can watch Malvolio’s responses. The audience watch Malvolio talking aloud about his dreams of marrying Olivia and then finding the letter that she seems to have written. The audience also watch the reactions of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian as they watch Malvolio.

Take a look at an extract from this scene. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Why do you think this whole scene is in prose?

    Actors at the RSC often paraphrase or put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    Having been three months married to her, sitting in my state
    Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown, having come from a day-bed,
    where I have left Olivia sleeping…

    Chair for a person of power


    Sir Toby
    Fire and brimstone!
    Peace, peace!
    And then to have the humour of state; and after a demure travel of regard –
    telling them I know my place, as I would they should do theirs – to ask for my
    kinsman Toby

    Enjoying the power of my position (as Count Malvolio), and after solemnly looking at everyone in the room -

    Why do you think Malvolio calls him ‘Toby’? not ‘Sir Toby’? How do you think Sir Toby feels about this?

    Sir Toby
    Bolts and shackles!
    Now, now!
    Seven of my people, with an obedient start, make out for him. I frown the
    while, and perchance wind up my watch, or play with my… some rich
    jewel. Toby approaches, curtsies there to me…

    Seven servants are so keen to please me that they jump up and go to bring Toby to me.

    Sir Toby
    Shall this fellow live?
    I extend my hand to him thus – quenching my familiar smile with an austere
    regard of control . . .
    Sir Toby
    And does not Toby take you a blow on the lips then?
    Saying, ‘Cousin Toby, my fortunes having cast me on your niece give me this
    prerogative of speech’ –

    What do Malvolio’s description of his fantasy and Sir Toby’s reactions to it suggest about them?

    Sir Toby
    What, what?
    ‘You must amend your drunkenness.’
    Sir Toby
    Out, scab!
    Besides, you waste the treasure of your time with a foolish knight...
    Sir Andrew
    That’s me, I warrant you.
    One Sir Andrew.
    Sir Andrew
    I knew ’twas I, for many do call me fool.
    (Picking up the letter) What employment have we here?
    Now is the woodcock near the gin.

    A wading bird thought of as stupid.

    A trap.

    (Text edited for rehearsal by Christopher Luscombe)
    In the 2017 production of Twelfth Night , Fabian was amended to Fabia
  • Listen

    Read the scene aloud, and consider:
    What are the cultural references (things that would have made sense to an Elizabethan audience but not to a modern day audience) in this scene that actors need to help an audience to understand?
    How does the use of prose help the humour of the scene?
    What is the relationship between each of the characters and the audience?

  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version and how has the comedy been brought to life?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Twelfth Night at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the scene feel right to you? Which feel like they would be most comic?