Perspective

In addition to the audiobooks, I do a deal of voice acting for the good folks at Pendant Productions. At the moment, in addition to my regular gigs on The Kingery and Tabula Rasa, I'm playing Malvolio in their upcoming production of Twelfth Night. I just finished voicing Act II, and it got me thinking on the perspectives of character.

I've only seen Shakespeare on the stage once, a not very good production of Romeo and Juliet in college that I ditched after Mercutio got whacked. I think I must have read Twelfth Night at some point, but it didn't really stick, because most of this play seems new to me. The character of Malvolio is house steward to Lady Olivia, and he's not a nice person. He's an officious prig. And so, his nemesis, good time party guy Sir Toby Belch, cooks up a plan to take him down a peg or two; he and his buddies fake a letter from Olivia to Malvolio, declaring her love for him. Basically, it's the letter scam from Much Ado About Nothing, but only on the one side.

This is where the perspective comes in. Malvolio doesn't think he's a bad guy. He thinks he's the protector of his lady, standing between her and her reprobate uncle and his drinking buddies. And frankly, he has a point. Olivia has just lost her brother, who was her guardian, so she really doesn't need to be dealing with these clowns. Malvolio may be a pompous windbag, but he is acting in what he thinks are his lady's best interests; while we hear him fantasize about giving Sir Toby a dressing down, and how great it would be to be lord of the manor, there are no signs of malice in him. (Not toward Olivia, anyway.)

So as I was voicing this scene where Malvolio finds the fake letter and thinks that Olivia loves him, it struck me how cruel this prank is. I mean, the poor bastard gets catfished. We see him totally embrace the fantasy of being in love with his lady, while Sir Toby and his coterie snicker from behind the scenery. We're meant to be on Sir Toby's side-- I mean, of course we are, Malvolio's a teetotaler and a hypocrite and his name is Malvolio-- but I find that my sympathies are with him. I mean, think about what happens to him. His lady ends up thinking he's insane, and hands him over to the same bullies who got him into this fix, who lock him up and continue to mess with him. And what exactly does he do to deserve this? Go outside in the middle of the night to tell the drunks in the courtyard to shut up.

I don't have a profound ending to this; just something I was thinking about. You'll get that a lot around here.

(Speaking of, here's the Wikipedia page on Malvolio. Check out the inspiration. That's messed up, right?)