Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
If this were played upon a stage now, I could
condemn it as an improbable fiction.
SIR TOBY BELCH
His very genius hath taken the infection of the device, man.
Nay, pursue him now, lest the device take air and taint. (3.4.4)
We love this passage for several reasons. First, Fabian acknowledges that the Malvolio prank (and just about every other plot devise in the play) is not realistic – it is an "improbable fiction." He also draws our attention to the fact that the prank actually is being "played upon a stage" for Shakespeare's audience. We can take Fabian's comments as a sly reminder that, despite the "improbable" or unrealistic events in Twelfth Night (the dramatic ship wreck, the survival and reunification of the twins, etc.), part of enjoying any play is the process of suspending disbelief and giving in to the workings of the theater. Also, you might want to compare Toby's use of the term "infection" here to the joke about plague being spread in theaters in 2.3.8 (discussed above).
Thou mightst have done this without thy beard and
gown: he sees thee not. (4.2.2)
Maria's comment that Feste needn't have bothered wearing a physical disguise when pretending to be a priest (Sir Topas) is pretty accurate. Malvolio has been locked in a very dark room and can't see anything. The prank depends more on Feste's ability to alter his voice (think Robin Williams in Aladdin) than anything else. So, why does Feste bother donning a physical costume if it doesn't matter if he looks like a priest? There are lots of possible answers but here's our best guess. Feste's "Sir Topas" costume isn't so much for Malvolio as it is for the visual pleasure of Shakespeare's audience. Everybody likes silly disguises, right? The truth is that lots of people really enjoy watching the playful mockery of authority figures and Shakespeare gives us exactly what we want.
You can fool no more money out of me at this throw:
if you will let your lady know I am here to speak
with her, and bring her along with you, it may awake
my bounty further. (5.1.19)
As a professional Fool, Feste's duties lie in his talents as licensed entertainer (comedian, musician, master of language and repartee, etc.). Here, he also seems to be a bit of a con man, as he is pretty skilled at getting people to loosen their purse-strings – kind of like some playwrights we know who were also very skilled at getting audiences to pay for entertainment.