Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's most famous comedies, involving complex plots, which result in hilarious culminations. The main plot of Twelfth Night tells of Count Orsino's efforts to woo the Lady Olivia who does not return his affection. Instead, Olivia is smitten with Orsino's servant Cesario, unaware of his true identity. Cesario is actually a shipwrecked Viola who, believing her brother has drowned, dresses up as a man to work for Orsino. Viola consequently falls in love with Orsino who believes her to be Cesario. In addition, Shakespeare has created an equally confusing subplot involving Olivia's servant Malvolio and the other members of Olivia's household. The main plot and subplot are linked as they both examine the manifestations of love. The subplot involves the members of Olivia's household playing a trick on Malvolio due to his treatment of them earlier in the play. It has long been debated whether Malvolio's treatment was justified by his earlier behaviour or the actions of the members of Olivia's household are distasteful, malicious and unnecessarily prolonged.
This question forces audiences of Twelfth Night to balance Malvolio's crimes with their sympathy for him. In order to achieve a satisfactory conclusion, both Malvolio's behaviour and treatment must be considered as well as the circumstances in which they occurred. The conclusion as to whether Malvolio is 'notoriously abused' may be different and even more complex for an Elizabethan audience. This is because Malvolio is referred to as a Puritan which carries implications of the way he would be viewed by an Elizabethan audience.
Malvolio's treatment of the other members of Olivia's household is vital in understanding whether Malvolio ultimately got what he deserved. Malvolio, who is prim, proper and with little sense of humour offends Feste, Olivia's fool, early on in the play by telling Olivia,