Though Malvolio is a bit creepy and is obsessed with the beautiful Olivia and the obsession with political power, there is an aspect in which all can relate to him. The entire beauty market is based on the insecurity that the one you desire will not notice you. There are entire book and magazine genres dedicated to love advice. Malvolio is that inner voice that speaks the fears that the attentions of your beloved will never be achieved. When the trick is played on him to change his manner to better fit the desires of Olivia it is humorous, but there is also the cringe of the reader of the remembrance of all the silly things done to gain another’s affection.
After Malvolio reads the forged letterwhich contains all of the secrets to gaining Olivia’s favor he transforms himself to fit her likings. When he is called to her side to attend her, she immediately notices the difference. She is worried for him because he is grinning like a madman and his demeanor has certainly changed, “God comfort thee! Why dost thou smile so and kiss thy hand so oft?” (act 3 scene 4 line 30). She does not like to this new Malvolio. It is equivalent to a girl given the advice that when you giggle at a boy’s comments, he will like you more. Then the girl is sitting with her crush giggling inanely and it does not intrigue him to her, but simply appears to make her look like a lunatic.
Malvolio is surprised at Olivia’s reaction to him. He tries discreetly reminding her about the letter, “Remember who commended thy yellow stockings-” (act 3 scene 4 line 44). Malvolio is standing before Olivia smiling in a crazed manner with ridiculous yellow stalkings and he only appears to be driving her further away. Pretty much equal to the advice that men should ‘peacock’. This is a method in which the man should dress in noticeable clothing to draw attention to him. When it usually results in the man looking like a fool instead of being a conversation starter that it is hoped to be.
The reason people go to such extremes and take such ridiculous advice is because love is madness and Malvolio is diagnosed as such, “Why, this is very midsummer madness.” (act 3 scene 4 line 51). He is sent to be exorcised from his madness but all lovers need to prevent from making such fools of themselves. And Shakespeare gives advice to those who are in love. He ends the story that all those get their true love once they have freed themselves from any counterfeit and revealed their true selves.
When Viola truly reveals herself she frees herself from any pretense that lovers put on to gain love. With her truth she gains her true love ,Duke Orsino, and leaves her brother Sebastian to be happily married to Olivia, “That I am Viola-which to confirm, I’ll bring you my maiden weeds, by whose gentle help I was preserved to serve this noble Count.” (Act 5 Scene 1 lines 247-250). Shakespeare supports that in order to gain love, only true appearance and countenance should gain happiness. Since Malvolio is unable to realize that he shall be true to himself, he does not get the girl.
With such a positive promotion of being true to ones self it is a wonder why this book would be banned. It was banned due to the belief that the alternate lifestyle promoted in the story was not beneficial for children. The lifestyle they were referring to is the fact that Viola is a cross-dresser. Though I suppose the decision-makers conveniently forgot that all of Shakespeare’s plays were performed by men, even the parts of the women. Ironically acceptance of cross dressing is still a problem today. Recently a fifth-grade transgender was banned from using the girl’s restroom at school. This student brought it to court and the courts ruled that the school had impeded on that student’s rights.
The advice that Shakespeare gives, to be one’s self, is still a prominent topic today. Not only do magazines prey on the desire to better one’s self to gain the attention of the desired interest. But the definition of self is still not defined today. For that young transgender student the representation of self is still changing. Though the advice to be yourself is good advice, the definition is different for everyone and may take time to discover who that is.