Deception vs. Egotism

Aside from the obvious girl-dressed-as-a-boy deception, there are quite a few instances of trickery in Twelfth Night. Some of these occurrences can be credited to an egotistical nature, which is evident in Malvolio’s interpretation of the “Olivia’s” letter. Sir Toby and Fabian devise a plan to encourage Andrew’s belief that Olivia loves him, even when Sir Andrew himself has given up hope. Does Sir Andrew, through the trust he places in Toby and Fabian, allow himself to believe that he is right for Olivia because of an excessive ego, or is he simply tricked by his friends?
Given the pranks Sir Andrew has witnessed Sir Toby execute with Maria (not to mention his own involvement in the trickery), Sir Andrew should be cautious of the sincerity of Sir Toby’s words. Shakespeare predisposes his audience to the lack of integrity words have during the banter between Viola and Feste in Act III. Feste notes that “words are very rascals since bonds disgrace them” (3.1.18-19). Therefore, the audience is privy to the deceit that is to follow, and the discredit words in the play are subject to have. Somehow, Sir Andrew is left in the dark and is easily persuaded otherwise. Sir Toby’s craft of persuasion is evident through Sir Andrew’s initial assumption that he and Olivia do not have a future together. “I saw [Olivia] do more favours to the Count’s servingman than ever she bestowed upon me. I saw it in the orchard” (3.2.4-6). Sir Andrew is clearly aware of Olivia’s true feelings for Cesario (Viola) despite Sir Toby’s belief that Olivia flirted with Cesario as a way to show her love for Sir Andrew. Andrew even questions his theory, saying, “will you make an ass o’ me?” (3.2.10). Yet, he has a revelation a mere twenty lines later after Toby explains that Andrew missed his cues to out-wit Cesario and steal Olivia’s heart.
This, however, is another hint at Sir Toby’s ulterior motive: Andrew is a drunk partier who most definitely is not capable of out-witting a person who is concealing her true identity well enough to have Olivia fall in love with her (as a him). A previous encounter between Sir Andrew and Cesario also serves as evidence that Andrew is aware Cesario’s superior wittiness. He acknowledges the accuracy and aptness of Cesario’s vocabulary (“odours,” “pregnant,” and vouchsafed”) and will “get ‘em all three all ready” for further use (3.1.82-83). He accepts Cesario’s intelligence as greater than his own and even goes as far to learn from Cesario. He is not hesitant to acknowledge and somewhat praise another’s strengths, much unlike Malvolio. Thus, Andrew is more likely to be the gullible type, not the stuck-up man with an oversized ego (Shakespeare leaves this duty purely to Malvolio).
Despite Toby’s abusive relationship with Andrew, Andrew is deemed a “good guy” by the very person who deceives him. This vouching actually comes in the beginning of the play, predisposing the audience to his good nature and inability to be egotistical. Toby scolds Maria for calling Andrew a fool and says that he “hath all the good gifts of nature” (1.3.21-23). Perhaps this says more about Toby’s ill-nature than it does about Andrew’s innocence and modesty, but nonetheless, Andrew does not illustrate a boastful demeanor.


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