The Gulling of Malvolio:

An Explication of the "Gull" Speeches

in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, there are many speeches that refer to the various characters as different types of birds. Of these birds, none is more important than that of "gull", because the plot of Maria, Toby, and Andrew is centered on the gulling of Malvolio. The gulling of Malvolio is potentially very comedic because of its rather absurd appearance on the stage, but at the same time, it becomes extremely disturbing when it is revealed that Malvolio has lost everything. Although Malvolio's own actions in overstepping his role as steward are responsible for his loss, Maria's prank pushes him into being a renegade to his own sense of order and decorum in order to bring about that loss. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains several definitions of the word "gull" beyond the commonly known definition of "a sea bird." There are six definitions of the word, beyond the common one, that can be used to analyze these speeches. In using these definitions, the gulling of Malvolio becomes even more comedic and disturbing, and, though most scholars agree that Malvolio deserves punishment, calls its severity into question. There are three major speeches referring to Malvolio as a "gull"; one that refers to Maria as a "gull-catcher"; and one that refers to Sir Andrew as a "gull." A full explication of the three major "gull" speeches and the one speech that refers to Maria as the "gull-catcher" will be done in order to show that though Malvolio deserved punishment, he did not deserve such severe treatment at the hands of another servant.

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