In Elizabethan times, there was no law against discrimination based on social status, and people were addressed depending on their behaviour. Malvolio is a person who addresses people depending on his thoughts about them. He treats Olivia as a respected woman of higher class due to his infatuation of her. For example, in order to woo Olivia, Malvolio behaves like a sincere, kind and politely. Despite the fact that Malvolio respects Olivia, he does not respect Sir Toby, a person of royalty. In his soliloquy, Malvolio believes that he has to treat Sir Toby like a low-class trapping, act like a nobleman and be rude to servants, to prove his love to Olivia. (III.iv.59-79). Malvolio is shown as a narcissist and self-centered character who is extremely annoyed by the amusement of others. For example, in Act 2 Scene 3, as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria are amusing each other; Malvolio hears the hubbub and is disturbed. Being self-centered, Malvolio insults them, "Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse or voice? Is there no respect for place, person, nor time in you?"(II.iii.89-93). Shakespeare shows that Malvolio's character believes that his social status can be enhanced by addressing people inadequately and preaching Olivia admirably.
Another way in which social hierarchies of people are inverted is through foolish mistakes. Antonio has had a very unpleasant history with Duke Orsino, as he stole from his ship in the past. "The gentleness of all the gods go with thee! I have many enemies in Orsino's court, Else would I very shortly see thee there."(II.i.37-39). From his foolish mistakes in the past, Antonio is treated like a low class peasant. Sir Andrew is another character who has suffered the same consequences as Antonio, but not through stupidity, through luck. Being friends with Sir Toby, Sir Andrew would seem like he has a high social status since he is with a person who is well known. Sir Toby feels that Olivia needs a man to accompany her, and he has assigned Sir Andrew to do so. In act 5, when all is revealed, Sir Andrew is upset to find out that Sebastian and Olivia are married and he leaves Olivia's house. Sir Andrew's social status has been overthrown and know is only known as a middle class person. Lastly, Malvolio is another person who's social status is overthrown due to one foolish mistake. After getting Sir Toby and Maria mad at him because of his rudeness, he was being made to look like a fool by wearing ugly clothing, being locked up and being embarrassed in front of everybody. As a result, his class and social status is condescended and he exits by wanting revenge on everyone "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you."(V.i.380). Shakespeare's message was that even the greatest of the great could make mistakes that can ruin their impressions and class.
Through the journey of love, social statuses and class is escalated through the marriages of characters. As Sir Toby is Olivia's uncle, he is considered a royal person. After marrying Maria, who is Olivia's servant, Maria's social status has escalated and has now become a royal woman. Another person whose social status has increased through marriage is Sebastian. Olivia is a noble woman that resides in Illyria, who insists that she is in mourning for her recently deceased brother and will not marry for seven years.Â Viola's arrival as Cesario, urges Olivia to break out of her melancholy. In the play, it is supposed that Sebastian belongs to middle, high-class family. After marrying Olivia, he has become a part of the royal family. Just like her twin brother Sebastian, Viola's marriage to Duke Orsino increased her social rank. Before Viola's guise is unmasked, she was a servant to Duke, who was ordered to woo Olivia. "And since you called me "master" for so long, here is my hand. You shall from this time be your master's mistress"(V.i.326-329). In that quote, Duke Orsino asks Viola to marry him, making Viola part of a royal kingdom. Through the journey of love, social rank and class can be overthrown by marriage.
Shakespeare shows the importance of inversion in social rankings and class in the play Twelfth Night. From Malvolio's instincts about others and foolish mistakes made by minor characters to the marriages of lovers, many have suffered the dreadfulness or achieved the slenderness of social hierarchy. As William P. Leahy would say "I would say the hierarchy has made terrible errors in judgment and it has to seek forgiveness by its members."