In the play Twelfth Night Maria is a waiting gentlewoman for Lady Olivia. She mainly plays the part of a catalyst and shows an interest in playing jokes particularly on Malvolio. Another waiting gentlewoman is Charmian in the play Antony and Cleopatra. She can best be described as a loyal servant and friend to Cleopatra. Both of these women play significant roles in their respective plays although they do not serve for the same purpose. Maria role in Twelfth night is to stir up trouble. Although she is a servant to Olivia she is not genuinely thinking of Olivia when she tries to enforce the rules.
This is shown when Maria says “My lady will hang thee for thy absence. ” (Act I Sc. 5 Line 3). She is exaggerating but it is interesting how instead of saying, “You are supposed to be here! ” she says, “My lady will kill you when she sees you”. It more seems like Maria is trying to tell Feste how much trouble he is in then to scold him. This is in contrast to how I believe Charmian would have handled the situation. Charmian is portrayed as a friend to Cleopatra and therefore is truly thinking about pleasing Cleopatra. In the same situation Charmian would have been angrier that Feste left and that he did not think about Olivia.
This shows the different ways that Maria and Charmian feel about serving their Lady. Charmian and Maria both have the same duty to serve their Lady but the importance of each as a waiting gentlewoman is different. Olivia and Cleopatra are both in the last act of their respective plays but in Twelfth Night, Maria is no where to be seen. Most of the cast comes on stage but Maria never does. In Antony and Cleopatra, Charmian is on stage with Cleopatra for almost the whole last act. This suggests the function Shakespeare intended for the two characters was very different.
Charmian was mainly meant to be a supporting character for Cleopatra. This is able to be seen in scenes such as Act I Scene 5 where Cleopatra and Charmian have a friendly conversation in which they joke around about men. Shakespeare’s function for Maria was as a catalyst that would help to spread the trickery going on in the play. She is an organizer of the trick played on Malvolio. It is ironic that she is a servant and spends most of the play ordering people around. An example of this is when she says: “Nay, I prithee, put on this gown and this beard; make him beleive thou art Sir Topas the curate.
Do it uickly. I’ll call Sir Toby the whilst. ” (Act IV Scene 2) In this scene although she is not directly involved with speaking with or deceiving Malvolio, she has pressured other characters to do it for her. She does have one scene (Act II Scene 5 Lines 15-30) where she actually does participate in tricking Malvolio by dropping the letter that Malvolio will find but she quickly leaves and only Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian are left. During Twelfth Night, Maria is in many scenes alone with people other than Olivia. It gives the impression that she is sneaking around behind Olivia’s back or is neglecting her.
This is -Olivia’s period of mourning yet Maria is not with her for a large amount of the play. Alternitavly, Charmian is never in a scene without Cleopatra being there too. Even in the final moments of her life Cleopatra’s body is next to her (Act V Sc. 2 Lines 310-328). The characters of Charmian and Maria differ in their roles, amount of duty that they have to their superiors, interaction with other characters, how much, when, where, and with whom they appear on stage. Although they are both gentlewomen their characters are extremely different and serve a unique purpose in each play.