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Shakespeare, gulling scene, Much Ado About Nothing


Despite the warning of the editors of the 1975 New Arden Twelfth Night the M.O.A.I. sequence of Maria's riddle for Malvolio is "a sequence of letters expressly designed to make Malvolio interpret them as he does, thus prolonging the comic scene," and that "attempts to wring further meaning from them are misplaced" (Lothiam and Craik 68), there is a strong probability that the letters, rather than being a meaningless sequence, were intended by Shakespeare as a fairly simple orthographic joke—one which expands Malvolio's characterization as a socially ambitious closet sybarite, deficient in a social accomplishment expected of those who would move within the aristocratic class he dreams of joining. The M.O.A.I. of the riddle can be interpreted by reference to attempts to correct contemporary illiteracy in English and to contemporary literacy in French, which as well resolves a textual crux (II.iii.136) that has plagued editors since Rowe: does Maria vow to gull Malvolio into an ayword or a nayword?