"Twelfth Night" and Nietzsche -- Existentialism
Existentialism is as old as the Old Testament -- if you've done any reading of the book of Ecclesiastes, you can see that the notion that there's nothing lasting to be gained by hustling after earthly possessions or social standing is as old as time itself. The existentialist term for this is "absurdity" -- the term used by King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes is "vanity," but the idea is the same.
Shakespeare uses the character of Malvolio to express this theme. He's the steward, and he's very good at his job. However, he has an extremely inflated sense of self, and he wants to leave the service class behind. Maria knows this, and is toying with him when she writes a letter in Olivia's hand that convinces Malvolio that Olivia loves her -- and wants to marry him, rescuing him from a life in service.
This is humorous to Sir Toby and the rest of the cast, because not only does Malvolio have a personality as abrasive as sandpaper, he also lacks nobility in his blood. In the day of Shakespeare, no woman of nobility would marry a man beneath her, because of the damage it would do to her reputation.
Now, the "Twelfth Night" was a time when, at least temporarily, social structures ceased to exist. Maria marries Sir Toby because she throws herself into the chaotic, anarchic spirit of the feast. Malvolio, however, can't ever get himself into the mindset of the dissident; he only wants to bend the rules for his own benefit.
Writing Prompt: In modern times, the rules of marriage and class are a lot more flexible than they were in the time of Shakespeare. What do you feel are the most important elements that a couple should look for when choosing a spouse? Write a letter that you would write to your own child, giving him or her advice about things to look for in a mate.