Malvolio is a minor character in William Shakespeare’s comedy ”Twelfth Night.” Malvolio is a pompous character who is humiliated by other characters in the story. Learn more about the character Malvolio and test your knowledge with a quiz.
Malvolio the Character
In the play Twelfth Night, Malvolio is the Lady Olivia’s steward and the target of a major prank. Throughout the play, he’s characterized as a fun-hating and overly serious character with no sense of humor. What he wants most of all is status, mostly so he can make other characters stop doing things he considers frivolous and silly. Because he can’t take a joke, his efforts to improve his own position in the world make him an easy target for the other characters and drive his role in the plot and humor of the play.
During the Christmas feast, the other characters give Malvolio a forged letter that tricks him into believing that Olivia is in love with him and wants him to walk around wearing weird yellow stockings and smiling. This plays right into Malvolio’s desire to improve his status: if he can marry Olivia, he’ll have it made! But in fact, Olivia wants exactly the opposite – she hates the color yellow, and her brother just died, so seeing Malvolio acting obnoxiously happy all the time makes her think he must be crazy. She assumes he’s gone crazy and has him imprisoned, and the other characters have a good time making fun of him before the play ends.
Malvolio’s characterization is central to the plot, because his personality is what makes the trick work. Throughout the play, Malvolio’s lines characterize him as a very stern person who hates anything he perceives as silly or frivolous. They explain why his plot arc works and contribute to the humor of the trick. In this lesson, we’ll look at how this works in some sample quotations from the play, with a special focus on long speeches called monologues.
First of all, let’s take a look at some quotations that illustrate Malvolio’s character. To start with, here’s one from the beginning of the play, when he’s talking to Olivia about her clown:’I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such abarren rascal; I protest, I take these wise men,that crow so at these set kind of fools, no betterthan the fools’ zanies.’ (Act 1, Scene 5)Lines like this show that Malvolio doesn’t see much value in fun and humor.
And he thinks this puts him above all the other characters: here’s another quote from Act 3, Scene 4:’Go, hang yourselves all! You are idle shallowthings: I am not of your element: you shall knowmore hereafter.’When Malvolio accuses the other characters of being idle and shallow, he’s setting himself above them. He thinks he’s better than everyone else, and he fantasizes about having power over them so he can make them follow his rules (one example is in Act 2, Scene 4, when he imagines having the authority to scold Sir Toby for drinking too much).This makes him the perfect target for the prank of the false letter, because he’s only too happy to believe it, and it takes him a long time to figure it out while the other characters get to have fun at his expense.When he finally figures it out, he’s angry and wounded, which shows how seriously he took the fake love letter and the idea of marrying Olivia. His last line is ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you’ (Act 5, Scene 1).
Even the other characters have to admit that the joke was cruel, because it hit him right in all his weak spots.
On top of all the other quotes, one of the major ways that the character of Malvolio is developed is through monologues. A monologue is a long speech by one character. Most of the lines in a typical play are conversations, where the characters talk to each other.
In a monologue, a character is giving an extended speech all by himself.Malvolio has several monologues in the play, and they all help him develop his character and role in the play. His first monologue, in Act 2, is when he finds the fraudulent letter supposedly written by Olivia, confessing her love and asking him to earn her favor by wearing ridiculous clothes. In this monologue, he reads the letter and then goes off on a tangent imagining what his life would be like as Olivia’s husband:’Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvetgown; having come from a day-bed, where I have leftOlivia sleeping,–‘ (Act 2, Scene 5)This shows his desire for wealth and power. But the monologue also shows how silly his ambitions are, by using constant interruptions from other characters. Malvolio thinks he’s alone, but actually he’s being spied on by other characters who make remarks to each other and the audience about how ridiculous he is. Even though he’s imagining glory and wealth, the constant interruptions make the monologue seem kind of pathetic and silly and provide humor for the audience and for the other characters.
After reading Olivia’s letter, Malvolio’s monologue shows how completely he’s fallen for the trick:’She did commend my yellow stockings oflate, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered;and in this she manifests herself to my love, andwith a kind of injunction drives me to these habitsof her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I willbe strange, stout, in yellow stockings, andcross-gartered, even with the swiftness of puttingon. Jove and my stars be praised!’ (Act 2, Scene 5)Later in the play, Malvolio goes to see Olivia in yellow stockings, cross-gartered and smiling just like the fake letter said. But she’s obviously confused, and when he quotes lines from her letter, she doesn’t recognize the words at all. After this scene, Malvolio has another monologue showing that he still doesn’t get it:’Nothing;can come between me and the fullprospect of my hopes.
‘ (Act 3, Scene 4)This contributes to the humor, because the audience gets to watch him completely failing to understand what’s going on. He’s completely gullible; he can’t see that someone has obviously tricked him.
In this lesson, you learned about some of Malvolio’s quotes from Twelfth Night and how the use of monologue confirms his character as a gullible, status-obsessed Puritan.
Throughout the play, Malvolio’s lines set him up as someone who doesn’t have any fun himself and wants to make sure nobody else has fun, either.This characterization also shows through in his monologues. Monologues, or extended speeches by one character, are perfect for showing this characterization, because they can reveal things about Malvolio’s character that he would never say directly to another character in the play.
These lines and monologues set up Malvolio’s role in the plot and humor of the play, which revolve around a personality that makes him the perfect target for the other prank of the forged letter.
- Malvolio – the Lady Olivia’s steward and the target of a major prank
- Twelfth Night – Shakespeare’s comedy of errors
- Monologues – long speeches by one character
The purpose of this lesson on Malvolio from Twelfth Night is to prepare you to:
- Characterize Malvolio
- Recognize some of Malvolio’s quotes
- Write the definition of a monologue
- Analyze some of Malvolio’s monologues