English Literature » Notes » Character of Malvolio in “Twelfth Night”
Character Malvolio of Twelfth Night

Character of Malvolio in “Twelfth Night”

Malvolio is the most central character of the sub-plot or the secondary plot in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. About Malvolio, F.S. Boas says-

From love in its sentimental excess and its silent strength,we turn to love in its grotesque insufficiency,born not of the heart,nor even of the fancy,but of inflated self-conceit.

F.S. Boas means that Duke Orsino’s love is a love born of the fancy and sentimental and Viola’s love is a love born of the heart and genuine, Malvolia’s love is a care of self – love,and selfish. His self- love is born of a high opinion of himself. As Maria describes Malvolio:

The devil a puritan that he is or anything constantly,but a time – pleasure; an affectioned  ass, that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths : the best persuade of himself, so crammed, as he thinks with excellencies, that it is his grounds, of faith that all that look on him love him; and on that vice in him will my revenge

Clearly Malvolio’s  self-love is vice born of his puritanism his puritanical nature and character. He is austere, reserved, serious and rigid. So, he is averse to all cakes and ale and  dislike amusements. This is why he rebukes sir Toby Belch for his midnight revels and Fabian for his love of bear-baitaing.

He also rebukes Feste for his loose sallies and remarks.As a shepherd and manager of opinion  of olivi’s estate,he thinks it to his duty to enjore .And for this reason, he rebukes Sir Toby:

My masters,are you mad?Or what are you?Have you no wit,manners,nor honesty,but to gabble like thinkers at this time of night? Do you make an ale house of my lady’s house?

And again:

Toby, I must be round with you. My lady bade me tell you that though she harbors you as her kinsman,she’s nothing allied to your disorders.If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors,you are welcome to the house.If not, an it would please you to take leave of her,she is very willing to bid you farewell.

This is an example of Malvolio’s high opinion of himself of his proud and haughty nature and puritan,thought and character,He is a puritan like Ben Jonson’s puritan types. Here Shakespeare’s intention is not praise but satirize Malvolio’s character. Shakespeare treats excessive puritanism or false sense of puritanism as a vice.When there is an excess of it,it becomes a show,a practice to his law vices of gluttony and covetousness(greed). He satirises Malvolio’s hypocrisy that is Malvolio’s external show of austering and restraint,but internal desire and temptation for the pleasure of the senses and enjoyment.As F.S.Boas observes:

It is only the last sheer of puritanism that becomes the prey of the selfish desires of the flesh…. that are the most prone to be the victims of the narrow brain and still narrower heart.

It is in this sense, in the sense of exposing hypocrisy of human nature that Charles Lamb says-

The character of Malvolio is not essentially ludicrous