Malvolio in Twelfth Night: Character Analysis, Quotes & Monologue

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  • 0:00 Malvolio: The Character
  • 1:51 Example Quotes
  • 3:36 Monologues
  • 6:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

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.

Example Quotes

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 a
barren rascal… I protest, I take these wise men,
that crow so at these set kind of fools, no better
than 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 shallow
things: I am not of your element: you shall know
more 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 velvet
gown; having come from a day-bed, where I have left
Olivia sleeping,--' (Act 2, Scene 5)

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