In the play Twelfth Night, Malvolio is one of the characters on whom the comedy is acted. The complete description of him is given by Maria when she says in Act II Scene 3 that, “The devil a Puritan that he is, or anything, constantly, but a time-pleaser, an affectioned ass that cons state without book and utters it by great swarths; the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.”
The meaning of his name suggests ‘ill will’. Since his introduction in the play, we come to understand that he is a social climber and an egoist without any restraint.
In Elizabethan age, there used to be many puritans who used to be against celebrations of all sorts. Malvolio is such a character. For this very reason Sir Toby says to him that, do you think that because you are virtuous, there will be no more cakes and ale?
Olivia says to Malvolio that “O, you are sick of self-love.” Yet she finds him as a perfect servant. Nevertheless, Malvolio is a complex character. Historically, there are times when the play has been performed by the name of Malvolio.
It tells us of the importance of the character. He is learned in an Elizabethan way. When there is a discussion about the nature of Soul regarding Pythagoras, he answers that “I think nobly of the soul, and no way approves his opinion.” It tells us of the clarity of knowledge in him.
Malvolio is not a unidimensional character. He is complex and often in the play he looks mysterious. His arrogance is the reason for which the group of comic characters such as Sir Toby and Maria punishes him together.
Malvolio shows no sense of humor which is the reason that even the clown who is a friend of everybody is not a friend to him. Yet when he is being punished, we feel sorry for him.
The character of Malvolio is probably a way of Shakespeare to make fun of puritans of his age who were trying to restrain human happiness at every cost.