Malvolio was a very important member in Olivia’s household. Being the steward he was responsible for a lot of things in the house. He was a conscientious and efficient steward who Olivia cared much about.
” I would not have him miscarry for the half of my dowry ”
( Act 3, Scene 4, Line 62-62 )
Malvolio’s service and his judgement were valued by Olivia.
” if it be a suit from the Count, I’m sick, or not at home – what you will do dismiss it ”
( Act 1, Scene 5, Line 98 )
We first met Malvolio in Act 1, Scene 5 when Feste was trying to prove to Olivia that she was the fool for mourning for her brother when she knew that his soul was in heaven. Olivia asked for Malvolio’s opinion on Feste. Malvolio was critical, bitter and sarcastic in his response. He replied as if he was looking forward to Feste’s death.
” Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him ” ( Act 1, Scene 5, Line 67 )
He referred Feste as a ‘ barren rascal ‘ and totally put him down. He didn’t actually speak directly to Feste, he talked bad of Feste right in front of him, as if he didn’t existed. Malvolio’s comments on him were scornful. He said Feste needed an audience or he’d have nothing to say. This in fact is very true, actors need audience to complete their performance or their act would be totally pointless, and vice versa, audience needs actors also!
Olivia described Malvolio as ‘ sick of self love ‘. This is very true. Malvolio was interested in himself only. He was so concerned about himself that he couldn’t be open with dealings of other people. He looked down on people because he thought he was ‘ higher ‘ than everybody else, except for Olivia. Malvolio had absolutely no sense of humour and often took himself and others too seriously.
Malvolio was sent to tell the young gentleman at the gate ( Cesario ) that Olivia would not want to speak to him, he came back and reported to Olivia. Malvolio explained every detail to Olivia, saying that Cesario would not go until he had spoken to Olivia. Malvolio was very slow in thinking and was over elaborating the point In the end Olivia accepted to see Cesario, and called Maria.
” Gentlewoman, my lady calls ” said Malvolio. Malvolio needed to dignify his role so he spoke to make himself sound important. He thought himself as more superior than other servants in the household. He didn’t like Maria’s close relationship with Olivia. He thought he didn’t fit in the rest of the group, because he was ‘ higher ‘ and ‘ bigger ‘ than the others.
Having been told by Olivia to chase Cesario, Malvolio ran after Cesario, against his dignity to return the ring. Malvolio was taking it out on him and said nasty things.
” She returns this ring to you, sir; you might have saved me my pains to have taken it away yourself ” ( Act 2, Scene 2, Line 5 )
He treated Cesario as the messenger, he had no idea how high Cesario was to Orsino. He did deliver nearly exactly what Olivia said. Malvolio was deliberately rude to Cesario. Malvolio was very surprised that Olivia would accept to see Cesario in the first place. Because Cesario denied that he threw a ring at Olivia, Malvolio was annoyed and threw it on the ground.
” If it be worth stooping for, there it lies in your eye; if not, be it his that finds it. ”
( Act 2, Scene 2, Line 13 )
Malvolio was a real puritan, and that was one of the main reasons why he never got along with Maria, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and especially Sir Toby! Malvolio completely disagrees with Sir Toby’s lifestyle. In Act 2, Scene 3, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Feste and Sir Toby were up very late and were totally drunk and they were singing which woke up Maria. They were having a great time until Malvolio stormed in. His attitude was very offensive.
” My masters, are you mad? or what are you ? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? ” ( Act 2, Scene 3, Line 80 )
Sir Toby was rude in his response to Malvolio, and told Malvolio to ‘ sneck up ‘. Malvolio tries to hold on to his dignity. He left himself a very unsympathetic character, especially when he later on is tricked. We were given a statement of the basic conflict between Sir Toby’s values and those of Malvolio : ” Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cake and ale ? ”
( Act 2, Scene 3, Line 114-115 )
Malvolio denied pleasure because of his puritanical values.
All this lead to the revenge that Maria has planned. Maria was prejudiced against Malvolio.
” …….he is…. 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. ”
It is really Malvolio’s ‘self love ‘ that led him to be so easily tricked, and it made it easier too because Maria knew Malvolio fancied Olivia.
Before Malvolio picked up the letter which Maria forged, he was already thinking about marrying Olivia. He was going through all the hints and signs that he thought Olivia had given to him.
” Maria once told me she did affect me; and I have heard herself come thus near that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion. ” ( Act 2, Scene 5 , Line 20 – )
Thoughts of Olivia filled his mind and the possibility that she might love him. He had been ‘practising behaviour to his own shadow this half hour ‘. It gave us a picture ( or as in the video that we saw ) that he was in the garden, practising his movements and gestures. Then he thought himself as ‘ Count Malvolio ‘, calling for Sir Toby and telling to stop getting drunk, and referred Sir Andrew Aguecheek as a ‘ foolish knight ‘. Fabian joined and gave us another reason for tricking Malvolio because Malvolio had reported Fabian for bear baiting, which was a sport that Puritans disliked. Malvolio was in the right frame of mind to be deceited by the wicked plan. Everything enables the audience reduce their sympathy on Malvolio.
When Malvolio picked up the letter, he ‘ recognises ‘ the writing of Olivia’s
” ..these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s. ..” ( Act 2, Scene 5, Line 80 )
As he read the letter, he became more and more convinced that it was address to him because Olivia wrote, ” I may command where I adore ” ( Act 2, Scene 5, Line 95 )
He decided to follow the instructions given to him in the letter; he was to wear yellow stockings, and be cross gartered, ‘ be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants ‘ and to smile.
We met him again in Act 3, Scene 4. Maria said he was behaving in a weird way, that he was a bit mad. Olivia was mad too, but mad with love and desire. Then Malvolio approached ridiculously with what he was wearing : yellow stockings, cross gartered and most important smiling, which was rare for him ! Yellow stockings and being cross gartered was something which Maria knew Olivia detested, and also something which a puritan wouldn’t wear.
Olivia asked what was the matter with him, and said he should go to bed, but Malvolio thought he was invited to go to bed with her! Everything Olivia said was misinterpreted by Malvolio. Malvolio was very ready, and convinced of his own desire ability, and he was getting closer to Olivia all the time. He kept quoting from the letter but of course it meant nothing to Olivia. When Olivia said to Maria, ” Good Maria, let this fellow be looked to ” ( Act 3, Scene 4, Line 57 ), Malvolio thought that Olivia called him ‘fellow ‘ because she thought of him as an equal, lover, or partner.
Malvolio was more sure than ever that Olivia loved him, he was full of himself. He was going to carry out the other instructions on the forged letter, he was to ‘ be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants’ and let his ‘ tongue tang with arguments of state’ and put himself into the ‘ trick of singularity’. He was thanking Jove all the time but he was only godly when he thought he could get something good of it. He wasn’t really in a belief or religion. Malvolio’s behaviour to Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian was exactly what was suggested in the letter. Maria, Sir Toby and Fabian were determined that Malvolio should be locked away. In those days, when someone was believed to have gone mad, they were beaten, bound and / or driven out. Malvolio was treated, as if he really was absolutely mad.
We met Malvolio again in Act 4, Scene 2, this was the point our feelings towards Malvolio start to change. Malvolio was locked up in a dark room to cure his ‘ midsummer madness ‘. Feste was persuaded by Maria to dress up as a priest, Sir Topas. He went to the dark room where Malvolio was locked and the ‘ priest ‘ was to interview him. Malvolio was relieved to hear a ‘priest’s voice’ whom he thought would release him but Feste, instead of ‘ helping ‘ him, was confusing Malvolio even more, telling him that he wasn’t in a dark room but in a room full of light. Sir Topas said to Malvolio that he was to remain in the dark room. Feste promised to bring Malvolio ink, pen, and paper in which Malvolio requested so that he could write to his lady and explain everything. Poor Malvolio was completely hopeless.
” I am not mad, Sir Topas ” ( Act 4, Scene 2 Line 38 )
Afterall, Malvolio hadn’t done much wrong except to have offended Maria and Sir Toby. He was innocent for the ‘ madness ‘ that people accused him of. On the video we saw, in this scene, Malvolio was crying which was very rare, and the fact that ‘ Sir Topas ‘ came on and confused him and ‘abused ‘ him even more made the audience gain sympathy back on Malvolio.
The last time we met Malvolio was when the letter that Malvolio had written got into Olivia’s hands, a letter from the ‘ madly – used Malvolio ‘.
” By the Lord, madam, you wrong me, and the world shall know it. Though you have put me into darkness and given your drunken cousin rule over me, yet have I the benefit of my senses as well as your ladyship. ” ( Act 5, Scene 1 , Line 290-293 )
Malvolio returns, clutching the love letter sent by ‘ Olivia ‘, as an evidence that she has ‘misused ‘ him. The things Malvolio said between line 317 to line 331 was very touching, he was saying all the things that he had suffered. ” Tell me why ” ( line 331 ) Malvolio asked Olivia, he really couldn’t believe why this had happened to him. Malvolio found out the truth that the letter was written by Maria, and everything was a set up.
Then Feste came up, and explained everything. Feste kept quoting from the forged letter, and revealed that he was Sir Topas. Feste remembered when Malvolio said to Olivia, ” Madam, Lord, why laugh you at such a barren rascal? An you smile not he’s gagged ‘. This explained why Feste brought his revenge on Malvolio. Malvolio, as Olivia said, was indeed ‘ notoriously abused ‘ and threatened to have his revenge on everyone. Malvolio was excluded from the happiness and good fortune of the other main characters, and he left, on his own, drowned in sorrow.