In this paper I will analyse the relation of the Puritanism with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, embodied by Malvolio, the servant. For this purpose I will explain some of the traits of this movement and then relate it to the character before said.




Puritanism emerged in England at the end of the 16th century and it was extended until today. The Reformation of the Catholic Church in Europe brought radical changes, and Puritanism appeared as a reaction to the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, which placed the Church under the control of the monarchy, and therefore, being influenced by political interests that had no relation with its purpose.

Due to their contrary position to the monarchic power over religion they suffered the persecution of Mary I of England, also known as Bloody Mary, and they had to exile to Europe.

They believed that all the churches were corrupted by the contact with pagan civilizations and the use that kings and queens made of it. They asked for a purification of the Church, and their purpose was the separation of the English Church from the Roman and bringing together the Protestant churches of Europe. They disagreed with the ornaments and the rituals used in Catholicism.

During the 1570 Puritans wanted to impose a Presbyterian model or a Congregationalist

By the 1570s, Puritans were arguing for a Presbyterian or a Congregationalist model. The church hierarchy was a delicate matter, even Elizabeth sponsored Richard Hooker to write Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to counter Presbyterian arguments.

When James I of England arrived he gaver powerful positions to Puritans, although he was not one of them, in fact he believed they were very dangerous to his control over the Church. There appeared the first requests for a Bible in vernacular language, which was of a great importance for the Puritans, but this was a risk to the monarchy, because the Bible could dismantle their recognition as divine being.

By 1625 Puritans were known as dissenters and were forced to work in other professions different from religion, they were introduced in the industrial world, and many of them became wealthy. This was the first step to their colonization of America.

Economical, political and religious issues lead to conflicts between the members of the Church of England and the Puritans.

Puritan factions played an important role in the Parliamentarian victory and became a majority becomingOliver Cromwell the head of the English Commonwealth. In  this period the monarchy was removed from the Church.

Many Puritans emigrated to North America in the 1620–1640s because they believed that the Church of England was beyond reform. However, most Puritans in both England and New England were non-separatists.

It began in 1629 with the fundation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and ended in 1642 with the start of the English Civil War.

The official discrimination against Puritans in England ended in the 1640s when  Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy in the English Civil War.

In 1660, when the monarchy was restored by Charles II, Puritanism was displaced and he tried to re-assert his authority imposing the English Church  restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Church of England. Many Puritans were persecuted under the terms of The Clarendon Code.




The main idea of Puritanism was that God was over the human kind. They used the Bible as a model of behaviour to achieve the purity they longed for.

This sacred book had so much influence in them, that it gave origin to many cultural ideas, such as, the role of men and women. Both sexes had the mark of the original sin, but women were more affected by it since Eve was the one who tempted Adam, and this was a perfect excuse to marginalize them in some fields. For instance, if a woman had an godly experience or an evidence of God in her life, she could not narrate it in the chruch, because women were forbidden to talk in the church.

Puritans had to fight against sin everyday and do what  was right. They had to evaluate their feelings and deeds, women centred this at housework and family.

The Puritans tended to admire the early church fathers and quoted them liberally in their works. In addition to arming the Puritans to fight against later developments of the Roman Catholic tradition, these studies also led to the rediscovery of some ancient scruples. Chrysostom, a favorite of the Puritans, spoke eloquently against drama and other worldly endeavors, and the Puritans adopted his view when decrying what they saw as the decadent culture of England, famous at that time for its plays and bawdy London. The Pilgrims (the separatist, congregationalist Puritans who went to North America) are likewise famous for banning from their New England colonies many secular entertainments, such as games of chance, maypoles, and drama, all of which were perceived as kinds of immorality.

They emphasized preaching and did not accept excessive rituals or decoration, even eliminated music in the church.

Another important distinction was the idea of supremacy. For them the only head in heaven or earth was Christ , they did not need a mediator

Other notable beliefs include:

An emphasis on private study of the Bible, it was like a behaviour’s guide for them and they tried to find parallelisms from it in their lives.

A necessity of education and enlightenment for the masses, to make possible the reading of the Bible and their interpretation to their own lives.

Simplicity in worship, the exclusion of vestments, images, candles, etc.

Did not celebrate traditional holidays that they believed to be in violation of the regulative principle of worship.

Believed the Sabbath was still obligatory for Christians, although they believe the Sabbath had been changed to Sunday.




One of the Puritan beliefs is that man was created by before than woman, therefore the world was made for men. In the same way that God established a hierarchy with divine order, they also had their own hierarchy: in the first place it was the family, in the second the church and the third the Common-wealth

The essence of social order lay in the authority of husband over wife, parents over children, and masters over servants in the family. The courts could also enforce the duty of a husband to support his wife, as when a woman married, she gave all her property to her husband .When women marry they legally accepted the role as managing her husband’s household, educating her children…They had authority in the family, but always related to their housework

In Puritan New England, the family was the fundamental unit of society, the place where Puritans learned religious, ethical, and social values. In fact, family was considered as a little church. They imposed discipline, if a child was disobidient it was the result of disobidient parents, family was the first step into society, a good son would be a good citizen. Even salvation depended on the behaviour of children.

The home was the place where women could freely act and exercise their religious and moral authority, doing things that were not allowed to do in public.




There were different kinds of school, sometimes women instructed children at home, there were Latin schools for boys where they could also learn Greek and Hebrew. Reading schools for girls, whereas boys went to the town grammar schools. Gender largely determined educational practices. Women introduced all children to reading, and men taught boys more complex issues, since girls could play no othrer role in their community rather than being mothers and housewives.

Puritans believed that education was necessary to read the Scriptures and achieve the salvation, they had to read the Bible to find the clues of their redemtion.




In the first moment, he appears as a secondary character with no importance in the plot, as he is only a servant, but as the play goes on, he becomes the centre of a extraordinary complot that will make us smile and wait expectantly.

In the play we do not a have a clear physical description, the only detail that is clearly given is that he is a Puritan. Obviously, it is done to highlight this characteristic of the servant, Shakespeare wants him to embody this trait, and to be tightly related to Puritanism and to the opinion the author has, due to the Puritans opposition to the theatre and their attempts to close them.

The main humorous point of the play, come as the Maria, Feste, Toby Belch and  Sir Andrew Aguecheek mock on him, this is a clear statement of the author’s point of view about the Puritans and their morality.

Beginning with his name, it comes from Italian “Mal voglio” the badly loved and evil wishing in Latin, it is the first clue of the relation that this character has with the rest. Although he believes he is a beloved, appreciated person, it’s just the contrary, all of the people in the house dislike him and even hate him.


In the first parliament he appears in the play, when lady Olivia asks him for his opinion on the jester, he lets us know many things of his personality (Page134):


“Yes, and shall do, till the pangs of death shake him. Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool”


He talks in an arrogant way as if he was the only one sane and wise to give his point of view. He despises the jester because he believes is a fool, but there are more thruths in the parliaments of the buffoon than in any other character. For him the essence of Feste is madness, in this way he tries to show he rejects him and even more important, that he is inferior to him, although he is merely a servant.


We find other example in page 136:


“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal…I protest that these wise men, that crow so at these set of  kind of fools, no better than the fools’ zanies.


In this excerpt he repeats his insults, he uses an offensive languange, and tries to discredit him by saying he has no wit. He even dares to say that those who enjoy jesters are jesters themselves, in an indirect way he is also offending his mistress. This is one of the traits that could be related to his Puritanism, he does not like the jokes or the songs the jester sings because Puritans disliked that kind of entertainment that was far away from the truth of God.


But this behaviour is not approved by Olivia, who replies to him and defends the jester (Page 136):


“O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite…nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.”


The next time we hear him speak is when Viola wants to speak with Olivia. He has a wicked way of describing Viola (Cesario) that we could identify with a shoot of envy, he never describes anyone in a positive way( Page 146):


“Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy…One would think his mother’s milk was scarce out of him.”


Although he uses an offensive language he is always sounds learned, that could be due to the fact that Puritans, especially men are highly educated in classics.


In scene II when Olivia realises she has fallen in love with Cesario, she sends Malvolio to give him a ring with the excuse that his master gave it to her, but she does not want to be engaged with Orsino. In that moment Malvolio again is bad mannered and throws the ring, here we could imagine that he feels something else for his mistress.(Page  172):


“She returns the ring to you, sir. You might have saved me my pains…Receive it so.”

“Come, sir, you peevishly threw it to her… be it his that finds it.”


One of the most important traits of this character is that he believes everybody loves him and respect him, but in fact it is all the way round, nobody can stand him and there are several parliaments that show it.  For instance when Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria and the jester are singing in the house. (Page 188):


“My lady’s a Cataian; we are politicians:

Malvolio’s a Peg-a-Ramsey; and(he sings)Three merry men be we! Am I not consanguineous? Am I not of her blood?...”


Then arribes Malvolio and tells them off for being singing aloud at night:


“My masters are you mad? Or what are you?...Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”

“Sir Toby I must be round with you. My lady bade me…she is very willing to bid you farewell.”


In this moment he speaks as if he was the master of the house, he feels superior to order anyone there although Maria is working in the house just like him, and Sir Toby is the cousin of his mistress. On the other hand he says his mistress has ordered him to tell it, this reinforces the idea that Puritan women had the power in their house.


But then the jester, Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew decide to take revenge. (Page 200):


“The devil a Puritan that he is…will my revenge find notable cause in to my work”


They would make him believe Olivia is in love with him by leaving a “forgiven letter” in the gardens. (Page 248):


“I may command where I adore… What should that alphabetical position portend?...”


And he will do whatever said in the letter, which in fact coincide with the things Olivia hates most, from this moment onwards he becomes the jester. (Page 316-318):


“Sad lady? I could be sad;…Please one and please all.”

“Not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs…”


But this joke at the end becomes a nightmare for him because Maria and the rest try to make him believe he is mad by closing him in a room.(Page 398):


“They have here propertied me…and do all they can to face me out of my wits”


In this moment we can not feel hate for him, we just feel sorrow although he has behaved terribly with anybody.


At the end he is freed, but he discovers a cruel reality, all has been a trick and his mistress is going to get married with other man. There is no happy ending for Malvolio.

(Page 458):


“I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!”


In conclusion, all the expectations he had have vanished because of his ignorance, he thought he was the wisest man in the country, but his Puritanism has lead him to a situation of desesperation and shame.