What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E1)

(Find Season 1 on my website if you need to get caught up.)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence

In a corner of Countess Olivia’s grounds gathered three gentlemen for some unsanctioned sport. Or so it seemed, for they huddled together behind the box trees, like boys hiding from a tutor. That was Sir Toby Belch, the countess’ uncle; Sir Andrew, one of her suitors (who she would have been happier to see gone); and one Fabian.

As they huddled and chortled over their sport, a fourth came to join their fun. Mistress Maria, that was the countess’ chambermaid. Sir Toby, seeing her first, cried out, “Here comes the little villain. How now, my metal of India!”

Maria’s grin broke through before she regained control and showed a properly sober face. To Sir Toby and his fellow hooligans she hissed, “Get ye all three into the box-tree: Malvolio’s coming down this walk: he has been yonder i’ the sun practicing behavior to his own shadow this half hour: observe him, for the love of mockery; for I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him. Close, in the name of jesting!”

As she spoke, she dropped a sealed envelope upon the walk, glanced over her shoulder, and hurried off murmuring, “Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling.”

The three, ignoring their venerable age (and the well-being of their clothes) climbed up into the trees and peered back the way she had come.

They didn’t have long to wait, for soon followed Master Malvolio. Steward to the Countess Olivia and commander of all within her home. He was speaking to himself.

” ‘Tis but fortune; all is fortune. 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.” (Here, he paused to admire that complexion in a still bird bath. “Besides, she uses me with a more exalted respect than any one else that follows her. What should I think on’t?”

“Here’s an overweening rogue!” Sir Toby growled, shaking his fist. He might have fallen from the tree had not Fabian grabbed his arm and hushed him.

“O, peace!” he whispered. “Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him.”

Sir Andrew, unable to be silent when others spoke, added his own portion: “I could so beat the rogue!”

And then it was Sir Toby who cautioned peace.

Malvolio continued along the walk, lost in his daydreams. One day, the countess would recognize his long service and raise him to his proper place. “To be Count Malvolio!”

It was only with utmost effort that Fabian kept Sir Toby in the trees and quiet over the next few minutes as Malvolio continued in this vein. But finally, he came far enough along to notice the letter Maria left on the walk.

He stopped, bent over, and picked the letter, examining it in detail. “By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.” (Fabian pressed a hand over his mouth to quiet his laughter.) “It is, in contempt of question, her hand.”

Sir Andrew shook his head and asked quietly, “Her C’s, her U’s and her T’s: why that?” And Fabian nearly fell out of the tree.

Luckily for the rascals three, Malvolio did not notice, instead bending all attention on the letter. “‘To the unknown beloved, this, and my good wishes:’–her very phrases!” Suddenly, he looked around, peering low under the bushes and around the hedges. He then slipped his finger under the seal and pulled it from the page, opening the envelope. Then he continued but more quietly, “By your leave, wax! And the impressure her Lucrece, with which she uses to seal: ’tis my lady. To whom should this be?”

Settling himself on a bench directly under the box tree, he continued reading silently — but now the scallywags could read along with him.

Jove knows I love: But who?
Lips, do not move;
No man must know.

If this should be thee, Malvolio?” he asked himself, his earlier daydreams flashing into bright promise.

I may command where I adore;
But silence, like a Lucrece knife,
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore:
M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.

Fabian grinned and murmured, “A fustian riddle!”

It was, indeed, a pretentious thing, and Sir Toby was delighted by it. Eagerly they listened to the steward muttering to himself.

“‘M, O, A, I, doth sway my life.’ Nay, but first, let me see, let me see, let me see.

“‘I may command where I adore.’ Why, she may command me: I serve her; she is my lady. Why, this is evident to any formal capacity; there is no obstruction in this: and the end,–what should that alphabetical position portend? If I could make that resemble something in me,–Softly! M, O, A, I,–”

This followed several minutes of Malvolio trying to find some way to claim that those letters were a reference to his name. A period where Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian passed the time by making a mock of Malvolio’s foolishness and ignorance of the trouble he was walking into.

Finally, Malvolio gave up, saying, “M, O, A, I; this simulation is not as the former: and yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for every one of these letters are in my name. Soft! here follows prose.”

‘If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I
am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some
are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon ’em. Thy Fates open
their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them;
and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be,
cast thy humble slough and appear fresh. Be
opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants; let
thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into
the trick of singularity: she thus advises thee
that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy
yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever
cross-gartered: I say, remember. Go to, thou art
made, if thou desirest to be so; if not, let me see
thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and
not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell.
She that would alter services with thee,
THE FORTUNATE-UNHAPPY.’

Malvolio was transported into raptures as one who has been granted a vision of the heavens. “Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is open.” He stood and pulled himself erect, thrusting his shoulders back. “I will be proud. I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.” Shaking a fist to any who dared dissuade him, he declared, “I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me.” He let the first fall, and a soft smile crept across his face. He looked down at the letter with eyes bright, “for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered, and in this she manifests herself to my love. Jove and my stars be praised!”

Then something caught his eye, and he sat down again. “Here is yet a postscript…”

‘Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou
entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling;
thy smiles become thee well; therefore in my
presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.’

“Jove,” he said with a happy sigh, “I thank thee: I will smile; I will do everything that thou wilt have me.”

With firm purpose, he stood from the bench and strode off, ready to achieve his future.

As soon as he was out of sight, the box tree exploded with laughter. Fabian slid down the tree first, stammering between bursts of laughter, “I will not give my part of this sport for a pension of thousands to be paid from the Sophy.”

“I could marry this wench for this device,” Sir Toby chortled, stumbling down to trip over the bench, still laughing.

“So could I too,” agreed Sir Andrew, “trying to figure out how to get down from the tree.”

“And ask no other dowry with her but such another jest!” Toby continued, ignoring Sir Andrew.

“Nor I neither,” Sir Andrew agreed again.

“Here,” Fabian said, “comes my noble gull-catcher.”

Finding his feet again, Sir Toby knelt in front of Maria and bowed his head, “Wilt thou set thy foot o’ my neck?”

Maria put her hand to her mouth and dropped her eyes, unable, for a moment, to speak.

Finally, down from the tree, Sir Andrew threw himself on his knees beside Sir Toby, “Or o’ mine either?”

Looking up, Sir Toby offered Maria his hand, which she took and pulled him to his feet. “Why, thou hast put him in such a dream, that when the image of it leaves him he must run mad.”

Blushing, Maria asked, “Nay, but say true; does it work upon him?”

“Like aqua-vitae with a midwife,” Sir Toby assured her.

She grinned freely a moment, then, as if recalling herself, dropped his and stepped back. “If you will then see the fruits of the sport,” she said, “mark his first approach before my lady: he will come to her in yellow stockings, and ’tis a colour she abhors, and cross-gartered, a fashion she detests; and he will smile upon her, which will now be so unsuitable to her disposition, being addicted to a melancholy as she is, that it cannot but turn him into a notable contempt. If you will see it, follow me.”

Fabian was carefully not looking at Sir Andrew’s yellow stockings, but Sir Toby had eyes only for Maria. “To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent devil of wit!”

“I’ll make one too,” Sir Andrew called out after the pair as they headed quickly for the manor.


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What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S1 Finale)

Season notes: violence, sexism, internalized homophobia

It was late morning when the duke had sought his bed (allowing Cesario, Curio, and Valentine to do the same). Not until evening did the fool finally answer the summons to the duke’s court.

“O, fellow, come, the song we had last night.” The duke greeted him eagerly. “Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain. The spinsters and the knitters in the sun and the free maids that weave their thread with bones do use to chant it. It is silly sooth, and dallies with the innocence of love like the old age.”

When the duke wound down, the fool asked, “Are you ready, sir?”

“Ay; prithee, sing.”

Cesario started playing an introduction, and after a few bars, the fool began his song.

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand, thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

Over the course of the song, Orsino’s feet took him wandering. He stopped once more behind Cesario, hand resting on his shoulder. The duke’s eyes were afire as he stared at his man. Cesario looked at his hands on the keys, showing no sign he was aware of the duke’s closeness.

The fool watched the duke closely, this man who so strongly courted the Lady Olivia.

For a few moments, after the song ended, the duke and his man remained unmoving. The duke staring, Cesario avoiding.

It was the duke who shook himself first and stepped away. He reached into his purse for coins and offered them to the fool. “There’s for thy pains.”

The fool took the coins with a bow. “No pains, sir: I take pleasure in singing, sir.”

“I’ll pay thy pleasure then,” the duke replied with a grin.

Still watching the duke and Cesario — who leaned toward the duke while still looking away from him — the fool shook his head. “Truly, sir, and pleasure will be paid, one time or another.”

The duke gave the fool leave to depart. The fool shook his head again. “Now, the melancholy god protect thee,” he said slowly, “and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal.” He shouldered his bag and turned toward the door. “I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be every thing and their intent every where; for that’s it that always makes a good voyage of nothing. Farewell.”

Everyone stared after the fool a moment, confused. Then the duke put a hand on Cesario’s shoulder again, saying, “Let all the rest give place.”

Cesario noodled a bit on the piano, using the playing as an excuse to continue avoiding the duke.

When the others had left, the duke took Cesario’s hand in his, and said softly, “Once more, Cesario, get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty. Tell her, my love, more noble than the world, prizes not quantity of dirty lands. The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her, tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune. But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems that nature pranks her in attracts my soul.”

Cesario pulled his hand away, closed the lid of the keyboard, and moved to the windows framing the setting sun. “But if she cannot love you, sir?”

“I cannot be so answer’d.”

“Sooth, but you must.” Words began tumbling out of Cesario’s lips like water over rocks in a stream. “Say that some lady, as perhaps there is, hath for your love a great a pang of heart as you have for Olivia. You cannot love her. You tell her so. Must she not then be answer’d?”

Cesario thought that this might get through to Orsino. Had not the duke, just the night before, spoken of how much greater was the love women held for men? But the fool had been right to name the duke of opal nature, changeable as the day’s light. The duke stalked toward Cesario, all but growling in his outrage. “There is no woman’s sides can bide the beating of so strong a passion as love doth give my heart. No woman’s heart so big, to hold so much. They lack retention.”

Cesario’s hands fisted at his sides. Since he had faced down himself at the pond, Cesario had thought much, fought much. And came to acceptance — he was Cesario. The dead would walk the earth before he would again answer to the name ‘Viola.’

If he was not a woman now, had he ever been a woman? Or had Viola been the mask all along? What right had he to offense, what claim to knowledge had he the right to make?

“Alas,” the duke continued, hissing in Cesario’s ear, “their love may be call’d appetite. But mine is all as hungry as the sea, and can digest as much: make no compare between that love a woman can bear me and that I owe Olivia.”

It was too much. Right, reason, and good sense fled. Cesario spun around to find himself face-to-face with Orsino, a bare whisper separating their lips. Again.

Cesario stepped back, glaring. “Ay, but I know–”

“What dost thou know?” the duke mocked, stepping forward to crowd Cesario again.

“Too well what love women to men may owe!” he shoved the duke then, shoved him back and all but ran for the door.

“Cesario!” the duke called, not angry but pained. And the young man, confused man, stopped. For a long moment, neither said anything. “Cesario?”

Cesario turned back, slowly this time. The duke held a hand to him, Cesario took one hesitant step forward. He licked his lips and decided to forget all his questions and confusion and just… speak.

“In faith,” he said, “they are as true of heart as we.” He paused, but the duke said nothing, just waited. Cesario took another step. “My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be, if I were a woman,” That damnable ‘if,’ truth and lie in one and Cesario himself knew not which. “If I were a woman, I should your lordship.”

The duke smiled slightly, an almost hopeful expression teasing the edges of his face. “And what’s her history?”

Another step, Cesario took the duke’s hand but turned away from his face, staring again out the windows. “A blank, my lord. She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, feed on her damask cheek.” Cesario had no other choice. For Orsino to love Viola would be as a fairytale — nothing that had anyplace in the real world. But for him to love Cesario… even a young man in the pangs of first love knew better than to dream. “She pined in thought, and with a green and yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?”

Some bitterness leaked into his voice, but he did not resist when the duke squeezed his hand and moved to stand close behind him. “We men may say more, swear more: but indeed our shows are more than will. For still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.”

The duke’s eyes were bright, and he was almost praying as he asked, “But died thy sister of her love, my boy?”

Cesario shook his head with a sharp laugh. “I am all the daughters of my father’s house,” he replied. Then, hurriedly, “And all the brothers too. And yet I know not.”

He turned to face the duke again, this time taking care to leave space between them. “Sir, shall I to this lady?”

The duke hid a wince by looking down to pull a ring off his fingers. “Ay, that’s the theme. To her in haste; give her this jewel.” He paused, gazing deep into Cesario’s eyes. “My love can give no place, bide no denial.”

And any watching in that moment might be forgiven for wondering just whom his words were meant for.


We’ll leave Cesario and his duke here. Cesario, at least, has come to know himself. Next week we’ll return to Lefeng & family with seasons 2 of Planting Life in a Dying City. Grandparent-to-be Tsouchm has some challenges ahead of em.

After a lifetime as a loner with no family, Tsouchm must now step up to become a parent and grandparent to five orphans and a spouse to the love ey thought far beyond eir reach. Lefeng’s determination took them this far. Can Tsouchm find it in emself to step forward and help not only eir new family, but the community of familyless ey is leaving behind?

If you missed it (or just want a re-read) you can find Season 1 here.

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E11)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
Alexi’s Tale — A Transgender Fairytale
How NOT to Save the World

What You Will (S1 E11)

Season notes: violence, sexism

After Malvolio left, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, the fool, and Maria stared after him a moment. Then, “Go shake your ears,” Maria growled after him.

The others laughed, and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew began trading comments about the steward. In a few moments, Sir Andrew was ready to go issue him a challenge to duel, and Sir Toby eager to be his second.

Maria hushed them, worried for Lady Olivia’s temper. A duel could not help but come to her attention. Instead, she said, “Let me alone with him: if I do not make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed.” She scooped up the wine and came to pour it for Sir Toby. “I know I can do it.”

“Possess us, possess us,” Sir Toby slung an arm around her shoulders again. “Tell us something of him.”

“Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of puritan.”

“O, if I thought that I would beat him like a dog!” Sir Andrew exclaimed.

“What, for being a puritan?” Sir Toby turned to the other knight in confusion, “Thy exquisite reason, dear knight?”

“I have no exquisite reason for’t,” Sir Andrew said stubbornly, “but I have reason good enough.”

Maria ignored them. “The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass. 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.”

“What wilt thou do?” Sir Toby asked.

“I will drop in his way some obscure letters of love, wherein, by the color of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion, he shall find himself most feelingly personated.” She smiled at Sir Toby before stepping away and crossing the room to a writing desk. Sir Toby followed her. From the desk she pulled two notes written on the thick cream paper Olivia preferred for personal matters. “I can write very like my lady, your niece.” She showed the notes to Sir Toby, who examined them with delight. “On a forgotten matter, we can hardly make distinction of our hands.”

“Excellent! I smell a device.”

Sir Andrew now crowded up behind Sir Toby. “I have it in my nose too.”

Sir Toby cackled. “He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come from my niece, and that she’s in love with him.”

Maria nodded, smiling at the older knight.

“My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that color.”

She took the notes from Sir Toby and put them back in the draw. When she turned around Sir Toby was so close their lips nearly met. Maria stared for a moment before pulling away and pacing to the door. “Sport royal, I warrant you: I know my physic will work with him.

“I will plant you two and let the fool make a third, where he shall find the letter.” She opened the door and stopped. “Observe his construction of it. For this night, to bed, and dream on the event.” With one long look over her shoulder, she was gone. “Farewell.”

“Good night, Penthesilea.” Sir Toby called after her.

Sir Andrew shook his head in admiration. “Before me, she’s a good wench.”

“She’s a beagle,” Sir Toby sighed, “true-bred, and one that adores me.” Sir Andrew stared at him and seemed almost to be blinking away tears. “What o’ that?”

“I was adored once too.” Sir Andrew said quietly.

Grunting, Sir Toby patted Sir Andrew on the shoulder. “Let’s to bed, knight. Thou hadst need send for more money.”

Sir Andrew grimaced, “If I cannot recover your niece, I am a foul way out.”

“Send for money, knight: if thou hast her not i’ the end, call me cut.”

“If I do not, never trust me. Take it how you will.”

Through the window, the first light of dawn could be seen peeking over the horizon. Sir Toby glared at it a moment, then shook his head. “‘Tis too late to go to bed now.” He signaled for the fool, almost forgotten in the corner, to begin a song. “Come, knight.” He started to dance and waved for Sir Andrew to join him, “Come, knight!”

While the fool helped Sirs Toby and Andrew ring in the dawn, others in Duke Orsino’s court were also blearily facing the first light after a too-long night.

Duke Orsino, unnaturally alert, sat on a settee with his arm around Cesario (who was Viola). Curio stood (someone less than alertly) by the door, and Valentine sat behind the duke, tired enough to forget himself and glare at the duke’s over-familiar arm. The rest of the duke’s court had been dismissed to seek their beds some hours earlier. But these, the duke’s favorites, must remain, blinking against the dawn’s light and stifling eager yawns.

The duke, seeing dawn peek through the windows, perked up. “Now, good morrow, friends. Give me some music!” He shook Cesario gently, rousing him from half stupor. “Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song, that old and antique song we heard last night.

“Methought it did relieve my passion much, more than light airs and recollected terms.”

Cesario blinked at him and mustered a scowl. In the weeks since he entered the duke’s court, he had grown comfortable with the duke. Comfortable enough to make plain when he thought the duke was being outrageous — which was often. Comfortable enough that he did not object to the duke’s arm around his shoulders, though he knew he should have.

“Come,” Orsino wheedled, “but one verse.”

From the door, Curio cleared his throat. “He is not here, so please your lordship that should sing it.”

“Who was it?” the duke asked, turning to face Curio.

“Feste, the jester, my lord; a fool that the lady Olivia’s father took much delight in. He was about the house.”

“Seek him out!” He gave a shove to Cesario, “And play the tune the while.”

Cesario dragged himself to his feet and took a moment to be sure of his balance before walking carefully to the piano. He seated himself and ran through a short warm-up to loosen his sleep-dogged fingers. Then he began picking out the tune. (After listening to the fool play it for near an hour the night before, he had it memorized and needed no sheet music.)

The duke came to stand behind him and rested a hand on Cesario’s shoulder. (Valentine, who had begun to relax, took up his glare again.)

“If ever thou shalt love, boy,” the duke murmured, “In the sweet pangs of it remember me. For such as I am all true lovers are, unstaid and skittish in all motions else, save in the constant image of the creature that is beloved.”

Cesario was saved from needing to reply by his playing, and the duke was content to listen in silence to the music.

For a time.

“How dost thou like this tune?”

Speaking and playing leaves one distracted even at the best of times. But after a long night when one wishes nothing more than to seek one’s bed? Then truths can slip out that a man would never willingly speak in the light of day. “It gives a very echo to the seat where Love is throned,” Cesario replied.

Orsino stared down at him, “Thou dost speak masterly. My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye hath stay’d upon some favor that it loves.” With visible reluctance, the duke pulled his hand from Cesario’s shoulder. To cover his awkwardness, he continued, “Hath it not, boy?”

Cesario stared down at his hands, appalled at his slip. In the background, Valentine breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into the chair.

After a moment, Cesario replied, “A little, by your favor.”

“What kind of woman is it?” the duke asked.

Cesario shrugged, not showing his relief that the duke assumed he spoke of a woman. Of course, he did. But his tongue was not guarded enough and what slipped out was, “Of your complexion.”

It was Curio, now, who perked up, glancing with raised eyebrows toward Valentine.

Orsino missed this by play, dismissing the hypothetical woman with a wave. “She is not worth thee, then.” A pause. “What years, i’ faith?”

With a prayer to the fates who watched out for fools and drunkards, Cesario replied honestly — “About your years, my lord.”

Cesario, unnoticing, was now leaning back so his shoulder rested on the duke’s thigh. Valentine, of course, did not miss it. His eyebrows, too, climbed to meet his much-receded hairline. He looked to Curio who smiled and nodded toward the two by the piano. Valentine sighed and shrugged. Then stole a pillow from the settee to prop behind his head. Hands folded across his middle he closed his eyes.

The duke’s hand was once more upon Cesario’s shoulder. He shook his head regretfully. “Too old by heaven! Let still the woman take an elder than herself. So wears she to him, so sways she level in her husband’s heart. For, boy,” and he squeezed Cesario’s shoulder gently as he spoke. “However we do praise ourselves, our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, more longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, than women’s are.”

What else the duke might have said was interrupted by a soft snore coming from Valentine’s chair. Orsino and Cesario turned in surprise, then looked at each other and giggled.

Cesario knew it was foolish, but he let a giddy smile show upon his face. The duke would think it a response to Valentine when in truth it was a response to the duke’s words. “I think it well, my lord.”

“Then let thy love be younger than thyself,” Orsino turned back to Cesario with a more somber expression. “Or thy affection cannot hold the bent. For women are as roses, whose fair flower being once display’d, doth fall that very hour.”

“And so they are: alas, that they are so,” Cesario could not bring himself to be bothered by this assessment of women or men’s affection to them. The duke felt that men should seek out younger lovers. In that moment of exhaustion and dawn light and foolishness, he allowed himself one moment to believe in fantasies. “To die, even when they to perfection grow!”

Out of sight of the duke and his man, Curio watched how their gazes caught, how they leaned into each other, only to start back, and smiled.

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E10)

Continue to:
What You Will (S1 Finale)

What You Will (S1 E10)

Content notes: violence, sexism, internalized transphobia

It was late — so late it was early, or so Sir Toby claimed — when he and Sir Andrew came staggering back into the manor. Sir Toby closed the door with exaggerated care, an effort immediately wasted as Sir Andrew walked right into the coat rack and knocked it clattering to the floor.

Sir Toby hauled Sir Andrew up, and they picked their way around the fallen coats, continuing their whispered argument.

“Faith, so they say,” Sir Andrew said, “but I think life rather consists of eating and drinking.”

Sir Toby chuckled and just missed the door frame as he led Sir Andrew into one of the sitting rooms. “Thou’rt a scholar; let us therefore eat and drink.” Then, he dropped the whisper to call loudly, “Marian, I say! a stoup of wine!”

It was not Maria who answered, but the fool. He, being sober and thus capable of actual quiet, came up behind the pair and pulled them down onto a couch with him. “How now, my hearts!”

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew shrieked like one who saw the dead walk, then Sir Toby started laughing. “Welcome, ass. Now let’s have a catch.”

Clapping (and trying to hide how he gasped from fright) Sir Andrew hurried to praise the fool, “Thou wast in very gracious fooling last night, when thou spokest of Pigrogromitus, of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus.” (It had, in fact, been Queubus passing the tropic of the Vapians, but let it go. Sir Andrew was a fool of a different sort.) “Twas very good, i’ faith. I sent thee sixpence for thy pleasure: hadst it?”

The fool assured Sir Andrew that he had received the money and turned it into a joke on Malvolio. At that time, Malvolio was always good for a laugh, and laugh Sir Andrew did. “Excellent! Why, this is the best fooling, when all is done. Now, a song.”

Sir Toby agreed, tossing the fool a coin. Sir Andrew gave another, and the fool cut him off before he could say aught more. “Would you have a love-song, or a song of good life?”

“A love-song, a love-song,” demanded Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew went along with it, as he did.

The fool began to sing, “O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming…”

As he sang, the knights commented to each other on the choice of song and tenor of his voice. The fool sang for several minutes, watching their eyes drift close. He sang and played more softly, “In delay there lies no plenty. Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, youth’s a stuff will not endure…” until he trailed off into silence.

For a moment, none moved, and the fool made ready to take himself from the room. Then Sir Toby snorted himself awake.

The couch creaked as he sat up, rousing Sir Andrew to blinking awareness. “To hear by the nose…” Sir Toby mumbled, “it is dulcet in contagion. Very… contagious.”

Shaking himself, he jumped to his feet and dragged Sir Andrew up with him, calling, “But shall we make the welkin dance indeed?” he grabbed the fool’s arm, pulling him into a huddle with the two knights. “Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three souls out of one weaver?” he demanded, with all the enthusiasm of the hearty drunk, “shall we do that?”

“An you love me, let’s do’t,” Sir Andrew rubbed his hands together. “I am dog at a catch.”

“By’r lady, sir,” The fool saluted, “and some dogs will catch well.”

“Most certain. Let our catch be, ‘Thou knave.’ ”

“‘Hold thy peace, thou knave,’ knight?” The fool asked Sir Andrew, “I shall be constrained in’t to call thee knave, knight.”

Sir Andrew gave the fool several more openings, which he was pleased to take. But before long, they began the song, a popular drinking catch meant to be bellowed at the top of one’s lungs.

Since getting them to sleep it off had failed, to fool joined in fully. If he would not be allowed to sleep, he might as well enjoy himself.

They were well into the catch when Maria, eyes full of sleep, stepped into the doorway and stared at them. It took her a moment to find her voice, but she found it well-tended and in good form. “What a caterwauling do you keep here!” She stomped up to Sir Toby and shook her finger in his face. “If my lady have not called up her steward Malvolio and bid him turn you out of doors, never trust me.”

Sir Toby burped and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. He bent to whisper in her ear. “My lady’s a Cataian, we are politicians, Malvolio’s a Peg-a-Ramsey, and” suddenly in full voice, he sang, “‘Three merry men be we.’

“Am not I consanguineous? Am I not of her blood? Tillyvally. Lady!” And he swept her up into a dance, singing, “‘There dwelt a man in Babylon, lady, lady!'”

The fool and Sir Andrew sat back on the couch together and watched Sir Toby spin Maria around the room, singing along.

After two rounds of the room, Maria broke free, trying not to laugh herself. “For the love o’ God, peace!” But she couldn’t keep a straight face, and her giggles broke free.

The fool was the first to notice Malvolio lurking in the doorway. He sobered himself, grabbed up his instrument, and retreated to a corner. Maria, giddy but not drunk, noticed him next and moved away from Sir Toby to stand quietly, head down, hands clasped.

Still thoroughly drunk, it took Sir Toby and Sir Andrew nearly a full minute to notice the steward. Finally, they quieted and stared at the steward, shamefaced.

“My masters,” the steward asked, “are you mad? or what are you? Have ye no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”

Sir Toby quickly lost his shame in the face of Malvolio’s scorn. “We did keep time, sir,” he growled, “in our catches.”

“Sir Toby,” Malvolio sneered. “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, and it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell.”

Sir Toby stood up, walked right up to the steward, sneered back at him, and began to sing. “‘Farewell, dear heart, since I must needs be gone.'”

“Nay, good Sir Toby,” Maria tried to stop him. But the fool had had more than enough of Malvolio and was quite willing to encourage Sir Toby. “‘His eyes do show his days are almost done.'”

The two of them traded lines the song back and forth to the increasing upset of the steward. With each line, the fool egged Sir Toby on further until Sir Toby dropped the game to confront Malvolio directly.

“Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

“Yes, by Saint Anne,” the fool put in, “and ginger shall be hot i’ the mouth too.”

“Thou’rt i’ the right,” Sir Toby nodded at the fool. “Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs. A stoup of wine, Maria!”

Maria, like Sir Toby, had lost what shame she’d had in the face of Malvolio’s arrogance. She turned immediately and headed for the wine on the sideboard.

“Mistress Mary,” Malvolio stepped in front of her, “if you prized my lady’s favor at any thing more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule.”

Maria stuck her tongue out at him and stepped around to continue on her way. “She shall know of it,” Malvolio yelled, “by this hand.”

Then he stalked out of the room like a wet cat, closing the door with blatant quiet behind him.

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What You Will (S1, E9)

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What You Will (S1, E11)

What You Will (A Queer-er Shakespeare): S1 E9

Season notes: violence, sexism, internalized transphobia

Olivia paced the sitting room, replaying the odd audience that had just ended. “‘What is your parentage?’ ‘Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: I am a gentleman.’ I’ll be sworn thou art.” She shook her head, unable to banish the image of the impudent man from her thoughts. “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit, do give thee five-fold blazon: not too fast,” she stopped pacing and looked at her hands, turning them over and back as if there was some secret message she could read if only she found the right angle.

“Soft, soft! Unless the master were the man. How now!” her voice dropped to a horrified whisper. “Even so quickly may one catch the plague? Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections, with an invisible and subtle stealth, to creep in at mine eyes.” She stood a long moment, opening and closing her hands. Then she lifted her head, dropped her arms, and in a firm voice declared, “Well, let it be.

“What ho, Malvolio!”

Malvolio opened the door and stepped in, bowing. “Here, madam, at your service.”

“Run after that same peevish messenger, the county’s man. He left this ring behind him: would I or not.” She twisted a ring off her finger and held it out to the steward, who took it gingerly. “Tell him I’ll none of it. Desire him not to flatter with his lord, nor hold him up with hopes. I am not for him.” Malvolio bowed and turned to go, but Olivia stopped him. “If- If that the youth will come this way tomorrow, I’ll give him reasons for it.” Malvolio blinked in surprise, and she shoo’d him out. “Hie thee, Malvolio.”

“Madam, I will.”

She watched him leave, then moved to a mirror hung on the wall and checked her appearance. “I do I know not what,” she muttered to herself, “and fear to find mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind.”

Turning away from the mirror, she saw a painting of a farmhouse under a night sky. She examined the stars, as those constellations might mirror the real stars that guide our lives. “Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe. What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

Viola did not rush on her way back to Orsino’s manor. She had much to think on — not so much her meeting with the Lady Olivia, but what she had revealed in that meeting. So she ambled and stopped now and again to enjoy a stand of wildflowers. Because she did so, Malvolio had an easy time catching up with her.

“Were not you even now with the Countess Olivia?”

“Even now, sir; on a moderate pace I have since arrived but hither.” Viola offered an abbreviated bow of greeting, but Malvolio did not return it. Instead, he reached into a pocket and pulled out the ring Olivia had given him.

“She returns this ring to you, sir:” Malvolio sneered. You might have saved me my pains, to have taken it away yourself.”

Viola stared at the ring, shaking her head. Malvolio tried to push the ring on her. She stepped back, holding her hands up to ward him off.

“She adds, moreover,” Malvolio continued, “that you should put your lord into a desperate assurance she will none of him. And one thing more, that you be never so hardy to come again in his affairs, unless it be to report your lord’s taking of this. Receive it so.”

“She took the ring of me?” Viola turned her back on him and started walking again. “I’ll none of it.”

Malvolio chased after her and grabbed her arm. “Come, sir, you peevishly threw it to her.” When Viola did not respond, he threw it on the ground in front of her. “And her will is, it should be so returned. If it be worth stooping for, there it lies in your eye; if not, be it his that finds it.”

With a derisive sniff, the steward turned and hurried back toward the manor

Viola stared at the departing steward, then at the ring lying there on the ground. “I left no ring with her: what means this lady?” One thing sure: she could not bring a ring from Olivia back to the manor. Lord Orsino would likely take it as encouragement for his suit. And if he didn’t, she feared to know what else his mercurial mind might think… her own mind caught up with her, and her jaw dropped. “Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!” She paused and said slowly, “She made good view of me. Indeed, so much, that sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue, for she did speak in starts distractedly.

“She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion invites me in this churlish messenger.” She kicked at the ring, knocking it deep into the weeds along the road. “None of my lord’s ring! Why, he sent her none.”

She continued down the road but could not shake Olivia’s token from her mind. “I am the man.” And the words roused a hope in her that she dared not look at. A hope she crushed ruthlessly. “If it be so, as ’tis, poor lady, she were better love a dream.” Without conscious thought, she wrapped her arms about herself. Her own dreams made no sense to her. “Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness, wherein the pregnant enemy does much.”

She passed by a still pond, and her reflection caught her eye. The man Cesario stared back at her. “How easy is it for the proper-false in women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!” A hand raised to touch her — his! cheek. He was her; she was him. “Alas,” she murmured, “our frailty is the cause, not we! For such as we are made of, such we be.” His hands explored his face, confirming that what eyes saw was truth. Brushed the ends of the short hair. Hope and fear and disbelief warred in his reflected eyes. “How will this fadge?”

Viola forced herself to turn away from the pond, to closer her eyes to the image there. “My master loves her dearly; and I, poor monster,” her voice broke, and her eyes turned back to the pond, but she forced them forward, “fond as much on him.

“And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.”

She walked for a time, pausing again only when she came in sight of Orsino’s manor.

“What will become of this? As I am man,” and she bit off the words, “my state is desperate for my master’s love. As I am woman,–now alas the day!” and these words too were heartfelt, burdened with dredged up pain, “what thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!”

A deep breath, a sterning of her features, and she strode up the lane to face her master and his disappointment. “O time! thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me to untie!”

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What You Will (S1, E8)

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What You Will (S1, E10)

What You Will (S1 E8): A Queer-er Shakespeare

Season notes: violence, sexism

Some miles south of that place, in another seacoast town, a man long ill from swallowing an excess of saltwater was finally recovered. He sat at a rough wooden table in the small rented room. The inn catered to sailors needing a place to stay between voyages and had not been a restful place to heal. But heal he had. This man was packing what little remained of his worldly goods in a battered leather bag. He packed slowly, reluctantly, but steadily. His name was Sebastian.

There was only one chair in the room, so its other occupant leaned nearby against the wall, a young sailor, Antonio. He looked older than his years from the rough treatment of wind and wave. It was Antonio who had plucked Sebastian from the sea and tended him these past days. He watched Sebastian now with anguished eyes. “Will you stay no longer? nor will you not that I go with you?”

Sebastian shook his head; he would not look at his savior, who had become much more. It was for that reason as much as any other that Sebastian had to leave. “By your patience, no. My stars shine darkly over me:” he had, in fact, begun to suspect that the stars hated him. Why else would they torture him so? “The vileness of my fate might perhaps taint yours; therefore I shall crave of you your leave that I may bear my evils alone:” Now he did look at Antonio, reached a hand out even to lay it on the man’s shoulder. “It were a bad recompense for your love, to lay any of this on you.”

Not one to be dissuaded, Antonio pleaded, “Let me yet know of you whither you are bound.”

“No, sooth, sir: my determinate voyage is mere extravagancy.” Antonio started to speak again but stopped himself, looking away. Sebastian saw the motion and squeezed the shoulder under his hand. “But I perceive in you so excellent a touch of modesty, that you will not extort from me what I am willing to keep in; therefore it charges me in manners the rather to express myself.”

Sebastian paused, looking out into the distance. “You must know of me then, Antonio, my name is Sebastian, though I have called myself Roderigo.” He glanced at Antonio, then looked away. Antonio gave no response, unsurprised that this friend had kept secrets from one he had, at first, no reason to trust. “My father was that Sebastian of Messaline, whom I know you have heard of.”

To this, Antonio reacted, for he had indeed heard of Sebastian of Messaline. That was a well-known name to those who sailed the seas — known for both well and ill before his death. Antonio well understood why Sebastian had said nothing of his connection when he first roused.

“He left behind him myself and a sister,” Sebastian continued, “both born in an hour: if the heavens had been pleased, would we had so ended!” He crossed himself but refused to let his tears fall. “but you, sir, altered that; for some hour before you took me from the breach of the sea was my sister drowned.”

He searched for her, clinging to his broken bit of wood until the salt spray blinded him.

“Alas the day!” Now Antonio moved away from the wall. He squatted down next to Sebastian and rested a hand upon his shoulder. He would have preferred to offer an embrace but recognized from the tension in his shoulders that his friend would not welcome it at that moment.

“A lady, sir, though” he chuckled, “it was said she much resembled me, she was yet accounted beautiful: but, though modestly prevents me from believing that, yet in this I will boldly publish her; she bore a mind that envy could not but call fair.” Now the tears fell, past his ability to call them back. Sebastian scrubbed at his face. “She is drowned already, sir, with saltwater, though I seem to drown her remembrance again with more.”

Antonio pulled Sebastian’s hands away and used a handkerchief to wipe his cheeks. “Pardon me, sir,” he said with a gentle smile, “your bad entertainment.”

“O good Antonio,” Sebastian chuckled and allowed his friend to tend him. “Forgive me your trouble.”

Antonio cupped Sebastian’s cheek with one hand. “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant.”

Sebastian returned the caress but shook his head. “If you will not undo what you have done, that is, kill him whom you have recovered, desire it not.” He hesitated a long moment, then leaned in and gave Antonio a gentle kiss. Before Antonio could deepen it, he pulled away and grabbed up his bag. “Fare ye well at once:” He stood and took two long strides toward the door. Antonio watched him go with full eyes. “my bosom is full of kindness, and I am yet so near the manners of my mother,” Sebastian’s voice hitched, but he forced it under control. “that upon the least occasion more mine eyes will tell tales of me.” A moment of hesitation, then bowing to the plea that Antonio did not voice, “I am bound to the Count Orsino’s court: farewell.”

Antonio watched as he walked out the door, then called, “The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!”

A few moments, he stayed silent, unmoving. “I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,” he murmured, “Else would I very shortly see thee there.

“But, come what may, I do adore thee so, That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.”

The room was paid through the end of the week, and his seabag was, as always, near at hand. It took Antonio only a short time to pack his own things, then he too walked out the door, not looking back.

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What You Will (S1, E7)

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What You Will (S1, E9)

What You Will (S1, E7): A Queer-er Shakespeare

Season notes: violence, sexism

Maria stood and crossed to the door. “Will you hoist sail, sir? here lies your way.”

“No.” Viola’s voice was weak, her boldness again wilting. She took hold of herself. As she had in many a past prank, she disguised herself behind her brother’s mien. “No, good swabber; I am to hull here a little longer.” She crooked an eyebrow at Olivia and, in her most sarcastic voice, continued, “Some mollification for your giant, sweet lady.”

Unsurprisingly, Olivia did nothing to ‘mollify’ Maria but also did not order Viola removed.

She and Viola stared at each other a moment, then Viola reached out a hand in offering and said quietly, “Tell me your mind: I am a messenger.”

“Sure, you have some hideous matter to deliver,” Olivia replied, “when the courtesy of it is so fearful. Speak your office.”

Viola stepped closer, dropping her voice to a murmur as her brother had done when flirting. “It alone concerns your ear. I bring no overture of war, no taxation of homage,” she lifted her outstretched hand. “I hold the olive in my hand;” Another step closer and her voice a touch softer, a touch deeper. “My words are as fun of peace as matter.”

Olivia was flustered now, looked away, fiddled with her fan. “Yet you began rudely,” she objected. Standing now, pacing the floor. “What are you? what would you?”

A half step back, giving space without retreating. The voice was softer yet, so now Olivia had to strain to hear, to stop pacing and step closer. Viola, within the well-learned mask of her brother’s ways, smiled. “The rudeness that hath appeared in me have I learned from my entertainment.

For the first time, the low voice took on the hint of a whisper: not just soft now but secret. “What I am, and what I would, are as secret as maidenhead; to your ears, divinity, to any other’s, profanation.”

Silence then. The lure was cast, and Viola knew — Sebastian knew, but for the moment, Viola was Sebastian — better than to speak further.

Olivia glanced at her (him — Cesario was who Olivia saw. Viola was perhaps too many people that morning.) Olivia glanced at him and away. The countess had been well sheltered before her father’s death, and this may have been the first time she had met the games of love. Certainly, the duke’s earlier messengers had little sense of how to woo her.

Finally, she decided. “Give us the place alone: we will hear this divinity.”

Olivia used Maria’s stiff exit to gather herself. She was flustered, yes; taken by surprise, but the daughter and granddaughter and sister of counts, a countess in her own right. She made herself don the mask of serenity she wore when she held court, to sit gracefully on her chair. When she spoke, it was in a steady voice and firm tone. “Now, sir, what is your text?”

Viola smiled and began, “Most sweet lady,–”

But this was more what Olivia had expected, and she was able to cut the speech short, “A comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it.

“Where lies your text?”

Surprised but willing to play along, Viola replied, “In Orsino’s bosom.”

“In his bosom! In what chapter of his bosom?”

“To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.”

“O, I have read it: it is heresy. Have you no more to say?”

Viola stumbled, not ready to give up the task she had been set, but the game had ended too abruptly, and her memories of playing Sebastian were no help. But she was not Sebastian now; she was Cesario. And she knew what Cesario would say, the words bubbling up within her from her heart that was also his. “Good madam, let me see your face.”

“Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face?” Olivia shook her head but continued. “You are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain and show you the picture.” She pulled back her veil and gave Viola a moment to admire her face. “Look you, sir, such a one I was this present: is’t not well done?”

Vanity, oh vanity, all is vanity!

“Excellently done,” Cesario prodded, “if God did all.”

Stung Olivia jumped to defend her beauty. “‘Tis in grain, sir; ’twill endure wind and weather.”

Cesario smiled. “‘Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature’s own sweet and cunning hand laid on. Lady,” the soft voice again, entreating, “you are the cruell’st she alive, If you will lead these graces to the grave And leave the world no copy.”

“O, sir,” Olivia flirted now, looking up at him from behind her lashes, “I will not be so hard-hearted; I will give out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labeled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth.” The flirtation dropped the countess spoke again, “Were you sent hither to praise me?”

“I see you what you are, you are too proud,” Cesario spoke with censure now, vanity exposed being the greatest of ugliness.

“But, if you were the devil, you are fair. My lord and master loves you:” and Cesario tried hard not to hear the whisper in his heart — loves you as he can never love me, mismatched monster that I am — “O, such love Could be but recompensed, though you were crown’d The nonpareil of beauty!”

“How does he love me?”

“With adorations, fertile tears, With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire.”

As he spoke, Olivia listened, leaning forward, taking in the passion and fire that peaked through, burning all the brighter for the love of his own Cesario did not dare — never dared — to show the world.

Shaking off the impact of those words, Olivia dismissed them. “Your lord does know my mind; I cannot love him: Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble, Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth; In voices well divulged, free, learn’d and valiant; And in dimension and the shape of nature A gracious person: but yet I cannot love him; He might have took his answer long ago.”

“If I did love you in my master’s flame, With such a suffering, such a deadly life, In your denial I would find no sense; I would not understand it.” Did not understand it, that Olivia would so easily set aside what he — she. She was Viola; Cesario was only a mask! — would have given all the gold of the Indies for.

“Why, what would you?”

And Cesario — Viola — opened her heart for one time. What she would do if she could… “Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house. Write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night. Halloo your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out…” she caught herself, replaced one name with another, and hid her stumble with a cry that reverberated through the house, if not the hills. “‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me!”

Olivia, of course, had no idea that this paean of love was not directed to her. It left her stunned and feeling much she did not recognize. “You might do much. What is your parentage?”

Surprised, Viola stared a moment before answering. “Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: I am a gentleman.”

Shaking her head, Olivia stood and made for the door, made to escape, “Get you to your lord; I cannot love him: let him send no more;” A pause, a thought, a fear and a hope… ” Unless, perchance, you come to me again, To tell me how he takes it. Fare you well: I thank you for your pains:” Eager to give him something though not understanding why she dug out a few coins from her purse. “spend this for me.”

“I am no fee’d post, lady,” Viola sneered at the coins, “keep your purse: My master, not myself, lacks recompense.

“Love make his heart of flint that you shall love; And let your fervor, like my master’s, be placed in contempt!” With a backward wave, and a heart both light and grieving, Viola strode out of the room and towards the main doors. “Farewell, fair cruelty.”

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What You Will (S1, E6)

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What You Will (S1 E6): A Queer-er Shakespeare

Season notes: violence, sexism

As the fool left, Malvolio re-entered wearing a deep scowl. “Madam, yon young fellow swears he will speak with you. I told him you were sick; he takes on him to understand so much, and therefore comes to speak with you. I told him you were asleep; he seems to have a foreknowledge of that too, and therefore comes to speak with you.” He shook his head and growled. “What is to be said to him, lady? he’s fortified against any denial.”

“Tell him he shall not speak with me!” Now Olivia, too, was scowling, her peace and humor of the moment before quickly wiped away.

“Has been told so,” Malvolio grated out. “And he says, he’ll stand at your door like a sheriff’s post, and be the supporter to a bench, but he’ll speak with you.”

“What kind o’ man is he?”

Malvolio blinked, stammered out, “Wh- why, of mankind.”

Olivia had long suspected that Malvolio’s dislike of humor came from his literalness. The fool did not agree with her, for had known many others with like literalness who had learned to use it to make jokes, rather than squash them. Be that as it may, the Lady likely should have expected this response from him. Thus her rolled eyes were probably directed at herself. Though who can say for sure. “What manner of man?” she asked with studied patience.

“Of very ill manner; he’ll speak with you, will you or no.”

What was the lady thinking now? Who could say. Perhaps she had begun to grow tired of grief. Perhaps the return of her fool reminded her that there was life outside her manor. Or perhaps she was simply intrigued. For all she had long been subjected to the Duke’s advances, to come wooing with rudeness had the sole virtue of novelty.

So instead of dismissing the matter she asked further.

“Of what personage and years is he?

Malvolio’s scowl deepened. “Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy;” he paused seeking words to convey his sense of the messenger. “As a squash is before ’tis a peascod, or a cooling when ’tis almost an apple: ’tis with him in standing water, between boy and man.” Giving up the rambling attempt to say what was plain to anyone at his first words, he continued, “He is very well-favoured and he speaks very shrewishly; one would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him.”

Truly intrigued now, Olivia murmured, “Let him approach,” then started, as if the words had surprised even her. In a firmer tone she ordered, “Call in my gentlewoman.”

After a stunned moment, Malvolio strode out of the hall, calling ahead of himself, “Gentlewoman, my lady calls.”

Maria, of course, came to the call and walked with her lady to Olivia’s prefered receiving room.

“Give me my veil:” Olivia said once she was settled. “Come,” when Maria did not move quickly enough, “throw it o’er my face.” Maria soon had the black lace veil settled across her lady’s countenance, hiding clear view of her. With a sigh, already regretting her impulse, Olivia leaned back into the cushions of her chair. “We’ll once more hear Orsino’s embassy.”

A few moments later, Malvolio bowed in Cesario — that is, Viola — and quickly left the room. The discourtesy of not announcing the Duke’s messenger was not lost on anyone. Viola stepped further into the room looking nervously between Olivia and Maria. Her boldness deserted her at the very moment it won her entrance.

Silence stretched a long moment and Viola nervously asked, “The honourable lady of the house, which is she?”

Olivia had been studying Viola, surprised in spite of Malvolio’s report at how young ‘he’ was. She was surprised again that the Duke’s messenger did not recognize her despite her veiling. New, she quickly realized, not only to the Duke’s service but to the realm. New and intriguing, with exotic accent and coloring. New to the Duke, and perhaps not firmly tied to him.

“Speak to me;” she said, “I shall answer for her.

“Your will?”

Viola bowed to her, took a breath and began, “Most radiant, exquisite and unmatchable beauty,–” the words had felt foolish enough when she practiced them on her way over. Addressing them to a veiled unknown who might or might not be the one she sought crossed over from foolish to madness and she could not continue. She was embarrassed, and becoming angry at the lady (and a small bit at Orsino) for putting her in this position. With anger returned her former boldness and she turned to Maria. “I pray you, tell me if this be the lady of the house, for I never saw her.” A stage whisper, “I would be loath to cast away my speech, for besides that it is excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to con it.” In truth is had not been ‘penned’ at all, being the product of Viola’s thoughts on the way there. Though she had ‘conned’ — that is, memorized — it as best she could hoping to avoid making a fool out of herself. An effort now gone to waste.

When no response came, she let herself be drawn into pleading — she was not there of her own will and well they knew it. “Good beauties, let me sustain no scorn; I am very comptible, even to the least sinister usage.”

Take some small pity, Olivia asked, “Whence came you, sir?”

Not willing to get drawn into discussion, Viola replied, “I can say little more than I have studied, and that question’s out of my part. Good gentle one, give me modest assurance if you be the lady of the house, that I may proceed in my speech.”

“Are you a comedian?” Olivia asked.

Viola couldn’t help a small laugh at the idea. “No, my profound heart,” but some imp slipped between her lips and made her continue, “and yet, by the very fangs of malice I swear, I am not that I play.” That confounded the lady and Viola continued quickly before she could ask further: “Are you the lady of the house?”

Done with the game, Olivia replied, “If I do not usurp myself, I am.”

“Most certain,” Viola muttered with a snort, “if you are she, you do usurp yourself; for what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve.” With a shake of her head she recalled herself to duty. “But this is from my commission: I will on with my speech in your praise, and then show you the heart of my message.”

“Come to what is important in’t: I forgive you the praise.”

” Alas, I took great pains to study it, and ’tis poetical.”

“It is the more like to be feigned,” Olivia snapped, “I pray you, keep it in.

“I heard you were saucy at my gates, and allowed your approach rather to wonder at you than to hear you. If you be not mad, be gone; if you have reason, be brief: ’tis not that time of moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue.”

Viola, who had her own suffering when the moon had it’s way with her, winced in sympathy

Maria stood and crossed to the door. “Will you hoist sail, sir? here lies your way.”

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What You Will (S1, E7)

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare, (S1, E5)

Season notes: violence, sexism

The fool, wrapped in a sheet styled as a nun’s habit, clasped his hands and bowed low as Olivia entered with her steward, Malvolio. “God bless thee, lady!” he called in a high-pitched twangy voice.

Olivia rolled her eyes and waved dismissal. “Take the fool away.”

Jumping up, the fool rounded on Malvolio. Speaking in his own voice now, he declared, “Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.”

“Go to, you’re a dry fool; I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.” Olivia turned her back on him, and the fool hurried out of the linen closet to place himself before her. “As- As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower.” It made no sense, but it didn’t need to: it brought him round to where he started, and that was enough. “The lady bade take away the fool; therefore, I say again, take her away.”

“Sir,” Olivia pushed his hand away, no longer amused. “I bade them take away you.”

The fool stepped back and spread his arms. “Misprision in the highest degree! Lady, cucullus non facit monachum; that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain.” He bowed again, this time in supplication. “Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.”

“Can you do it?”

“Dexterously, good madonna.”

“Make your proof.”

He stood and took up the pose of a man at a lectern. “I must catechize you for it, madonna: good my mouse of virtue, answer me.”

“Well… for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your proof.”

“Good madonna, why mournest thou?”

“Good fool, for my brother’s death.”

Bowing his head mournfully, the fool said, “I think his soul is in hell, madonna.”

Olivia hissed. “I know his soul is in heaven, fool.” She pushed past him and stormed down the hallway, Malvolio trailing after her.

The fool called after her. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.

“Take away the fool, gentlemen.”

The countess stopped, turned, and blinked at the fool, a wan smile slowly winning out over teary eyes. “What think you of this fool, Malvolio?” She asked softly, “doth he not mend?”

Rolling his eyes, Malvolio replied. “Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him: infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.”

“God send you, sir,” the fool bowed again, but with a mocking air, “a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly!

“Sir Toby will be sworn that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for two pence that you are no fool.”

Her hand now raised to cover an incipient grin, the countess asked, “How say you to that, Malvolio?”

“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal!” the steward exclaimed. “I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that has no more brain than a stone.”

The fool frowned, and Malvolio gestured at him, “Look you now, he’s out of his guard already; unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged.” Not gagged at all, the fool began to speak, and Malvolio rolled right over him. “I protest, I take these wise men, that crow so at these set kind of fools, no better than the fools’ zanies.”

“Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.” The countess stepped past Malvolio to take the fool’s hand. “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.”

The fool squeezed her hand and opened his arms to her. She stepped into his hug and laid her head on his shoulder, apologizing without words for her harsh greeting. “Now…” the fool stopped and cleared his throat, “Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools!”

What else might have been said, none will know, for Maria came bustling back into the hall. “Madam, there is at the gate a young gentleman much desires to speak with you.”

The countess stepped back from her fool. “From the Count Orsino, is it?”

“I know not, madam,” Maria said but gave the slightest nod. She didn’t know, but she surely suspected. “’tis a fair young man.”

“Who of my people hold him in delay?”

“Sir Toby, madam, your kinsman.”

“Fetch him off, I pray you; he speaks nothing but madman: fie on him!” Maria hurried off, and Olivia turned to the steward. “Go you, Malvolio: if it be a suit from the count, I am sick, or not at home; what you will, to dismiss it.”

With a sigh, she turned back to the fool and poked him. “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it.”

The fool only grinned. “Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool; whose skull Jove cram with brains! for–here he comes–one of thy kin has a most weak pia mater.”

As he spoke, Sir Toby came staggering into the hall. He reeked of whiskey and clutched a half-empty bottle.

“By mine honor,” Olivia cringed away. “Half drunk. What is he at the gate, cousin?”

Sir Toby blinked, belched, and looked around. “What?”

“What is he at the gate?” Olivia repeated.

He shrugged. “A gentleman.”

“A gentleman! what gentleman?”

Another swig from the bottle seemed to wake Sir Toby up a bit. “‘Tis a gentleman here–” he announced, followed by another belch. “A plague o’ these pickle-herring!” Another blinking look around, and he finally noticed the fool standing beside his niece. With a grin, he exclaimed, “How now, sot!”

“Good Sir Toby!” The fool managed to choke out around the great bear hug that squeezed half the air from his lungs.

“Cousin,” Olivia said, then louder when he didn’t notice, “Cousin! how have you come so early by this lethargy?”

Suddenly offended, Sir Toby whirled on her. “Lechery!” he sneered, “I defy lechery.” A wide gesture toward the front of the estate that managed to spill some of the almost empty bottle. “There’s one at the gate.”

“Ay, marry, what is he?” Olivia tried to coax.

“Let him be the devil, and he will. I care not.” With a mighty sniff, Sir Toby turned and began a stately exit — right into a wall. The fool caught him and turned him in the direction of his quarters. “Give me faith, say I,” he continued solemnly, “Well, it’s all one.”

Olivia and the fool waited until he had turned out of sight and started giggling. “What’s a drunken man like, fool?” Olivia eventually asked.

“Like a drowned man, a fool and a mad man: one draught above heat makes him a fool, the second mads him, and a third drowns him.”

With a shake of her head, the countess got herself under control. “Go thou and seek the coroner, and let him sit o’ my coz; for he’s in the third degree of drink, he’s drowned: go, look after him.”

The fool squeezed her shoulder and turned to follow Sir Toby. “He is but mad yet, madonna; and the fool shall look to the madman.”


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What You Will (S1, E4)

Season notes: violence, sexism

It was not suspicion in Valentine’s eyes, though perhaps something close akin when he examined the newest member of the Duke’s court. “If the duke continue these favors towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced: he hath known you but three days, and already you are no stranger.”

Viola, for of course it was Viola who was new come to the Duke’s court, accepted as a foreign gentleman named ‘Cesario,’ stood firm under his scrutiny. “You either fear his humor or my negligence, that you call in question the continuance of his love: is he inconstant, sir, in his favors?”

“No, believe me,” Valentine said, raising his hands and backing away with a laugh, pleased perhaps to learn that the new man was no milksop.

Viola, still confused by the habits of men among themselves, continued to glare at him. For she knew one thing for certain — she must not let herself seem weak. “I thank you.”

What reply Valentine might have made was lost as the echoes of several people striding together came down the hall.

“Here comes the duke,” Viola called, and all in the room stopped what they were doing to give their attention to their lord.

Orsino entered and walked past the corner where Valentine had cornered Viola, with Curio and several others following and scanned the room. “Who saw Cesario, ho?”

Viola stepped forward, pushing her hair out of her face, and replied, “On your attendance, my lord; here.”

The look Orsino favored Viola with was not that of a lord looking at one of his men. Valentine and a few others long in the duke’s service knew that look of old, and worried. But there was nothing they could say. They could only hope the young foreigner would lose the duke’s favor before things became… messy.

They were not relieved by the duke’s words to ‘Cesario.’

“Stand you awhile aloof, Cesario.”

Viola did so, stepping out into the hallway where she and the duke might speak privately. After speaking with the others of his court, Orsino joined her out in the hallway and smiled. “Thou know’st no less but all; I have unclasp’d To thee the book even of my secret soul: Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her; Be not denied access, stand at her doors, And tell them, there thy fixed foot shall grow Till thou have audience.”

Viola stepped back, overwhelmed by the lord’s fervor. “Sure, my noble lord, If she be so abandon’d to her sorrow as is said, she never will admit me.” She looked everywhere but at Orsino’s face, knowing too well what she would see there.

He took her shoulder and gave her a little shake. “Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds Rather than make unprofited return.”

“Say I do speak with her, my lord, what then?”

“O,” Orsino paused, having expected more resistance. “Then unfold the passion of my love, Surprise her with words of my dear faith.” He pinched her cheek and smiled, “It shall become thee well to act my woes; She will attend it better in thy youth Than in a nuncio’s of more grave aspect.” He let go of her chin to ape Valentine’s habitual severe expression.

“I think not so, my lord.” She turned away and he thought her embarrassed.

In a gentle voice, he said, “Dear lad, believe it; for they shall yet belie thy happy years, that say thou art a man. Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, and all is fitting a woman’s part.” He used voice and face to tell the youth that the duke did not think less of him for it, that there was no shame in being young.

Yet Viola found herself even more disturbed, crossing her arms and hunching in to protect herself again the sting. She should, perhaps, have feared for her disguise. But she did not, all she could think was that he saw her as womanly. And that was a pain she did not understand.

Still trying to be reassuring he continued, “I know thy constellation is right apt for this affair.” Turning back to where the others waited, the duke called, “Some four or five attend him; all, if you will. For I am best when least in company.” Turning back to Viola he said firmly, “Prosper well in this, and thou shalt live as freely as thy lord, To call his fortunes thine.”

Unable to bear the conversation further, Viola gave way. “I’ll do my best To woo your lady.”

Orsino grinned and ruffled his hair before striding back down the hallway.

After a moment to collect herself, Viola waved off the others of the duke’s court who awaited her. If she needs to do this, she also would be best alone.

Once she was out of the palace and clear of any who might hear, she gave in to the confusion and pain of her conflicting feelings. “Yet, a barful strife! For him I woo, I wish to be his wife.”

Here, at last, is where I — er — the fool, yes, the fool, enters into the story. This fool was an older fool who had been much loved by Olivia’s father. He did not have the energy or body for the physical antics most expect of fools, but he had a quick wit and a quicker eye. He could, as they say, see further into the millstone than most.

Having been away for several years, on business of his own, he slipped in through the kitchen door, begged a meal off the cook, and went looking for Mistress Maria. He found her in the linen closet counting bedsheets. Which perhaps explains why she was so out of sorts.

“Nay, either tell me where thou hast been” she demanded, “or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse: my lady will hang thee for thy absence.”

As she spoke, she piled sheets one after another in the fool’s arms.

He let her and replied, “Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colors.”

She scowled and turned to count pillowcases. “Make that good.”

Carefully, he slipped a single sheet off of the pile in his arms and returned it to the shelves. “Why,” he said grandly, “He shall see none to fear.”

“A good lenten answer:” She finished with the pillowcases and turned back to him. “I can tell thee where that saying was born, of ‘I fear no colors.'”

“Where, good Mistress Mary?”

“In the wars; and that may you be bold to say in your foolery–” she stopped speaking abruptly and counted the sheets he was holding. Grumbling she added another onto the pile.

He shrugged, “Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.”

“Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent;” she turned as she spoke, and she turned away, perhaps to hide her face. Mistress Maria and the fool had long been friends and his absence had hurt her as much as angered her. “or, to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to you?”

He took the chance to take an extra sheet off of the shelf and add it to his pile. “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and, for turning away, let summer bear it out.”

“You are resolute, then?”

“Not so, neither; but I am resolved on two points.”

She turned to face him again saying, “That if one break, the other will hold; or, if both break, your gaskins fall.”

He bowed to her, careful not to drop the sheets. “Apt, in good faith; very apt.” He turned to the door. “Well, go thy way; if Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria.”

She flushed, scowled, and went to cuff him on the head but stopped at a familiar footstep. “Peace, you rogue, no more o’ that. Here comes my lady: make your excuse wisely, you were best.” Grabbing the sheets from him she stalked off. Stopped. Stomped back. And dropped the extra sheet on top of his head.

The fool grinned watching her go and folded the sheet back so it lay over his head like a nun’s habit. “Wit, if it be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’ ”

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