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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