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

Content 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.”


As the title implies, I’ve decided that I do need to split this into seasons. In fact, once I did some mathing, I realized that this is going to be well over my ideal length for a two season story. It’s heading right for the grey area between two and three seasons long. Not sure which I’m going for yet, we’ll see how far along we are when we hit a good breaking point, I guess.

If you have a preference, drop it in the comment section.

What You Will — A Queer-er Shakespeare (E3)

Content notes: violence, sexism

It was well into the dark of night when a short ruddy-cheeked man came stumbling through the kitchen door of Countess Olivia’s manor and nearly tripped over the grim woman in livery who waited for him.

The man, barely noticing in his drunken ramble, continued a long-running (and oft-repeated) rant. “What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to life.”

The woman sighed and stood up, brushing out her skirts. “By my troth, Sir Toby,” she said, “you must come in earlier o’ nights: your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours.”

As usual, Sir Toby brushed the admonishment away. “Why, let her except, before excepted.”

Knowing better than to argue directly with a drunk, the woman tried another tack, “Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order.”

“Confine!” Came the instant objection. “I’ll confine myself no finer than I am: these clothes are good enough to drink in; and so be these boots too: an they be not, let them hang themselves in their own straps.”

Shaking her head, the woman took his arm and tried to lead him toward his bed. As she did, she muttered under her breath, “That quaffing and drinking will undo you: I heard my lady talk of it yesterday; and of a foolish knight that you brought in one night here to be her wooer.”

Sadly, she did not mutter softly enough. Sir Toby heard her and took exception.

“Who, Sir Andrew Aguecheek?”

“Ay, he.”

Sir Toby shook free of her hand and pulled himself up straight, a portrait of offended dignity. “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria.” The portrait was ruined by a great burp that ripped free on the last syllable.

Poor delivery or not, the point couldn’t be argued. Sir Andrew was indeed taller than most men of Illyria. Still, “What’s that to the purpose?”

“Why, he has three thousand ducats a year.”

Somewhere in a drunk man’s mind, ideas connect in ways that even a fool can never make sense of.

“Ay, but he’ll have but a year in all these ducats: he’s a very fool and a prodigal.”

“Fie, that you’ll say so! he plays o’ the violin, and speaks three or four languages word for word without book, and hath all the good gifts of nature.”

The woman shook her head again and turned to face Sir Toby. “He hath indeed, almost natural: for besides that he’s a fool, he’s a great quarreller: and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gust he hath in quarreling, ’tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.”

Jowls bouncing, face flushed now with anger, Sir Toby explained, “By this hand, they are scoundrels and subtractors that say so of him. Who are they?”

Done with the conversation, she turned and began walking away, calling over her shoulder, “They that add, moreover, he’s drunk nightly in your company.”

The anger drained out of Sir Toby, and he said pleadingly, “With drinking healths to my niece.” When the woman did not stop, he took a few steps after her and grabbed her arm. “I’ll drink to her as long as there is a passage in my throat and drink in Illyria: he’s a coward and a coystrill that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o’ the toe like a parish-top.

The door opened again, and Sir Toby put a hand over the woman’s mouth, silencing whatever reply she might have made “What, wench! Castiliano vulgo! For here comes Sir Andrew Agueface.”

“Sir Toby Belch!” Sir Andrew staggered in and pulled up short. He stared at Sir Toby, who still had his hand over a strange (to Andrew) woman’s mouth. “how now, Sir Toby Belch!”

“Sweet Sir Andrew!” Sir Toby replied. He dropped his hands away from the woman and stepped away suddenly.

Sir Andrew turned to the woman, saying, “Bless you, fair shrew.”

“And you too, sir,” She replied, edging once again toward the door.

Not wanting her to escape, Sir Toby urged Sir Andrew forward. “Accost, Sir Andrew, accost.”

Confused, Sir Andrew blinked blearily around the room. “What’s that?”

“My niece’s chambermaid,” Sir Toby said, with a wave (more drunken than gallant) toward the poor woman.

Sir Andrew dropped into an exaggerated bow, “Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance.”

“My name is Mary, sir.” She rubbed her forehead against a headache and looked longingly for the door.

“Good Mistress Mary Accost,–” began Sir Andrew again, striding toward her.

Mistress Mary Not Accost moved quickly to put a bench between herself and the approaching knave… err… knight.

Groaning, Sir Toby put a hand on Sir Andrew’s arm. “You mistake, knight; ‘accost’ is front her, board her, woo her, assail her.” These last terms were joined by gestures meant to illustrate the good knight’s meaning.

“By my troth,” Sir Andrew exclaimed. “I would not undertake her in this company.” Then in what might have been meant as a whisper but was loud enough to be heard across the bailey, he spoke directly into Sir Toby’s ear. “Is that the meaning of ‘accost’?”

Sir Toby winced away, rubbing his ear. Mary (Maria actually) took advantage of his distraction to make once more for the door. “Fare you well, gentlemen.”

Sadly for her, he was not distracted enough. “An thou let part so, Sir Andrew, would thou mightst never draw sword again.”

If nothing else, Sir Andrew could recognize a cue and jumped into his role: “An you part so, mistress, I would I might never draw sword again.” He smiled at her, a smile such as no lady would ever wish to receive, and said, “Fair lady, do you think you have fools in hand?”

“Sir, I have not you by the hand,” Maria answered, thinking perhaps the time had come for insult to drive the knights away.

Sir Andrew, however, was Sir Andrew. “Marry, but you shall have,” he replied, “and here’s my hand.”

He bowed again, extending hand and leg in a gesture she could not courteously ignore. So with visible reluctance, she reached out to touch the tips of the drunken knight’s fingers.

“Now, sir,” she said, releasing him almost immediately, ‘thought is free:’ I pray you, bring your hand to the buttery-bar and let it drink.”

Sir Andrew peered around the room a moment, confirming for himself there was no buttery-bar in view. “Wherefore, sweet-heart?” he asked then, “what’s your metaphor?”

“It’s dry, sir,” Maria said, in a voice dry as a desert.

“Why, I think so:” Sir Andrew said, “I am not such an ass but I can keep my hand dry. But what’s your jest?”

Only a step away from the door now, Maria glared at Sir Toby and said. “A dry jest, sir.”

“Are you full of them?”

“Ay, sir, I have them at my fingers’ ends.” She took the final step to the door and out of Sir Andrew’s reach. “Marry, now I let go your hand, I am barren.”

In a flurry of skirts, she turned and stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Sir Toby shook his head and sighed while Sir Andrew stared at the door in perplexity. A moment later, there came the sound of a key being turned in a lock.

What You Will (E2) – A Queer-er Shakespeare

Content notes: violence, sexism

The surviving sailors gathered together driftwood and broken timbers from the ship and built a large fire. They sat around it all together, with no concern for rank or privilege. Fire and closeness slowly brought warmth back into sea-chilled limbs.

Warmth brought thought beyond the needs of the moment, and Viola finally turned to the future. “Know’st thou this country?” she asked the huddled seamen.

It was the captain who responded, seeming to take strength from a question he had answers to. “Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born not three hours’ travel from this very place,” and he gestured to the southwest, along the coast and away from the imposing cliffs that guarded this section of the beach.

Ilyria, the captain had named this country, but though the name seemed familiar, Viola could not put her hands on it. “Who governs here?”

“A noble duke, in nature as in name.”

Which told her all of nothing. “What is the name?” Viola demanded.

“Orsino,” the captain replied, strangely short and sparing of words he was, when speaking of the lord. He had some history with his lordship that the good captain thought, perhaps, best buried and forgotten.

But to Viola, the name was a relief, for it was as familiar — more familiar — than the name of the land he ruled, and she exclaimed. “Orsino! I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then.” Bachelor enough and long enough to be noted by those who had ties there. For if he would not take a wife and have an heir, the land might be disrupted eir long.

The captain nodded and looked away to not meet her gaze, words now falling from him like water tripping over rocks in a stream. “And so is now, or was so very late; for but a month ago I went from hence, and then ’twas fresh in murmur — as, you know, what great ones do the less will prattle of — that he did seek the love of fair Olivia.”

“What’s she?”

The sailors, seeing the captain and their passenger occupied, turned to their own discussions. The captain took note and was relieved. For nothing so worries a captain as a subdued and quiet crew.

Giving his full attention to Viola then, he explained, “The countess is a virtuous maid, the daughter of a count that died some twelvemonth past, then leaving her in the protection of his son, her brother, who shortly also died. For love of him, they say, she hath abjured the company and sight of men.”

The captain was wise in the ways of people, as one must be to command a crew through gale and wrack some twenty years or more. So he was not surprised to see tears once again in Viola’s eyes and recognition in her face. Her state and the countess’ were in truth much alike.

“O that I served that lady,” Viola said, “and might not be delivered to the world, till I knew in full what my estate is!”

“That were hard to compass,” the captain said with a shake of his head, “because she will admit no kind of suit.”

Viola started at that — no kind of suit, not even…

“No, not the duke’s.” The captain answered her unvoiced question.

The captain’s quick understanding in that moment joined with his honesty and courtesy, and Viola came to a decision. “There is a fair behavior in thee, captain; and though that nature with a beauteous wall does oft close in pollution, yet of thee I will believe thou hast a mind that suits with this thy fair and outward character.”

She had to do something, Viola knew. No matter how she wished to fall into grief like the countess, she was a young woman, unmarried and alone, in a foreign country. She had an idea — a dangerous, glorious, heart-shaking idea — she leaned in towards the captain and spoke softly, sure that the wash of sea and cries of gulls would hide her voice from the nearby sailors. “I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” A disguise she was well familiar with, for often had she and her brother tricked their tutors and parents so. “I’ll serve this duke.”

The captain, of course, was shocked, shook his head in immediate rejection, but Viola pushed on. Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him: it may be worth thy pains; for I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music. That will allow me very worth his service.” This stopped the captain, caught hold in his mind. For all men have their weaknesses. Viola sought to arouse his ambition, to have the count favor him for presenting a new addition to the count’s court. But it was a far different weakness she touched on. A weakness, a dream perhaps, that the captain would share with no one alive and very few among the dead.

Viola saw the captain’s reluctant agreement, if not the reason for it. She looked out over the sea, reminding herself of the disaster that could await even the most well-provisioned voyages. “What else may hap to time I will commit;” she nodded to herself, then looked back to the captain, “Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.”

Taking a deep breath and sending a prayer winging to the heavens, he committed himself. “Be you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be:” he swore. “When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.”

They gazed at each other a moment, each in their own way casting a coin in the air and trusting to fate and the other that it would land aright.

“I thank thee,” Viola said, “lead me on.

The captain, of course, led her nowhere at that moment. He waited until he was sure all were dry and had eaten what food they could find. Then the group gathered together, carrying what goods they could, and began the long walk around the cliffs to a road where they might flag down aid. From there to the captain’s hometown to prepare her disguise, and finally…

What You Will (E1) — A Queer-er Shakespeare

Viola is in love with Duke Orsino
Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia
Countess Olivia is in love with Cesario
Cesario is really Viola in disguise… or is he?

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a very queer play,
But what if you could make it queerer?

 

“If music be the food of love, play on,” declaimed Duke Orsino of Illyria. “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

His gentlemen, long used to his ways, waited in silence. Hoping that their lord might give some order that would let them escape his melancholy presence — or else by some miracle break free from this fit which had, in their opinion, lasted far too long. All, that is, save Curio, playing the pianoforte, who bravely continued the latest in a series of tragic love songs it had been his fate to play in recent days. As he finished a difficult arpeggio, the Duke bolted upright, shocking everyone into alertness.

“That strain again! it had a dying fall:” Temporary alertness. “O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound, that breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor!” Curio hesitated but played the strain again. Knowing that played alone, without the context of the song– “Enough; no more:” the Duke slammed a hand across the keys in a discordant thunder. “‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.”

It is the closest to an apology Curio would get. And well he knew it.

Orsino, caught by a muse — or perhaps a bit of indigestion — threw himself back on the settee saying, “O spirit of love! how quick and fresh are you, that, notwithstanding your capacity, you receive as the sea, nothing enters– nothing at all — but is ruined and rendered valueless.” He blinked and looked around at his household, hiding yawns or looking cross-eyed as they tried to follow his metaphor. He shrugged. “Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy, that it alone is high fantastical.”

And with this, everyone had to agree. The duke’s fancy was indeed… fantastical.

Curio, hoping to distract the duke, suggested “Will you go hunt, my lord?”

“What, Curio?”

“The hart.” Curio persisted, but his hope was in vain.

“Why, so I do, the noblest that I have: O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, methought she purged the air of pestilence! That instant was I turned into a hart; and my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, e’er since pursue me.”

It cannot be said that Curio rolled his eyes at this wordplay. Such would have been disrespectful to his noble patron. But his expression certainly became somewhat… strained. Curio was saved from needing to reply by the arrival of Valentine.

Valentine was another of the duke’s court, sent on yet another attempt to woo the lady who had unwittingly stolen his heart.

“How now! what news from her?” Orsino leapt to his feet with the eagerness of a child.

Valentine braced himself, and said, “So please my lord, I might not be admitted; but from her handmaid do return this answer:” he unfolded a message and began to read, “The element itself, till seven years’ heat, shall not behold her face at ample view; but, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk and water once a day her chamber round with eye-offending brine: all this to season a brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh and lasting in her sad remembrance.”

The duke’s gentlemen all tensed, preparing for an outburst. Curio may have muttered a curse under his breath.

But the duke surprised them all, smiling beatifically and collapsing back onto his couch.

“O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame to pay this debt of love but to a brother! How will she love, when the rich golden shaft hath killed the flock of all affections else that live in her; when liver, brain, and heart, these sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and filled her sweet perfections with one self king!” He sighed happily.

“Away before me to sweet beds of flowers: love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.”

He jumped up again and strode out the door towards the gardens. His gentlemen, including Curio and Valentine, followed. At least, they thought, they would have fresh air and a change of scenery.

While Orsino and his entourage endured his changeable moods, a very different scene played out upon the coast. An early morning storm had driven a ship onto the rocks. A double handful of survivors now stumbled from a battered lifeboat and onto the shore.

Exhausted from hours clinging to a storm-tossed boat, Viola collapsed as soon as her feet touched the ground. Waves rushed around her and back, gentle now that the storm was gone. Unwilling to endure the touch of saltwater a moment more, Viola crawled further up the beach. Blinking her eyes clear, she tried to make sense of the pebbled ground and low cliffs.

She swallowed several times and when she thought her voice would work, asked of the battered sailors that had washed up with her: “What country, friends, is this?”

The captain also examined the cliffs, but with the relief of a man returning home after a great trial.

“This is Illyria, lady.”

Viola accepted this silently and with the sailors began combing the beach for what wreckage the waves had brought. Too tired to think, she focused only on the moment until she stumbled across a familiar chest. The chest brought memory and she sat next to it, wrapping her arms around the salt-soaked wood. “What should I do in Illyria?” She cried out. “My brother is dead!”

The sailors, familiar with the grief of those who live by the sea, continued their work. But several paused to awkwardly pat her shoulder or offer some small condolences as they moved around the weeping woman.

When exhaustion again overwhelmed her grief, she found within her a glimmer of hope and asked, “Perchance he is not drowned: what think you, sailors?”

The captain shook his head and said. “It is only chance that you, yourself, were saved. Still, madam, comfort yourself with chance. After our ship did split, when you and those poor number saved with you hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother, wise against in peril, bind himself, courage and hope both teaching him the practice, to a strong mast that lived upon the sea; where, like Arion on the dolphin’s back, I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves so long as I could see.”

Did the captain speak truth? Who can say? But Viola took hope from it. In gratitude, she offered the captain some of the jewelry from the battered chest.


Want more? Newsletter subscribers are six weeks ahead.

Become a paid subscriber today!