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

Content 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!”

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

Content 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.”

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 wooin with rudeness had the sole virtue or 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 unknow 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 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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