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 (E4)

Content 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.’ “