What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E6)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment

Sir Toby and Fabian were playing cards with the fool making music quietly in the corner. Their quiet play was interrupted when Sir Andrew rushed in waving a much-crumpled paper.

Fabian, facing the door, saw him first and leaned toward Sir Toby, whispering, “More matter for a May morning.”

Thus alerted, Sir Toby did not jump up and spill his drink when Sir Andrew clapped his shoulder from behind and dropped the paper on the table.

“Here’s the challenge!” he cried, “Read it: warrant there’s vinegar and pepper in’t.”

“Is’t so saucy?” Fabian asked, mostly hiding his disbelief.

Taking up the paper again, Sir Andrew made as if to shake it in Fabian’s face but shied away at the last moment. “Ay, is’t, I warrant him: do but read.”

Sir Toby snatched the waving paper from Sir Andrew’s hands and spread it out. Then began to read aloud.

‘Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow.’

“Good,” Fabian said, surprised, “and valiant.”

Sir Andrew took up a fencing pose and began lunging about the room.

Sir Toby continued to read, ” ‘Wonder not, nor admire not in thy mind, why I do call thee so, for I will show thee no reason for’t.’

Surprise faded from Fabian’s face, and a grimace took its place. “A… a good note; that keeps you from the blow of the law.”

Setting his lute aside, the fool drew forth his non-existent sword and gave challenge to Sir Andrew. Startled, Sir Andrew lost his footing and squeaked, but quickly recovered to give a brave show of himself. The two dueled back and forth across the floor, trading imaginary blow and parry.

” ‘Thou comest to the lady Olivia, and in my sight she uses thee kindly: but thou liest in thy throat; that is not the matter I challenge thee for.'”

Fabian squeaked now and gaped for a moment before managing, “Very brief, and to exceeding good sense–less.”

” ‘I will waylay thee going home; where if it be thy chance to kill me,’–”

Sir Andrew, retreating from the fool’s attack, tripped over Fabian’s feet, knocking them both to the ground. The fool took advantage of his opponent’s fall to make the coup-de-grace, and Sir Andrew died dramatically.

“Good.” Fabian coughed.

“‘Thou killest me like a rogue and a villain.'”

“Still,” Fabian gasped, trying to get up without shoving Sir Andrew off of him, “you keep o’ the windy side of the law: good.”

” ‘Fare thee well, and God have mercy upon one of our souls! He may have mercy upon mine, but my hope is better, and so look to thyself. Thy friend, as thou usest him, and thy sworn enemy, ANDREW AGUECHEEK.’ If this letter move him not, his legs cannot.” Sir Toby finally took notice of Sir Andrew, still laying on Fabian and struggling to rise. Sir Toby tucked the letter into his pocket and reached down to lift Sir Andrew up.

“I’ll give’t him.” Sir Toby assured the other, hiding the rolling of his eyes.

For a moment Sir Andrew looked as if he would speak, but then Maria poked her head through the door.

Maria poked her head in the door. “You may have very fit occasion for’t: he is now in some commerce with my lady, and will by and by depart.”

“Go, Sir Andrew,” Sir Toby urged the knight toward the door, “scout me for him at the corner of the orchard. So soon as ever thou seest him, draw; and, as thou drawest swear horrible. Away!”

Sir Andrew dragged his feet but was eventually guided on his way, insisting the whole time that he was not one to swear.

Once he was gone, Sir Toby pulled the note out, and ripped it to pieces. “Now will not I deliver his letter: for the behavior of the young gentleman gives him out to be of good capacity and breeding; his employment between his lord and my niece confirms no less.” Toby tossed the shredded letter into the fireplace and spit upon it — which did as much good as spitting into fire ever does. “Therefore this letter, being so excellently ignorant, will breed no terror in the youth: he will find it comes from a clodpole. I will deliver his challenge by word of mouth”

“Here he comes with your niece,” Fabian said. And indeed, through the window, they could see Olivia and Cesario walking the lawn. “Give them way til he take leave, and presently after him.”

“I will meditate the while upon some horrid message for a challenge.”

Fabian and Sir Toby followed Maria from the room, leaving the fool to watch and listen through the window.

Countess Olivia was once again pleading with the youth:

“I have said too much unto a heart of stone and laid mine honour too unchary out. There’s something in me that reproves my fault; but such a headstrong potent fault it is, that it but mocks reproof.”

Cesario had long since grown sick of these visits. He shook his head and said quietly, “With the same ‘havior that your passion bears, goes on my master’s grief.”

As far as Cesario was concerned, they were all fools — himself, the duke, and the countess — for loving one they could not have. And himself the double fool for encouraging their folly!

Unaware of his thoughts, the countess removed her necklace — a cunningly worked cameo — and held it out to Cesario. “Here, wear this jewel for me, ’tis my picture.” She held it out so long to him, but he did not even look at it. “Refuse it not,” she begged, “it hath no tongue to vex you.” With a resigned chuckle at his folly, Cesario accepted the gift, but did not put it on.

“And I beseech you come again to-morrow,” she continued, “What shall you ask of me that I’ll deny, that honour saved may upon asking give?”

“Nothing but this,” Cesario replied, knowing it was a waste of words, “your true love for my master.”

“How with mine honour may I give him that which I have given to you?”

Pulling upon his hair, Cesario turned and started down the road, calling over his shoulder, “I will acquit you.”

Olivia chased after him for a few steps. “Well, come again to-morrow: fare thee well!” He waved an acknowledgment, and she turned back to the manor, speaking to herself. “A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell.”

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E2)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence

Cesario, gentleman to Duke Orsino and once, in another life, a young woman called ‘Viola,’ was on a task he despised. Sent once again by the duke he loved to woo for that duke the Countess Olivia. To make matters worse, the last time Cesario had gone wooing for the duke, the countess had sent a love token — to Cesario.

It didn’t help that sometimes, when Orsino looked at or spoke to Cesario, Cesario thought he saw some reflection of his own feelings in the duke’s eyes. But that was just fancy. Men, Cesario knew, did not feel that way about other men. That Cesario felt so for the duke was only because he was… not the usual kind of man.

Thinking these glum thoughts, Cesario was eager for a distraction. He found it in the sight of a fool — one Cesario had seen only the night before performing for Duke Orsino. The fool was relaxing in the shade of a tree, playing lightly on a drum. So he called out to the fool, saying, “Save thee, friend, and thy music: dost thou live by thy tabour?”

The fool, knowing very well that Cesario knew who he was and how he made his living, rolled his eyes and replied, “No, sir, I live by the church.”

Not willing to be thwarted, Cesario returned, “Art thou a churchman?”

“No such matter, sir: I do live by the church,” the fool said, “for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.”

Cesario was not himself a fool and proved it now, saying, “So thou mayst say, the king lies by a beggar, if a beggar dwell near him; or, the church stands by thy tabour, if thy tabour stand by the church.”

“You have said, sir.” The fool stood and clapped his hands together. “To see this age! A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!”

Finally realizing that he was being made a mock of, Cesario was quick to try to redeem himself. “Nay, that’s certain; they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.”

“I would, therefore, my sister had had no name, sir,” the fool immediately gave back.

That paused Cesario, and he blinked at the fool a moment. “Why, man?”

“Why, sir, her name’s a word; and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton. But indeed words are very rascals since bonds disgraced them.”

“Thy reason, man?”

Starting to enjoy himself now, the fool looked around as if to see if anyone might overhear, then leaned in close and whispered to Cesario, “Troth, sir, I can yield you none without words; and words are grown so false, I am loath to prove reason with them.”

“Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?”

“No, indeed, sir; the Lady Olivia has no folly: she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to herrings; the husband’s the bigger: I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words.”

“I saw thee late at the Count Orsino’s.”

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines every where.” The fool picked up his drum and acted as if ready to walk away. “I would be sorry, sir, but the fool should be as oft with your master as with my mistress.” Suddenly he stopped and looked back at Cesario quizzically. “I think I saw your wisdom there.”

Suddenly wary, Cesario said, “I’ll no more with thee,” and started on. He had no wish for this too-perceptive fool to ferret out his secrets.

The fool, not willing to let him go yet, took off his hat and held it before the young gentleman.

Cesario, too good-hearted for his own good, sighed and dug in his pockets. “Hold, there’s expenses for thee.”

“Now Jove,” the fool said, snatching the coin out of his hand, “in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard!”

Cesario had been right to fear the fool’s sharp eye, for the man had latched onto one of the gentlemen’s sore points — and weakness in his disguise. But Cesario did not betray himself by wince or word. Only leaned in until he could feel the fool’s breath on his cheek and said with a laugh, “By my troth, I’ll tell thee, I am almost sick for one; though I would not have it grow on my chin.”

Then he stood up and walked on, calling over his shoulder, “Is thy lady within?”

The fool chased after him, holding up the single coin he had conjured from Cesario’s pocket. “Would not a pair of these have bred, sir?”

“Yes,” Cesario said, “being kept together and put to use.”

The fool nipped in front of Cesario and stopped, forcing Cesario to stop as well. “I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir,” he said, with a sudden change to highborn speech and courtly bow, “to bring a Cressida to this Troilus.”

Shaking his head, Cesario pulled another coin out and handed it to the fool. “I understand you, sir; ’tis well begged.”

The fool took it with a flourish and turned to dance in the direction of the manor. “The matter, I hope, is not great, sir, begging but a beggar: Cressida,” and as he said the name, he paused his dance to bow again to Cesario, “was a beggar.

“My lady is within, sir. I will construe to them whence you come; who you are and what you would are out of my welkin, I might say ‘element,’ but,” the fool shrugged, “the word is over-worn.

Cesario chuckled as the fool danced his way into the manor, leaving the gentleman to await the return of the lady of the house. Cesario was wise enough to recognize that good fooling takes wisdom and wit, else the fool will run afoul of his audience and suffer mischief. Unlike many so-called wise men who fall into folly from being oversure of themselves.

As Cesario waited, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew came out of the manor. “Save you, gentleman,” called Sir Toby.

“And you, sir,” Cesario replied with a little bow.

Sir Andrew carefully declaimed, “Dieu vous garde, monsieur.”

He was not prepared for Cesario to reply, in letter perfect French, “Et vous aussi; votre serviteur.”

Being suddenly out of his knowledge, Sir Andrew stammered a reply in English, “I- I hope, sir, you are; and I am yours.”

Clearing his throat, Sir Toby stepped closer to Cesario and waved toward the manor. “Will you encounter the house? my niece is desirous you should enter, if your trade be to her.”

“I am bound to your niece, sir,” Cesario replied but made no move toward the manor. “I mean– she is the list of my voyage.”

With a harrumph, Sir Toby waved to the house again. “Taste your legs, sir,” he said impatiently, “put them to motion.”

Blinking in confusion, Cesario could only say, “My legs do better understand me, sir, than I understand what you mean by bidding me taste my legs.”

“I mean, to go, sir, to enter.”

Before Cesario could answer, Countess Olivia herself came out of the manor, accompanied by Maria. Cesario immediately swept into a deep bow with even more courtly flourishes than the fool had used. “Most excellent accomplished lady,” he said, “the heavens rain odours on you!”

Everyone could hear Sir Andrew mutter, “That youth’s a rare courtier: ‘Rain odours;’ well.”

Ignoring him, Cesario continued addressing Olivia, “My matter hath no voice, save to your own most pregnant and vouchsafed ear.”

It cannot be said whether Cesario expected the lady to be flattered but this outpouring of verbiage. Perhaps he hoped his manner would put off the countess or wished to twit Sir Andrew.

If the latter, it worked. “‘Odours,’ ‘pregnant’ and ‘vouchsafed:'” that worthy muttered. “I’ll get ’em all three all ready.”

With a somewhat disturbed glance at the knight, Olivia took Cesario’s arm and led him toward her private garden. To Maria, she said only, “Let the garden door be shut, and leave me to my hearing.”

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 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.

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E9)

Continue to:
What You Will (S1, E11)

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)

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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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