What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E13)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment, ableist language, blood, misgendering, self-misgendering

There is never a good time for anyone to come staggering in, bloody and calling for a surgeon. When a secret marriage — secret even to one of the people supposedly married! — is in the middle of tearing relationships apart and spawning screaming matches… well, it isn’t a good time, but in an odd way, everyone was a little bit relieved by the interruption.

Countess Olivia reluctantly dropped Cesario’s hand and moved toward Sir Andrew — though staying well out of reach. “What’s the matter?”

“He has broke my head across,” Sir Andrew moaned, digging out a handkerchief and holding it to the bleeding gash on his head. “And has given Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb too: for the love of God, your help! I had rather than forty pound I were at home.”

The wound was more blood than matter, for all that Sir Andrew seemed to think he was on death’s door.

The countess signaled for one of the servants to go for the surgeon and continued trying to get information out of the not-so-doughty knight. “Who has done this, Sir Andrew?”

Sir Andrew’s handkerchief was doing not much more than smearing the blood around. He fumbled to fold it, seeking a clean side. “The count’s gentleman, one Cesario.” If Sir Andrew had been less self-absorbed he might have noticed the sudden stillness surrounding him. “We took him for a coward, but he’s the very devil incardinate.”

“My gentleman, Cesario?” Duke Orsino, at his mercurial best, took two long strides to stand protectively between Cesario and the (to him) strange knight.

” ‘Od’s lifelings, here he is!” Sir Andrew jumped half a foot in the air and stumbled backward, holding up his hands in a warding gesture. “You broke my head for nothing; and that that I did, I was set on to do’t by Sir Toby.”

Cesario had had, one must admit, a very bad day. There is a point in time when one must choose: one can break down crying, break down laughing, or break down screaming. But one will break down.

Stepping around the duke, with a boldness that shocked the duke and his retinue (but was the first thing that made sense to poor Antonio) Cesaro advanced on Sir Andrew. At full volume. “Why do you speak to me? I never hurt you! You,” a finger stabbed Sir Andrew in the chest as he nearly tripped trying to get away, “drew your sword upon me without cause. But I bespoke you fair, and hurt you not.”

Sir Andrew backed away from physical confrontation with commendable speed, but his speech was as loud as Cesario’s. “If a bloody coxcomb be a hurt, you have hurt me! I think you set nothing by a bloody coxcomb.”

Before Cesario could respond, Orsino had him by the arm, pulling him away. When Olivia reached also for Cesario the duke’s expression froze, and he dropped Cesario’s arm as if burnt.

Cesario, on the edge of tears, shrugged away from Olivia and Orsino. He turned his back on the whole mess and everyone who was part of it.

Before either duke or countess could respond, Sir Toby came stumbling, clutching a wound on his side that was staining his jacket red.

Sir Andrew saw him and gestured. “Here comes Sir Toby halting; you shall hear more! But if he had not been in drink, he would have tickled you othergates than he did.”

Cautiously, still baffled as to what was going on, Orsino asked, “How now, gentleman! how is’t with you?”

“That’s all one.” Sir Toby Shrugged.”Has hurt me, and there’s the end on’t.” He turned to the Fool and asked, “Sot, didst see Dick surgeon, sot?”

“O, he’s drunk, Sir Toby,” the Fool replied with false solicitude, “an hour agone. His eyes were set at eight i’ the morning.”

“Then he’s a rogue, and a scoundrel! I hate a drunken rogue.” Sir Toby stomped toward the manor.

Oliva stared after him in wonder. “Who hath made this havoc with them?”

“I’ll help you, Sir Toby,” Sir Andrew called, hurrying after, “because we’ll be dressed together.”

Why it was at that moment Sir Toby lost all patience with Sir Andrew, who can say? But he did, calling his erstwhile companion the most wretched names. “Will you help?” he demanded, “an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!”

“Get him to bed,” Olivia ordered, cutting off whatever response or defense Sir Andrew might have made, “and let his hurt be look’d to.”

The Fool and Fabian escorted the two knights away, leaving the garden much quieter.

But scarcely was the door closed behind them, when someone else can running up.

“I am sorry, madam,” Sebastian said, taking Olivia’s hand to kiss it. “I have hurt your kinsman. But, had it been the brother of my blood, I must have done no less with wit and safety.”

Olivia barely heard a word out of Sebastian’s mouth, being too busy staring at him in shock. Sebastian squeezed her hand in concern. “You throw a strange regard upon me, and by that I do perceive it hath offended you. Pardon me, sweet one, even for the vows we made each other but so late ago.”

Of course, it wasn’t only Olivia who was shocked. The Duke, looking to Cesario, spoke what all were thinking. “One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons. A natural perspective, that is and is not!”

Sebastian looked over at the duke’s words but did not respond. Perhaps he had been so inundated with confusing and nonsensical things that he had ceased to concern himself.

What did concern Sebastian was the familiar face he saw standing near Orsino — Antonio, still held between two guardsmen. “Antonio, O my dear Antonio!” he ran over to his friend and lover and embraced him. “How have the hours rack’d and tortured me, since I have lost thee!”

If he had been expecting an equally enthusiastic greeting from Antonio, he was to be disappointed. Antonio pulled away from Sebastian and looked at him as if were a stranger. “Sebastian are you?” he demanded.

“Fear’st thou that, Antonio?” Sebastian laughed, but the laugh was strained.

Gesturing with his chin to where Cesario still stood off, Antonio asked, “How have you made division of yourself? An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two creatures.” Almost plaintively, “Which is Sebastian?”

“Most wonderful!” Olivia murmured, staring between the two.

Sebastian turned and froze. “Do I stand there?” He shook his head and took a step closer to the stranger, who still had not seen him. “I never had a brother; nor can there be that deity in my nature, of here and every where. I had a sister, whom the blind waves and surges have devour’d.”

If anyone had been paying attention (which of course no one was) they might have seen Orsino’s eyes narrow at this last.

Oblivious, Sebastian raised to voice. “Of charity, what kin are you to me?” Cesario turned, and his eyes widened. “What countryman?” Sebastian asked, “What name? what parentage?”

“Of Messaline,” Cesario answered. “Sebastian was my father. Such a Sebastian was my brother too.” He plucked at his suit, modeled on the one Sebastian had always preferred to wear — was wearing now even. “So went he suited to his watery tomb.” He — no, she, for if this was true Cesario must be she again, and the agony of that battled with the hope and joy in her heart. She had sworn that she never again answer to ‘Viola’ unless the dead walked the earth, and… “If spirits can assume both form and suit you come to fright us.”

“A spirit I am indeed,” Sebastian said with a watery smile, “But am in that dimension grossly clad, which from the womb I did participate.” He took a breath and another step toward Cesario, who still had not moved. His eyes moved over the figure, remembering all the times he and his sister had disguised themselves as each other. “Were you a woman, as the rest goes even, I should my tears let fall upon your cheek, and say ‘Thrice-welcome, drowned Viola!’ ”

She opened her mouth, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. But she had to say something. “My father had a mole upon his brow.”

“And so had mine.”

“And died that day when Viola from her birth, had number’d thirteen years.” There, she’d said it. She’d said the name. Sebastian’s eyes lit up with joy even as Cesario struggled to breathe.

“O, that record is lively in my soul! He finished indeed his mortal act that day that made my sister thirteen years.”

“If nothing lets to make us happy both,” Happy. How could she be so happy and so destroyed? “But this my masculine… usurp’d attire, do not embrace me till each circumstance of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump that I am,” she stopped, swallowed, “Viola.” Sebastian reached out then and wrapped her in his arms. She hugged him back, relaxing in the safety she had not known for three months or more. Her tears fell on his chest even as his dripped into her hair.

When she finally pulled away she glanced at Orsino. There was something in his eyes, something hot and hard that she could not yet face. Dropping her eyes she said, “Which to confirm, I’ll bring you to a captain in this town, where lie my maiden weeds. By his gentle help, I was preserved to serve this noble count. All the occurrence of my fortune since hath been between this lady and this lord.”

His attention once again directed to Olivia — to his wife of all three hours — Sebastian looked to see the stunned, almost horrified, look she wore. A great deal of the past week’s confusion suddenly came clear.

Giving Viola a last squeeze he turned to his lady and offered his hand. “So comes it, lady, you have been mistook: but nature to her bias drew in that.” He chuckled and leaned to whisper in her ear, “You would have been contracted to a maid.” She jumped and finally turned to look at him, a plea in her eyes. He answered that plea, bending to kiss her. “Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived, you are betroth’d both to a maid and man.” He grinned cheekily at her and she surprised herself by laughing.

Duke Orsino has a well-earned reputation for being less than steadfast. But in one thing he was true — the giving of his heart. So some might have been surprised by how he smiled at the new couple. True of heart, yes, but not hard-hearted. And with some measure of wisdom. To Olivia, he said only, “Be not amazed; right noble is his blood.” Then he looked to Sebastian and with raised eyebrows and a slight question in his voice continued, “If this be so, as yet the glass seems true, I shall have share in this most happy wreck.”

Sebastian and the duke looked at each other for a long moment. Then, Sebastian nodded. Orsino returned the nod and walked over to the one he had known only as Cesario.

In his heart alone could Orsino be relied upon, and that heart spoke true. He put a hand under a chin, urged eyes soft with tears up to look at him. And said one word. “Boy.”

Viola — Cesario — took a sudden breath, as one released from too-tight clothing. She — he — clung to the duke with his eyes, begging for something he dared not say.

In the background, one might have heard an old retainer mutter a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.

“Boy,” he repeated, “thou hast said to me a thousand times thou never shouldst love woman like to me.”

“And all those sayings will I overswear, and those swearings keep as true in soul.”

“Give me thy hand,” Orsino asked gently. Cesario gave it, and for a long moment, they clung together, like survivors of a shipwreck.

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E10)

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


Sometimes, fools have more wisdom than the wise, but even the wisest fool can be a fool in truth. The rest of Malvolio’s story cannot be erased, if only because he still had a small role to play in Cesario’s tale. But for all the man deserved some comeuppance, he did not deserve so far a fall and so great a humiliation.

The fool, to this day, is shamed by the role he had in Malvolio’s downfall, for some jokes are such as never should be played. Suffice to say that while all these other happenings continued, the steward remained, not seen to by a doctor, but locked in a dark house and mocked by false priests. It is some comfort to the fool that it was by his hand that Malvolio was finally able to appeal for help to Lady Oliva, but that came later.

For while Malvolio was trapped in darkness, Sebastian was getting to know the lady Olivia — his mysterious rescuer — and worrying.

Near a week after Olivia first invited him into the manor, Sebastian found himself wandering the grounds. He was trying once again to find sense in his world. Lost in thought, he did not notice the fool was also relaxing in the sunlight.

“This is the air,” he mused, “that is the glorious sun. This pearl she gave me, I do feel’t and see’t.” The pearl in question rested atop a small pin. It was not expensive, as such things go, but still more valuable than anything remaining to him since the shipwreck. More valuable than anything that should be so lightly gifted to a stranger. “And though ’tis wonder that enwraps me thus, yet ’tis not madness.”

He tucked the pin away and sat down on a bench, clasping his hands. “Where’s Antonio, then? I could not find him at the Elephant: yet there he was; and there I found this credit, that he did range the town to seek me out.” And Sebastian had ranged the town himself in return. A few folks admitted to having seen Antonio when they first arrived in town, but no one knew where he was.

At first, Sebastian hadn’t worried — with he and Antonio looking for each other, it was likely they had been victims of bad timing. But it had been several days, with no word. And while he worried, he also wished for Antonio’s advice. “For though my soul disputes well with my sense, that this may be some error, but no madness, yet doth this accident and flood of fortune so far exceed all reason that I am ready to distrust mine eyes and be persuaded but that I am mad.”

He felt foolish speaking to himself. But it at least slowed down the whirl of thought and fear. “Or else the lady’s mad. Yet, if ’twere so, she could not sway her house, command her followers, take and give back affairs and their dispatch with such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing as I have seen she does.” There was some deception here. Some answer other than that he had lost his senses or the lady who so assiduously courted him was lacking hers.

He could not find it.

It was a relief to see Olivia walking toward him, even with the priest in tow. Anything to distract Sebastian from his own thoughts.

“Blame not this haste of mine.” Olivia pleaded, reaching for Sebastian’s hands. “If you mean well, now go with me and with this holy man into the chantry by. There, before him, and underneath that consecrated roof, plight me the full assurance of your faith.”

Sebastian’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t help it. But somehow he also was not surprised.

The lady continued, perhaps oblivious to his shock, perhaps trying to persuade him in spite of it. “So my most jealous and too doubtful soul may live at peace. He shall conceal it whiles you are willing. What do you say?”

By logic, Sebastian knew he should say no, for while it would be a most advantageous match — especially in his current circumstances — the world still spun mad around him.

And yet — if he were to be thrown into a world where reason was suspended, that left him only the senses. So by them, he chose: standing and squeezing Olivia’s hands between his.

A good woman, who cared for him and dealt well with her people. An attractive woman he was coming to care for and enjoy spending time with.

A future, where he’d had none.

“I’ll follow this good man, and go with you,” he said, “And, having sworn truth, ever will be true.”

He had one moment to see how her eyes brightened and her smile beamed before she let go of his hands and wrapped him in a hug. A bone-crushing hug for all her slight frame.

After a few moments, she pulled away and turned to the priest. With a much more reserved composure, she said, “Then lead the way, good father. And heavens so shine, that they may fairly note this act of mine!”

Chance is a chancy thing. And one who paid attention might have noted that chance was working its will with abundance that day. Scarce had they passed within doors when Duke Orsino, accompanied by Cesario and more of his entourage, came down the drive.


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What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E9)

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

The fool was having a most exasperating day. There are fools and fools, and not all fools wear motley. Until this moment, the fool’s judgment had been out on this Cesario; it was rapidly coming to a conclusion.

For Sebastian, the day so far had been delightful. The journey’s end, the surprise appearance of his beloved, and some sightseeing make for a good day to most minds. Of course, Sebastian was the only one who’d been having a good day thus far, so it seems fair that his day was rapidly taking a turn for the worse.

For his path was now blocked by a fool (in motley). A fool who had begun dogging his steps when he passed a drive a minute back and had grown more persistent with each passing moment.

“Will you make me believe that I am not sent for you?” the fool demanded.

“Go to, go to, thou art a foolish fellow,” Sebastian grumbled, trying to step around the fool, only to find his way blocked again. “Let me be clear of thee.”

The fool rolled his eyes, ” Well held out, i’ faith!” He pulled out an imaginary scroll and opened it up to read down a list, “No, I do not know you,” he made a check mark, “nor I am not sent to you by my lady, to bid you come speak with her,” check, “nor your name is not Master Cesario,” a final check and he stuffed the list back in his pocket to pinch his nose, changing the sound of his voice, “nor this is not my nose neither. Nothing that is so is so.”

It was Sebastian’s turn to roll his eyes, and he did so freely. “I prithee, vent thy folly somewhere else. Thou know’st not me.” He made again to step around the fool, but this time the fool not only blocked his way but grabbed his arm.

“Vent my folly! He has heard that word of some great man and now applies it to a fool. Vent my folly!” then, as speaking to a child, “I prithee now, ungird thy strangeness and tell me what I shall vent to my lady: shall I vent to her that thou art coming?

Shaking his arm free, Sebastian did the only thing left to him, though he was loath to do it. He pulled out the small wallet Antonio had entrusted to him. “I prithee, foolish Greek, depart from me.” He held out two small coins to the fool, saying, “There’s money for thee. If you tarry longer,” tucking the wallet away, he held up his other hand next to the coins and made a fist. “I shall give worse payment.”

“By my troth, thou hast an open hand.” The fool grabbed the coins, the third to his reckoning that ‘Cesario’ had given him that day. “These wise men that give fools money get themselves a good report–after fourteen years’ purchase.”

Whether or not the fool would have actually allowed Sebastian to pass, Sebastian never learned. A hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

“Now, sir, have I met you again?” A foppish stranger, who the fool recognized as Sir Andrew, declared as he punched Sebastian weakly in the forehead. “there’s for you.”

It was surprise more than injury that stunned Sebastian but he recovered quickly. Sebastian then grabbed Sir Andrew’s hand before he could attack again. The fist he had offered the fool he now gave to the knight. “Why, there’s for thee, and there, and there.” After the third hit, Sir Andrew stopped struggling and dropped weakly to the ground. “Are all the people mad?”

Behind Sir Andrew, of course, had come Sir Toby, cracking his knuckles at this promise of a good fight. “Hold, sir, or I’ll throw your dagger o’er the house.”

“This will I tell my lady straight,” the fool declared but was not surprised when the warning did not slow Sir Toby. So the fool took to his heels, knowing he had no place in fisticuffs. “I would not be in some of your coats for two pence.”

“Come on, sir; hold,” Sir Toby growled, grabbing at Sebastian. But Sir Andrew shook his head.

“Nay, let him alone,” the battered knight said. “I’ll go another way to work with him.” He smirked at Sebastian. “I’ll have an action of battery against him, if there be any law in Illyria. Though I struck him first, yet it’s no matter for that.”

“Let go thy hand!” Sebastian yelled, trying to shake free of Sir Toby.

“Come, sir, I will not let you go.” But despite Sir Toby’s best efforts, Sebastian wrenched loose and looked around for an escape route. “Come, my young soldier,” Sir Toby taunted, “Put up your iron: you are well fleshed; come on.”

“I will be free from thee.” But Sebastian was rapidly losing his temper. “What wouldst thou now? If thou darest tempt me further, draw thy sword.” And so saying, he drew his own.

“What, what?” Sir Toby grinned and did indeed draw his sword with a flourish. “Nay, then I must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood from you.”

“Hold, Toby,” came a cry from across the orchard. “On thy life I charge thee, hold!”

A well-dressed woman came charging out to throw herself in front of Sebastian, glaring at Sir Toby.

What almost shocked Sebastian more was how Sir Toby stumbled backward, windmilling his arms as he cried, “Madam!”

Still not knowing what was going on, Sebastian stepped back, somewhat more gracefully, and sheathed his sword before he accidentally harmed the woman protecting him.

“Will it be ever thus?” she demanded of the knight, “Ungracious wretch, fit for the mountains and the barbarous caves, where manners ne’er were preach’d! out of my sight!”

Sebastian gaped as the knights and their follower slunk away in the direction the woman had come from — though not without a few glares in his direction.

When they were gone, she turned to Sebastian, who was still trying to find his voice. With a forwardness he had never encountered before, she grabbed his hands. “Be not offended, dear Cesario.”

He was so startled he almost missed how she misnamed him — but those others had acted certain that they knew him as well. Before he could gather wit to speak, she continued.

“I prithee, gentle friend, let thy fair wisdom, not thy passion, sway in this uncivil and thou unjust extent against thy peace. Go with me to my house, and hear thou there how many fruitless pranks this ruffian hath botch’d up, that thou thereby mayst smile at this.”

She was smiling and leaning into him. He could smell her perfume and feel the heat of her body. And had no idea what in the world was going on.

When he did not immediately respond, her face fell. “Thou shalt not choose but go: do not deny. Beshrew his soul for me, he started one poor heart of mine in thee.”

Still not able to find words, Sebastian could only nod, hoping by following he might get some answers.

As she led him through the orchard to the manor house — manor house! he couldn’t help muttering to himself. “What relish is in this? how runs the stream? Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.” But she looked back and smiled at him. And it was a soft, hopeful smile, so like the one Antonio had given him when first admitting his feelings.

This beautiful woman thought she knew him and cared for him. And he knew, for they had spoken of it, that Antonio would not begrudge him time spent with her. Even if it wasn’t a dream… “Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep. If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!”

“Nay, come, I prithee,” she stopped at the door to the manor and pulled him up close. “Would thou’ldst be ruled by me!”

Sebastian licked his lips and looked at this stranger who had thrown herself into danger to protect him. Who somehow cared enough to come between him and her own kinsman. Who looked at him with shining eyes. “Madam,” he said, scarcely believing his own words, “I will.”

“O, say so,” she breathed, “and so be!”

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, E5)

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

In her manor, Olivia paced from room to room. She changed mood from giddy to distraught so quickly that she may well have traded temperament with Orsino. Sometimes she muttered to herself, “I have sent after him: he says he’ll come.” Other times called to Maria, stolidly keeping pace with her mistress, “How shall I feast him? What bestow of him? For youth is bought more oft than begg’d or borrow’d.” Then coming to herself a moment, “I speak too loud.”

Trying to shake off her moods, the countess stopped her pacing and asked, “Where is Malvolio? he is sad and civil, And suits well for a servant with my fortunes.”

Maria waved off the fool, who had been trying to distract the countess with some entertainment, and he hurried off to fetch the steward. In the meantime, Olivia sat down in a chair, and Maria helped her arrange her dress and hair in elegant folds. But she could only sit a short time before she became agitated again. “Where is Malvolio?”

As she spoke, the fool stuck his head back in the door and nodded to Maria, giving her also a wink as he disappeared back out the door and away.

Taking her cue, Maria instantly became the soul of concern. “He’s coming, madam; but in very strange manner. He is, sure, possessed, madam.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” The countess jumped to her feet. “Does he rave?”

Maria shook her head but did not look at her mistress. Instead, she stared through the doorway at the approaching apparition. “No. madam, he does nothing but smile: your ladyship were best to have some guard about you, if he come; for, sure, the man is tainted in’s wits.”

“Go call him hither.” The countess started pacing again, then laughed at herself. “I am as mad as he, if sad and merry madness equal be.

“How now, Malvolio!”

The steward entered the room in a lurching parody of a dance, with a broad grin upon his face. “Sweet lady, ho, ho.”

“Smilest thou?” Olivia stared at him for a moment, then took several away as he drew closer. She did not think madness could be contagious but wasn’t sure. “I sent for thee upon a sad occasion.”

“Sad, lady!” Malvolio stopped, much to the countess’ relief, and spoke in a confused manner. “I could be sad: this does make some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering; but what of that? if it pleases the eye of one.”

Olivia stared at the man. He was extending a leg toward her, showing off his socks, which were wrapped around and held in place with yellow ribbons. “Why… why how dost thou, man?” she stammered, “What is the matter with thee?”

As if her question reassured him he strode forward again, grinning. “Not black in my mind, though yellow in my legs.” He bent to run a hand along the ribbons and kept going right up too… well. Olivia had never paid attention to that part of her steward’s body before and had no intention of doing so then! Oblivious to her discomfort, Malvolio said, “It did come to his hands, and commands shall be executed,” thrusting his hips he reached for her, grinning even wider, “I think we do know the sweet Roman hand.”

Ducking behind the couch Olivia struggled for something to say and finally came out with the unfortunate, “Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio?”

“To bed!” the steward leapt onto the couch, nearly tipping it over, “Ay, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee.”

Olivia stumbled back and Maria rushed around the couch to step between her mistress and the ardent steward. “God comfort thee!” Olivia said quickly, holding out the cross to fend him off. “Why dost thou smile so and kiss thy hand so oft?”

“How do you, Malvolio?” Maria asked cautiously.

The steward sneered at her. “At your request! Yes; nightingales answer daws.”

“Why appear you with this ridiculous boldness before my lady?” the maid demanded.

But Malvolio was done with her, speaking over her to the countess, “‘Be not afraid of greatness:’ ’twas well writ.”

“What meanest thou by that, Malvolio?” Olivia took Maria’s shoulder and at her urging the two women began carefully sidling along the wall.

Malvolio followed them, eyebrows waggling with each step.

“‘Some are born great,’–”

“Ha!” Not recognizing the recitation, the countess rolled her eyes at that ridiculous claim.

“‘Some achieve greatness,’–”

Confused, now, Olivia shook her head. “What sayest thou?”

“‘And some have greatness thrust upon them.'” Suiting actions to words, the man lunged for the countess.

Maria shoved him away while Olivia darted toward the door of the salon. “Heaven restore thee!”

“‘Remember,” Malvolio entreated, “who commended thy yellow stocking s,’–”

“Why, this is very midsummer madness.” Having reached the safety of the doorway, Olivia looked to make sure that Maria was safe.

She jumped as a footman cleared his throat behind her. “Madam,” the man said, not looking into the room, “the young gentleman of the Count Orsino’s is returned: I could hardly entreat him back. He attends your ladyship’s pleasure.”

To Olivia’s relief, the appearance of the lower servant restored Malvolio to his familiar demeanor. “I’ll come to him,” she assured the footman, who quickly left. “Good Maria, let this fellow be looked to. Where’s my cousin Toby? Let a doctor see him. I would not have him miscarry for the half of my dowry.”

Maria watched carefully Malvolio as she crossed the room.

“O, ho! do you come near me now?” He took a step toward her and she gave a little shriek and ran from the room laughing.

He watched her and gloated. “No worse man than Sir Toby to look to me! This concurs directly with the letter. She sends him on purpose, that I may appear stubborn to him; for she incites me to that in the letter. ‘Let this fellow be looked to:’ fellow! not Malvolio, nor after my position, but fellow.

“Why, every thing adheres together. What can be said? Nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes. Well, Jove, not I, is the doer of this, and he is to be thanked.”

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E3)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations

Countess Olivia led Cesario into a walled garden, and the door was shut behind them, leaving the two alone. Nervously pushing his hair out of his face, Cesario wondered what a — another man, one without Cesario’s history, might have thought.

Cesario also thought the countess was not being at all subtle — and that was a problem.

He was right.

Stepping even closer, the countess batted her eyes at Cesario and said, “Give me your hand, sir.”

Trapped by the rules of manners, Cesario did offer his hand but stepped back to make a leg — that is, an elaborate bow where the right leg slides back and bends while the left leg extends toward the person being bowed to. It’s never seen now, and rarely then, having fallen out of fashion. But the leg required room that gave Cesario an excuse to step away without being rude, which was all he cared about. “My duty, madam, and most humble service.”

The countess recognized the retreat and did not attempt to move close again, but she did hold tight to Cesario’s hand. “What is your name?”

“Cesario is your servant’s name, fair princess,” the worthy replied.

“My servant, sir!” Countess Olivia raised her eyebrows and looked from Cesario to the space he had put between them. “‘Twas never merry world since lowly feigning was call’d compliment.” Cesario acknowledged this with a shrug but did not come closer. With a sigh, the countess released his hand. “You’re servant to the Count Orsino, youth.”

“And he is yours,” Cesario replied. Countess Olivia tried to wave his words away but he insisted, “and his must needs be yours: your servant’s servant is your servant, madam.”

“For him, I think not on him!” the countess said.

Cesario did not reply, only watched her silently.

“Oh, for his thoughts, would they were blanks, rather than fill’d with me!”

“Madam.” He started to reach for her hand and stopped. Often in the past, Viola and her friends had giggled over the men who flirted with them. Then, urging each other to consider this or that man one did not find appealing had been a game, harmless. This… this did not feel harmless. No, urging on her a man she spurned did not feel harmless at all. And he was not one who the countess would take a bosom companion. So he only said softly, “I come to whet your gentle thoughts on his behalf.”

“O, by your leave, I pray you, I bade you never speak again of him,” Olivia turned away and paced the garden in agitation. She had no idea that Cesario’s thoughts — in that at least — aligned much with hers.

“But,” she stopped when her path took her back to Cesario and spoke entreatingly, “But, would you undertake another suit.” She hesitated, looking down as a blush stained her cheeks, “I had rather hear you to solicit that than music from the spheres.”

But Cesario shook his head, stepping away, “Dear lady,–”

Before he could make clear his rejection, the countess cut him off, “Give me leave, beseech you.” When he said nothing further, she continued, “I did send, after the last enchantment you did here, a ring in chase of you: so did I abuse myself, my servant and, I fear me, you.”

To this Cesario shook his head — he would rather not have spea of the ring she sent. He kept the ring in an inner pocket, knowing any who saw it would misunderstand but unable to part with it. For though it was poorly done of her, it was her sending that ring, and the new view it gave him of himself, that let him accept the truth of his own manhood.

He was grateful to her, but that gratitude was one he could never express.

But she kept speaking, unaware of his thoughts. “Under your hard construction must I sit, to force that on you, in a shameful cunning, which you knew none of yours: what might you think? Have you not set mine honour at the stake and baited it with all the unmuzzled thoughts that tyrannous heart can think? So, let me hear you speak.”

Not knowing what else to say, Cesario spoke the truth. “I pity you.”

To Cesario’s dismay, the countess seized on that simple statement, “That’s a degree to love.”

“No, not a bit; for ’tis a vulgar proof, that very oft we pity enemies.” Though he did not mean to, Cesario leaned into that last word, enemies. Intentional or not, Countess Olivia wisely took counsel of that word and backed away, pasting a smile across her face they both knew to be false.

In the background, a clock tolled the hour.

“Why,” she said, “the clock upbraids me with the waste of time. Be not afraid, good youth, I will not have you,” and the countess could not miss Cesario’s relief as she capitulated. “And yet, when wit and youth is come to harvest, your wife is alike to reap a proper man.” She opened the door of the garden, waving him through. “There lies your way, due west.”

“Then,” he said with a soft smile, “westward-ho! Grace and good disposition attend your ladyship!” He stepped through the door, and was stopped by duty, “You’ll nothing, madam, to my lord by me?”

She shook her head, and he nodded in understanding. Perhaps he could finally convince the duke to give over this chase, which brought joy to no one.

But as he turned again to go, the countess grabbed his arm, “Stay! I prythee, tell me what thou thinkest of me.”

Shrugging her off in frustration, Cesario exclaimed, “That you do think you are not what you are.”

“If I think so, I think the same of you.”

They were close now, speaking right into each other’s faces. “Then think you right: I am not what I am!” Cesario barely restrained himself from pushing her away.

“I would you were as I would have you be!”

“Would it be better, madam, than I am?” Cesario spat. “I wish it might, for now, I am your fool.”

“O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful in the contempt and anger of his lip!” She spoke more to herself now than him, reaching out to trace his jaw. He jerked away. “A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon than love that would seem hid: love’s night is noon.”

Done with the whole matter, Cesario turned away again and started walking away. She called after him. “Cesario, by the roses of the spring, my maidhood, honour, truth, and everything, I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, nor wit nor reason can my passion hide. Do not extort thy reasons from this clause, for that I woo, thou, therefore, hast no cause, but rather reason thus with reason fetter, Love sought is good, but given unsought better.”

And why, Cesario wondered, did she not apply that sentiment to the unsought love Orsino had for her? Did she not realize she was doing to him the very thing she hated from the duke?

Without turning to face her, Cesario spoke a truth that had been growing in his bosom for some time. “By innocence, I swear, and by my youth, I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth. And that no woman has; nor never none shall mistress be of it.”

He rolled his shoulders once as the truth settled on him. He was a man, but a man who still loved other men. And he was done enabling this game between Duke Orsino, who he loved, and the countess. “Adieu, good madam: never more will I my master’s tears to you deplore.”

As he started down the road to home, her voice called after him. “Yet come again!

“For thou perhaps mayst move that heart, which now abhors, to like his love.”

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:
What You Will (S2, E1)
Webserial Catalog
Alexi’s Tale — A Transgender Fairytale
How NOT to Save the World

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

Season 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!”

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E8)

Continue to:
What You Will (S1, E10)

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 wooing with rudeness had the sole virtue of 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 unknown 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 at 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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What You Will (S1, E5)

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What You Will (S1, E7)

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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