What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E4)

(Sorry folks, this was scheduled to go up last Friday, but something glitched. So you get extra post today.)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations

Sir Andrew was folding his clothing and packing it into his valise. The only sign of his upset was the extra effort he put into making sure every fold was creased just so.

He put a crisp white shirt in the valise and turned to take a light blue vest off its hanger. As he did so, Sir Toby grabbed the white shirt, shook it out, put it back on a hanger, and smoothed out the creases.

Fabian stood in the door, waiting to carry down the valise when Sir Andrew was done packing — and trying not to laugh.

“No, faith,” Sir Andrew whined, snatching the white shirt of the hanger again. “I’ll not stay a jot longer.”

Sir Toby took the shirt from his hands. “Thy reason, dear venom, give thy reason.”

“You must needs yield your reason, Sir Andrew,” Fabian put in from the doorway. (He knew well from whence his bread was buttered.)

“Marry,” Sir Andrew abandoned the white shirt for the moment to two more vests from the wardrobe. “I saw your niece do more favours to the count’s serving-man than ever she bestowed upon me; I saw’t i’ the orchard.”

“Did she see thee the while, old boy?” Sir Toby took hold of the hangers the vests were on, dropping the shirt to the floor. They wrestled briefly over the clothing. The vests slipped off the hangers, and Sir Toby stumbled backward, catching himself with a hand against the wall. “Tell me that.”

“As plain as I see you now.” Sir Andrew tossed the vests in the valise, not bothering to fold them. Ignoring the white shirt, he closed the case and began to secure it.

“This was a great argument of love in her toward you,” Fabian said.

Sir Andrew scowled at the man and all but threw the valise at him. ” ‘Slight, will you make an ass o’ me?”

Catching the valise deftly, Fabian set it on the floor behind himself. Sit Toby went to stand next to Fabian, blocking the doorway. “I will prove it legitimate, sir,” Fabian urged, “upon the oaths of judgment and reason.”

“And they,” Sir Toby opined, pulling out a flask and offering it to Sir Andrew, “have been grand-jury-men since before Noah was a sailor.”

Sir Andrew continued scowling, but at Sir Toby’s urging, Fabian spoke. “She did show favour to the youth in your sight only to exasperate you, to awake your dormouse valour, to put fire in your heart and brimstone in your liver.”

Slowly Sir Andrew’s scowl lifted, and he took on a more thoughtful mien.

“You should then have accosted her,” Fabian continued, “and with some excellent jests, fire-new from the mint, you should have banged the youth into dumbness. This was looked for at your hand, and this was balked. The double gilt of this opportunity you let time wash off, and you are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion, where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard–” Sir Andrew resumed scowling and tried to push past Sir Toby, but Fabian moved to block him, holding up a hand in entreaty, “–unless you do redeem it by some laudable attempt either of valour or policy.”

“An’t be any way,” Sir Andrew took the flask from Sir Toby and tossed it back, “it must be with valour; for policy I hate: I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician.”

“Why, then, build me thy fortunes upon the basis of valour.” Sir Toby cried. He then looked over his shoulder before leaning forward and whispering, so Sir Andrew had to strain to hear, “Challenge me the count’s youth to fight with him; hurt him in eleven places. My niece shall take note of it; and assure thyself, there is no love-broker in the world can more prevail in man’s commendation with woman than report of valour.” He nodded knowingly and waited to see Sir Andrew’s response.

Sir Andrew took another swallow of the flask. It took him two tries to get the cap back on.

“There is no way but this, Sir Andrew,” Fabian said gently.

Taking a deep breath, Sir Andrew fortified himself to ask, “Will either of you bear me a challenge to him?”

“Go, write it in a martial hand.”

Moving together, Sir Toby and Fabian stepped back out of the doorway, Fabian pushing the valise behind him. Once they were clear of the doorway Sir Toby quickly closed the door, leaving Sir Andrew, sans valise, to write his challenge.

“This is a dear manikin to you, Sir Toby,” Fabian observed.

Sir Toby chuckled and reached for his flask, but found it gone. “I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong, or so.”

Fabian shook his head and picked up the valise, carrying it over to tuck behind a couch. “We shall have a rare letter from him,” the man rolled his eyes, “but you’ll not deliver’t?”

“Never trust me, then,” Sir Toby winked. “And by all means, stir on the youth to an answer.” Fabian grinned and nodded. He was not averse to helping Sir Toby make this farcical challenge happen. “I think,” Sir Toby continued, “oxen and wainropes cannot hale them together. For Andrew,” a derisive laugh, “if he were opened, and you find so much blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I’ll eat the rest of the anatomy.”

For all his flaws, and Sir Toby had many, he was a good judge of men. And Sir Andrew’s liver — the seat of courage — was in truth a withered and pitiable thing.

“And his opposite,” Fabian said, “the count’s youth, bears in his visage no great presage of cruelty.”

Before he could say more, Maria entered the room laughing.

Sir Toby lit up on seeing her, saying, “Look, where the youngest wren of nine comes.”

Maria waved him off. “If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no Christian, that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness. He’s in yellow stockings.”

Fabian whooped in delight. Sir Toby gaped. “And cross-gartered?” He demanded

“Most villanously;” Maria laughed again, “like a pedant that keeps a school i’ the church. He does obey every point of the letter that I dropped to betray him. He does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies: you have not seen such a thing as ’tis. I can hardly forbear hurling things at him. I know my lady will strike him: if she do, he’ll smile and take’t for a great favour.”

“Come,” Sir Toby demanded, reaching his hand to her, “bring us, bring us where he is.”

Not far from there, a sea-battered man with a sailor’s bag slung across his back walked alongside a well-born youth. His companion, if any had known it, bore a striking resemblance to the newest member of Duke Orsino’s court. Though they didn’t touch, their hands oft seemed about to clasp, and their eyes were on each other as much as the road they walked. “I would not by my will have troubled you;” young Sebastian said, still surprised and delighted that his good friend and lover had followed him so far. “But, since you make your pleasure of your pains, I will no further chide you.”

Antonio shook his head, knowing himself for a fool. No well-bred young man would long continue to keep company with a poor sailor. And yet… “I could not stay behind you,” he admitted, “my desire, more sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth.” Embarrassed to speak so plainly, he hurried on before Sebastian could reply. “And not all love to see you, though so much as might have drawn one to a longer voyage, but jealousy what might befall your travel, being skilless in these parts.” He gestured to a pair of ruffians lurking in an alley, “which to a stranger, often prove rough and unhospitable.”

Not fooled by Antonio’s attempt to diminish his declaration, Sebastian stopped and turned to put both hands on Antonio’s shoulders. “My kind Antonio, I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks.” He shook his head and chuckled. “Ever oft good turns are shuffled off with such uncurrent pay.” Leaning in, he brushed a kiss across Antonio’s cheek, knowing that any around them would see it only as a sign of friendship. Knowing Antonio would know it for much more.

“Were my worth as is my conscience firm,” he murmured, knowing with the shipwreck he had little left of what been a modest inheritance. “You should find better dealing.” he stepped back with a shrug, “What’s to do? Shall we go see the reliques of this town?”

“To-morrow, sir,” Antonio cautioned, “best first go see your lodging.”

But Sebastian shook his head, too full of energy after a long coach ride to be still. “I am not weary, and ’tis long to night: I pray you, let us satisfy our eyes with the memorials and the things of fame that do renown this city.”

Antonio bowed his head, saying, “Would you’ld pardon me; I do not without danger walk these streets. Once, in a sea-fight, ‘gainst the count his galleys I did some service; of such note indeed, that were I ta’en here it would scarce be answer’d.”

Sebastian stepped back, suddenly diffident. He was not sheltered for a man of his class, but still… “Belike you slew great number of his people.”

But Antonio hurried to shake his head. “The offence is not of such a bloody nature; though,” he made himself admit, “the quality of the time and quarrel Might well have given us bloody argument.” Antonio shrugged but could not look at Sebastian. “It might have since been answer’d in repaying what we took from them; most of our city did: only myself stood out.” He swallowed and finally looked again at Sebastian, “If I be lapsed in this place, I shall pay dear.”

Sebastian had come close to him again. He looked about the street as if searching for guards who might attack. “Do not then walk too open,” he said, and Antonio breathed a sigh of relief.

“It doth not fit me,” he said with a laugh, “Hold, sir, here’s my purse.” Antonio pulled out a small pouch and pressed it into Sebastian’s hands. “In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge: I will bespeak our diet, whiles you beguile the time and feed your knowledge: there shall you have me.”

“Why I your purse?”

With a shrug, Antonio turned to go. “Haply your eye shall light upon some toy you have desire to purchase; and your store, I think, is not for idle markets, sir.”

Sebastian could not deny that and gave in graciously, slipping the purse inside his vest. “I’ll be your purse-bearer and leave you for an hour.”

“To the Elephant,” Antonio called as he moved down the street.

“I do remember.”

What You Will (S1 E8): A Queer-er Shakespeare

Season notes: violence, sexism

Some miles south of that place, in another seacoast town, a man long ill from swallowing an excess of saltwater was finally recovered. He sat at a rough wooden table in the small rented room. The inn catered to sailors needing a place to stay between voyages and had not been a restful place to heal. But heal he had. This man was packing what little remained of his worldly goods in a battered leather bag. He packed slowly, reluctantly, but steadily. His name was Sebastian.

There was only one chair in the room, so its other occupant leaned nearby against the wall, a young sailor, Antonio. He looked older than his years from the rough treatment of wind and wave. It was Antonio who had plucked Sebastian from the sea and tended him these past days. He watched Sebastian now with anguished eyes. “Will you stay no longer? nor will you not that I go with you?”

Sebastian shook his head; he would not look at his savior, who had become much more. It was for that reason as much as any other that Sebastian had to leave. “By your patience, no. My stars shine darkly over me:” he had, in fact, begun to suspect that the stars hated him. Why else would they torture him so? “The vileness of my fate might perhaps taint yours; therefore I shall crave of you your leave that I may bear my evils alone:” Now he did look at Antonio, reached a hand out even to lay it on the man’s shoulder. “It were a bad recompense for your love, to lay any of this on you.”

Not one to be dissuaded, Antonio pleaded, “Let me yet know of you whither you are bound.”

“No, sooth, sir: my determinate voyage is mere extravagancy.” Antonio started to speak again but stopped himself, looking away. Sebastian saw the motion and squeezed the shoulder under his hand. “But I perceive in you so excellent a touch of modesty, that you will not extort from me what I am willing to keep in; therefore it charges me in manners the rather to express myself.”

Sebastian paused, looking out into the distance. “You must know of me then, Antonio, my name is Sebastian, though I have called myself Roderigo.” He glanced at Antonio, then looked away. Antonio gave no response, unsurprised that this friend had kept secrets from one he had, at first, no reason to trust. “My father was that Sebastian of Messaline, whom I know you have heard of.”

To this, Antonio reacted, for he had indeed heard of Sebastian of Messaline. That was a well-known name to those who sailed the seas — known for both well and ill before his death. Antonio well understood why Sebastian had said nothing of his connection when he first roused.

“He left behind him myself and a sister,” Sebastian continued, “both born in an hour: if the heavens had been pleased, would we had so ended!” He crossed himself but refused to let his tears fall. “but you, sir, altered that; for some hour before you took me from the breach of the sea was my sister drowned.”

He searched for her, clinging to his broken bit of wood until the salt spray blinded him.

“Alas the day!” Now Antonio moved away from the wall. He squatted down next to Sebastian and rested a hand upon his shoulder. He would have preferred to offer an embrace but recognized from the tension in his shoulders that his friend would not welcome it at that moment.

“A lady, sir, though” he chuckled, “it was said she much resembled me, she was yet accounted beautiful: but, though modestly prevents me from believing that, yet in this I will boldly publish her; she bore a mind that envy could not but call fair.” Now the tears fell, past his ability to call them back. Sebastian scrubbed at his face. “She is drowned already, sir, with saltwater, though I seem to drown her remembrance again with more.”

Antonio pulled Sebastian’s hands away and used a handkerchief to wipe his cheeks. “Pardon me, sir,” he said with a gentle smile, “your bad entertainment.”

“O good Antonio,” Sebastian chuckled and allowed his friend to tend him. “Forgive me your trouble.”

Antonio cupped Sebastian’s cheek with one hand. “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant.”

Sebastian returned the caress but shook his head. “If you will not undo what you have done, that is, kill him whom you have recovered, desire it not.” He hesitated a long moment, then leaned in and gave Antonio a gentle kiss. Before Antonio could deepen it, he pulled away and grabbed up his bag. “Fare ye well at once:” He stood and took two long strides toward the door. Antonio watched him go with full eyes. “my bosom is full of kindness, and I am yet so near the manners of my mother,” Sebastian’s voice hitched, but he forced it under control. “that upon the least occasion more mine eyes will tell tales of me.” A moment of hesitation, then bowing to the plea that Antonio did not voice, “I am bound to the Count Orsino’s court: farewell.”

Antonio watched as he walked out the door, then called, “The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!”

A few moments, he stayed silent, unmoving. “I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,” he murmured, “Else would I very shortly see thee there.

“But, come what may, I do adore thee so, That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.”

The room was paid through the end of the week, and his seabag was, as always, near at hand. It took Antonio only a short time to pack his own things, then he too walked out the door, not looking back.

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What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E7)

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What You Will (S1, E9)