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.

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E7)

Continue to:
What You Will (S1, E9)