What You Will (S1 E11)

Season notes: violence, sexism

After Malvolio left, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, the fool, and Maria stared after him a moment. Then, “Go shake your ears,” Maria growled after him.

The others laughed, and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew began trading comments about the steward. In a few moments, Sir Andrew was ready to go issue him a challenge to duel, and Sir Toby eager to be his second.

Maria hushed them, worried for Lady Olivia’s temper. A duel could not help but come to her attention. Instead, she said, “Let me alone with him: if I do not make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed.” She scooped up the wine and came to pour it for Sir Toby. “I know I can do it.”

“Possess us, possess us,” Sir Toby slung an arm around her shoulders again. “Tell us something of him.”

“Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of puritan.”

“O, if I thought that I would beat him like a dog!” Sir Andrew exclaimed.

“What, for being a puritan?” Sir Toby turned to the other knight in confusion, “Thy exquisite reason, dear knight?”

“I have no exquisite reason for’t,” Sir Andrew said stubbornly, “but I have reason good enough.”

Maria ignored them. “The devil a puritan that he is, or anything constantly, but a time-pleaser; an affectioned ass. The best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him.”

“What wilt thou do?” Sir Toby asked.

“I will drop in his way some obscure letters of love, wherein, by the color of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion, he shall find himself most feelingly personated.” She smiled at Sir Toby before stepping away and crossing the room to a writing desk. Sir Toby followed her. From the desk she pulled two notes written on the thick cream paper Olivia preferred for personal matters. “I can write very like my lady, your niece.” She showed the notes to Sir Toby, who examined them with delight. “On a forgotten matter, we can hardly make distinction of our hands.”

“Excellent! I smell a device.”

Sir Andrew now crowded up behind Sir Toby. “I have it in my nose too.”

Sir Toby cackled. “He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come from my niece, and that she’s in love with him.”

Maria nodded, smiling at the older knight.

“My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that color.”

She took the notes from Sir Toby and put them back in the draw. When she turned around Sir Toby was so close their lips nearly met. Maria stared for a moment before pulling away and pacing to the door. “Sport royal, I warrant you: I know my physic will work with him.

“I will plant you two and let the fool make a third, where he shall find the letter.” She opened the door and stopped. “Observe his construction of it. For this night, to bed, and dream on the event.” With one long look over her shoulder, she was gone. “Farewell.”

“Good night, Penthesilea.” Sir Toby called after her.

Sir Andrew shook his head in admiration. “Before me, she’s a good wench.”

“She’s a beagle,” Sir Toby sighed, “true-bred, and one that adores me.” Sir Andrew stared at him and seemed almost to be blinking away tears. “What o’ that?”

“I was adored once too.” Sir Andrew said quietly.

Grunting, Sir Toby patted Sir Andrew on the shoulder. “Let’s to bed, knight. Thou hadst need send for more money.”

Sir Andrew grimaced, “If I cannot recover your niece, I am a foul way out.”

“Send for money, knight: if thou hast her not i’ the end, call me cut.”

“If I do not, never trust me. Take it how you will.”

Through the window, the first light of dawn could be seen peeking over the horizon. Sir Toby glared at it a moment, then shook his head. “‘Tis too late to go to bed now.” He signaled for the fool, almost forgotten in the corner, to begin a song. “Come, knight.” He started to dance and waved for Sir Andrew to join him, “Come, knight!”

While the fool helped Sirs Toby and Andrew ring in the dawn, others in Duke Orsino’s court were also blearily facing the first light after a too-long night.

Duke Orsino, unnaturally alert, sat on a settee with his arm around Cesario (who was Viola). Curio stood (someone less than alertly) by the door, and Valentine sat behind the duke, tired enough to forget himself and glare at the duke’s over-familiar arm. The rest of the duke’s court had been dismissed to seek their beds some hours earlier. But these, the duke’s favorites, must remain, blinking against the dawn’s light and stifling eager yawns.

The duke, seeing dawn peek through the windows, perked up. “Now, good morrow, friends. Give me some music!” He shook Cesario gently, rousing him from half stupor. “Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song, that old and antique song we heard last night.

“Methought it did relieve my passion much, more than light airs and recollected terms.”

Cesario blinked at him and mustered a scowl. In the weeks since he entered the duke’s court, he had grown comfortable with the duke. Comfortable enough to make plain when he thought the duke was being outrageous — which was often. Comfortable enough that he did not object to the duke’s arm around his shoulders, though he knew he should have.

“Come,” Orsino wheedled, “but one verse.”

From the door, Curio cleared his throat. “He is not here, so please your lordship that should sing it.”

“Who was it?” the duke asked, turning to face Curio.

“Feste, the jester, my lord; a fool that the lady Olivia’s father took much delight in. He was about the house.”

“Seek him out!” He gave a shove to Cesario, “And play the tune the while.”

Cesario dragged himself to his feet and took a moment to be sure of his balance before walking carefully to the piano. He seated himself and ran through a short warm-up to loosen his sleep-dogged fingers. Then he began picking out the tune. (After listening to the fool play it for near an hour the night before, he had it memorized and needed no sheet music.)

The duke came to stand behind him and rested a hand on Cesario’s shoulder. (Valentine, who had begun to relax, took up his glare again.)

“If ever thou shalt love, boy,” the duke murmured, “In the sweet pangs of it remember me. For such as I am all true lovers are, unstaid and skittish in all motions else, save in the constant image of the creature that is beloved.”

Cesario was saved from needing to reply by his playing, and the duke was content to listen in silence to the music.

For a time.

“How dost thou like this tune?”

Speaking and playing leaves one distracted even at the best of times. But after a long night when one wishes nothing more than to seek one’s bed? Then truths can slip out that a man would never willingly speak in the light of day. “It gives a very echo to the seat where Love is throned,” Cesario replied.

Orsino stared down at him, “Thou dost speak masterly. My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye hath stay’d upon some favor that it loves.” With visible reluctance, the duke pulled his hand from Cesario’s shoulder. To cover his awkwardness, he continued, “Hath it not, boy?”

Cesario stared down at his hands, appalled at his slip. In the background, Valentine breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed into the chair.

After a moment, Cesario replied, “A little, by your favor.”

“What kind of woman is it?” the duke asked.

Cesario shrugged, not showing his relief that the duke assumed he spoke of a woman. Of course, he did. But his tongue was not guarded enough and what slipped out was, “Of your complexion.”

It was Curio, now, who perked up, glancing with raised eyebrows toward Valentine.

Orsino missed this by play, dismissing the hypothetical woman with a wave. “She is not worth thee, then.” A pause. “What years, i’ faith?”

With a prayer to the fates who watched out for fools and drunkards, Cesario replied honestly — “About your years, my lord.”

Cesario, unnoticing, was now leaning back so his shoulder rested on the duke’s thigh. Valentine, of course, did not miss it. His eyebrows, too, climbed to meet his much-receded hairline. He looked to Curio who smiled and nodded toward the two by the piano. Valentine sighed and shrugged. Then stole a pillow from the settee to prop behind his head. Hands folded across his middle he closed his eyes.

The duke’s hand was once more upon Cesario’s shoulder. He shook his head regretfully. “Too old by heaven! Let still the woman take an elder than herself. So wears she to him, so sways she level in her husband’s heart. For, boy,” and he squeezed Cesario’s shoulder gently as he spoke. “However we do praise ourselves, our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, more longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, than women’s are.”

What else the duke might have said was interrupted by a soft snore coming from Valentine’s chair. Orsino and Cesario turned in surprise, then looked at each other and giggled.

Cesario knew it was foolish, but he let a giddy smile show upon his face. The duke would think it a response to Valentine when in truth it was a response to the duke’s words. “I think it well, my lord.”

“Then let thy love be younger than thyself,” Orsino turned back to Cesario with a more somber expression. “Or thy affection cannot hold the bent. For women are as roses, whose fair flower being once display’d, doth fall that very hour.”

“And so they are: alas, that they are so,” Cesario could not bring himself to be bothered by this assessment of women or men’s affection to them. The duke felt that men should seek out younger lovers. In that moment of exhaustion and dawn light and foolishness, he allowed himself one moment to believe in fantasies. “To die, even when they to perfection grow!”

Out of sight of the duke and his man, Curio watched how their gazes caught, how they leaned into each other, only to start back, and smiled.

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What You Will (S1, E4)

Season notes: violence, sexism

It was not suspicion in Valentine’s eyes, though perhaps something close akin when he examined the newest member of the Duke’s court. “If the duke continue these favors towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced: he hath known you but three days, and already you are no stranger.”

Viola, for of course it was Viola who was new come to the Duke’s court, accepted as a foreign gentleman named ‘Cesario,’ stood firm under his scrutiny. “You either fear his humor or my negligence, that you call in question the continuance of his love: is he inconstant, sir, in his favors?”

“No, believe me,” Valentine said, raising his hands and backing away with a laugh, pleased perhaps to learn that the new man was no milksop.

Viola, still confused by the habits of men among themselves, continued to glare at him. For she knew one thing for certain — she must not let herself seem weak. “I thank you.”

What reply Valentine might have made was lost as the echoes of several people striding together came down the hall.

“Here comes the duke,” Viola called, and all in the room stopped what they were doing to give their attention to their lord.

Orsino entered and walked past the corner where Valentine had cornered Viola, with Curio and several others following and scanned the room. “Who saw Cesario, ho?”

Viola stepped forward, pushing her hair out of her face, and replied, “On your attendance, my lord; here.”

The look Orsino favored Viola with was not that of a lord looking at one of his men. Valentine and a few others long in the duke’s service knew that look of old, and worried. But there was nothing they could say. They could only hope the young foreigner would lose the duke’s favor before things became… messy.

They were not relieved by the duke’s words to ‘Cesario.’

“Stand you awhile aloof, Cesario.”

Viola did so, stepping out into the hallway where she and the duke might speak privately. After speaking with the others of his court, Orsino joined her out in the hallway and smiled. “Thou know’st no less but all; I have unclasp’d To thee the book even of my secret soul: Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her; Be not denied access, stand at her doors, And tell them, there thy fixed foot shall grow Till thou have audience.”

Viola stepped back, overwhelmed by the lord’s fervor. “Sure, my noble lord, If she be so abandon’d to her sorrow as is said, she never will admit me.” She looked everywhere but at Orsino’s face, knowing too well what she would see there.

He took her shoulder and gave her a little shake. “Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds Rather than make unprofited return.”

“Say I do speak with her, my lord, what then?”

“O,” Orsino paused, having expected more resistance. “Then unfold the passion of my love, Surprise her with words of my dear faith.” He pinched her cheek and smiled, “It shall become thee well to act my woes; She will attend it better in thy youth Than in a nuncio’s of more grave aspect.” He let go of her chin to ape Valentine’s habitual severe expression.

“I think not so, my lord.” She turned away and he thought her embarrassed.

In a gentle voice, he said, “Dear lad, believe it; for they shall yet belie thy happy years, that say thou art a man. Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound, and all is fitting a woman’s part.” He used voice and face to tell the youth that the duke did not think less of him for it, that there was no shame in being young.

Yet Viola found herself even more disturbed, crossing her arms and hunching in to protect herself again the sting. She should, perhaps, have feared for her disguise. But she did not, all she could think was that he saw her as womanly. And that was a pain she did not understand.

Still trying to be reassuring he continued, “I know thy constellation is right apt for this affair.” Turning back to where the others waited, the duke called, “Some four or five attend him; all, if you will. For I am best when least in company.” Turning back to Viola he said firmly, “Prosper well in this, and thou shalt live as freely as thy lord, To call his fortunes thine.”

Unable to bear the conversation further, Viola gave way. “I’ll do my best To woo your lady.”

Orsino grinned and ruffled his hair before striding back down the hallway.

After a moment to collect herself, Viola waved off the others of the duke’s court who awaited her. If she needs to do this, she also would be best alone.

Once she was out of the palace and clear of any who might hear, she gave in to the confusion and pain of her conflicting feelings. “Yet, a barful strife! For him I woo, I wish to be his wife.”

Here, at last, is where I — er — the fool, yes, the fool, enters into the story. This fool was an older fool who had been much loved by Olivia’s father. He did not have the energy or body for the physical antics most expect of fools, but he had a quick wit and a quicker eye. He could, as they say, see further into the millstone than most.

Having been away for several years, on business of his own, he slipped in through the kitchen door, begged a meal off the cook, and went looking for Mistress Maria. He found her in the linen closet counting bedsheets. Which perhaps explains why she was so out of sorts.

“Nay, either tell me where thou hast been” she demanded, “or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse: my lady will hang thee for thy absence.”

As she spoke, she piled sheets one after another in the fool’s arms.

He let her and replied, “Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colors.”

She scowled and turned to count pillowcases. “Make that good.”

Carefully, he slipped a single sheet off of the pile in his arms and returned it to the shelves. “Why,” he said grandly, “He shall see none to fear.”

“A good lenten answer:” She finished with the pillowcases and turned back to him. “I can tell thee where that saying was born, of ‘I fear no colors.'”

“Where, good Mistress Mary?”

“In the wars; and that may you be bold to say in your foolery–” she stopped speaking abruptly and counted the sheets he was holding. Grumbling she added another onto the pile.

He shrugged, “Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.”

“Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent;” she turned as she spoke, and she turned away, perhaps to hide her face. Mistress Maria and the fool had long been friends and his absence had hurt her as much as angered her. “or, to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to you?”

He took the chance to take an extra sheet off of the shelf and add it to his pile. “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and, for turning away, let summer bear it out.”

“You are resolute, then?”

“Not so, neither; but I am resolved on two points.”

She turned to face him again saying, “That if one break, the other will hold; or, if both break, your gaskins fall.”

He bowed to her, careful not to drop the sheets. “Apt, in good faith; very apt.” He turned to the door. “Well, go thy way; if Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of Eve’s flesh as any in Illyria.”

She flushed, scowled, and went to cuff him on the head but stopped at a familiar footstep. “Peace, you rogue, no more o’ that. Here comes my lady: make your excuse wisely, you were best.” Grabbing the sheets from him she stalked off. Stopped. Stomped back. And dropped the extra sheet on top of his head.

The fool grinned watching her go and folded the sheet back so it lay over his head like a nun’s habit. “Wit, if it be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’ ”

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What You Will (S1, E1) — A Queer-er Shakespeare

Viola is in love with Duke Orsino
Duke Orsino is in love with Countess Olivia
Countess Olivia is in love with Cesario
Cesario is really Viola in disguise… or is he?

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a very queer play,
But what if you could make it queerer?

 

“If music be the food of love, play on,” declaimed Duke Orsino of Illyria. “Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

His gentlemen, long used to his ways, waited in silence. Hoping that their lord might give some order that would let them escape his melancholy presence — or else by some miracle break free from this fit which had, in their opinion, lasted far too long. All, that is, save Curio, playing the pianoforte, who bravely continued the latest in a series of tragic love songs it had been his fate to play in recent days. As he finished a difficult arpeggio, the Duke bolted upright, shocking everyone into alertness.

“That strain again! it had a dying fall:” Temporary alertness. “O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound, that breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor!” Curio hesitated but played the strain again. Knowing that played alone, without the context of the song– “Enough; no more:” the Duke slammed a hand across the keys in a discordant thunder. “‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.”

It is the closest to an apology Curio would get. And well he knew it.

Orsino, caught by a muse — or perhaps a bit of indigestion — threw himself back on the settee saying, “O spirit of love! how quick and fresh are you, that, notwithstanding your capacity, you receive as the sea, nothing enters– nothing at all — but is ruined and rendered valueless.” He blinked and looked around at his household, hiding yawns or looking cross-eyed as they tried to follow his metaphor. He shrugged. “Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy, that it alone is high fantastical.”

And with this, everyone had to agree. The duke’s fancy was indeed… fantastical.

Curio, hoping to distract the duke, suggested “Will you go hunt, my lord?”

“What, Curio?”

“The hart.” Curio persisted, but his hope was in vain.

“Why, so I do, the noblest that I have: O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, methought she purged the air of pestilence! That instant was I turned into a hart; and my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, e’er since pursue me.”

It cannot be said that Curio rolled his eyes at this wordplay. Such would have been disrespectful to his noble patron. But his expression certainly became somewhat… strained. Curio was saved from needing to reply by the arrival of Valentine.

Valentine was another of the duke’s court, sent on yet another attempt to woo the lady who had unwittingly stolen his heart.

“How now! what news from her?” Orsino leapt to his feet with the eagerness of a child.

Valentine braced himself, and said, “So please my lord, I might not be admitted; but from her handmaid do return this answer:” he unfolded a message and began to read, “The element itself, till seven years’ heat, shall not behold her face at ample view; but, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk and water once a day her chamber round with eye-offending brine: all this to season a brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh and lasting in her sad remembrance.”

The duke’s gentlemen all tensed, preparing for an outburst. Curio may have muttered a curse under his breath.

But the duke surprised them all, smiling beatifically and collapsing back onto his couch.

“O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame to pay this debt of love but to a brother! How will she love, when the rich golden shaft hath killed the flock of all affections else that live in her; when liver, brain, and heart, these sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and filled her sweet perfections with one self king!” He sighed happily.

“Away before me to sweet beds of flowers: love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.”

He jumped up again and strode out the door towards the gardens. His gentlemen, including Curio and Valentine, followed. At least, they thought, they would have fresh air and a change of scenery.

While Orsino and his entourage endured his changeable moods, a very different scene played out upon the coast. An early morning storm had driven a ship onto the rocks. A double handful of survivors now stumbled from a battered lifeboat and onto the shore.

Exhausted from hours clinging to a storm-tossed boat, Viola collapsed as soon as her feet touched the ground. Waves rushed around her and back, gentle now that the storm was gone. Unwilling to endure the touch of saltwater a moment more, Viola crawled further up the beach. Blinking her eyes clear, she tried to make sense of the pebbled ground and low cliffs.

She swallowed several times and when she thought her voice would work, asked of the battered sailors that had washed up with her: “What country, friends, is this?”

The captain also examined the cliffs, but with the relief of a man returning home after a great trial.

“This is Illyria, lady.”

Viola accepted this silently and with the sailors began combing the beach for what wreckage the waves had brought. Too tired to think, she focused only on the moment until she stumbled across a familiar chest. The chest brought memory and she sat next to it, wrapping her arms around the salt-soaked wood. “What should I do in Illyria?” She cried out. “My brother is dead!”

The sailors, familiar with the grief of those who live by the sea, continued their work. But several paused to awkwardly pat her shoulder or offer some small condolences as they moved around the weeping woman.

When exhaustion again overwhelmed her grief, she found within her a glimmer of hope and asked, “Perchance he is not drowned: what think you, sailors?”

The captain shook his head and said. “It is only chance that you, yourself, were saved. Still, madam, comfort yourself with chance. After our ship did split, when you and those poor number saved with you hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother, wise against in peril, bind himself, courage and hope both teaching him the practice, to a strong mast that lived upon the sea; where, like Arion on the dolphin’s back, I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves so long as I could see.”

Did the captain speak truth? Who can say? But Viola took hope from it. In gratitude, she offered the captain some of the jewelry from the battered chest.


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