Content 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.’ “