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!”

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What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E8)

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What You Will (S1, E10)

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