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

Season notes: violence, sexism, internalized homophobia

It was late morning when the duke had sought his bed (allowing Cesario, Curio, and Valentine to do the same). Not until evening did the fool finally answer the summons to the duke’s court.

“O, fellow, come, the song we had last night.” The duke greeted him eagerly. “Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain. The spinsters and the knitters in the sun and the free maids that weave their thread with bones do use to chant it. It is silly sooth, and dallies with the innocence of love like the old age.”

When the duke wound down, the fool asked, “Are you ready, sir?”

“Ay; prithee, sing.”

Cesario started playing an introduction, and after a few bars, the fool began his song.

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand, thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

Over the course of the song, Orsino’s feet took him wandering. He stopped once more behind Cesario, hand resting on his shoulder. The duke’s eyes were afire as he stared at his man. Cesario looked at his hands on the keys, showing no sign he was aware of the duke’s closeness.

The fool watched the duke closely, this man who so strongly courted the Lady Olivia.

For a few moments, after the song ended, the duke and his man remained unmoving. The duke staring, Cesario avoiding.

It was the duke who shook himself first and stepped away. He reached into his purse for coins and offered them to the fool. “There’s for thy pains.”

The fool took the coins with a bow. “No pains, sir: I take pleasure in singing, sir.”

“I’ll pay thy pleasure then,” the duke replied with a grin.

Still watching the duke and Cesario — who leaned toward the duke while still looking away from him — the fool shook his head. “Truly, sir, and pleasure will be paid, one time or another.”

The duke gave the fool leave to depart. The fool shook his head again. “Now, the melancholy god protect thee,” he said slowly, “and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal.” He shouldered his bag and turned toward the door. “I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be every thing and their intent every where; for that’s it that always makes a good voyage of nothing. Farewell.”

Everyone stared after the fool a moment, confused. Then the duke put a hand on Cesario’s shoulder again, saying, “Let all the rest give place.”

Cesario noodled a bit on the piano, using the playing as an excuse to continue avoiding the duke.

When the others had left, the duke took Cesario’s hand in his, and said softly, “Once more, Cesario, get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty. Tell her, my love, more noble than the world, prizes not quantity of dirty lands. The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her, tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune. But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems that nature pranks her in attracts my soul.”

Cesario pulled his hand away, closed the lid of the keyboard, and moved to the windows framing the setting sun. “But if she cannot love you, sir?”

“I cannot be so answer’d.”

“Sooth, but you must.” Words began tumbling out of Cesario’s lips like water over rocks in a stream. “Say that some lady, as perhaps there is, hath for your love a great a pang of heart as you have for Olivia. You cannot love her. You tell her so. Must she not then be answer’d?”

Cesario thought that this might get through to Orsino. Had not the duke, just the night before, spoken of how much greater was the love women held for men? But the fool had been right to name the duke of opal nature, changeable as the day’s light. The duke stalked toward Cesario, all but growling in his outrage. “There is no woman’s sides can bide the beating of so strong a passion as love doth give my heart. No woman’s heart so big, to hold so much. They lack retention.”

Cesario’s hands fisted at his sides. Since he had faced down himself at the pond, Cesario had thought much, fought much. And came to acceptance — he was Cesario. The dead would walk the earth before he would again answer to the name ‘Viola.’

If he was not a woman now, had he ever been a woman? Or had Viola been the mask all along? What right had he to offense, what claim to knowledge had he the right to make?

“Alas,” the duke continued, hissing in Cesario’s ear, “their love may be call’d appetite. But mine is all as hungry as the sea, and can digest as much: make no compare between that love a woman can bear me and that I owe Olivia.”

It was too much. Right, reason, and good sense fled. Cesario spun around to find himself face-to-face with Orsino, a bare whisper separating their lips. Again.

Cesario stepped back, glaring. “Ay, but I know–”

“What dost thou know?” the duke mocked, stepping forward to crowd Cesario again.

“Too well what love women to men may owe!” he shoved the duke then, shoved him back and all but ran for the door.

“Cesario!” the duke called, not angry but pained. And the young man, confused man, stopped. For a long moment, neither said anything. “Cesario?”

Cesario turned back, slowly this time. The duke held a hand to him, Cesario took one hesitant step forward. He licked his lips and decided to forget all his questions and confusion and just… speak.

“In faith,” he said, “they are as true of heart as we.” He paused, but the duke said nothing, just waited. Cesario took another step. “My father had a daughter loved a man, as it might be, if I were a woman,” That damnable ‘if,’ truth and lie in one and Cesario himself knew not which. “If I were a woman, I should your lordship.”

The duke smiled slightly, an almost hopeful expression teasing the edges of his face. “And what’s her history?”

Another step, Cesario took the duke’s hand but turned away from his face, staring again out the windows. “A blank, my lord. She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, feed on her damask cheek.” Cesario had no other choice. For Orsino to love Viola would be as a fairytale — nothing that had anyplace in the real world. But for him to love Cesario… even a young man in the pangs of first love knew better than to dream. “She pined in thought, and with a green and yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?”

Some bitterness leaked into his voice, but he did not resist when the duke squeezed his hand and moved to stand close behind him. “We men may say more, swear more: but indeed our shows are more than will. For still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.”

The duke’s eyes were bright, and he was almost praying as he asked, “But died thy sister of her love, my boy?”

Cesario shook his head with a sharp laugh. “I am all the daughters of my father’s house,” he replied. Then, hurriedly, “And all the brothers too. And yet I know not.”

He turned to face the duke again, this time taking care to leave space between them. “Sir, shall I to this lady?”

The duke hid a wince by looking down to pull a ring off his fingers. “Ay, that’s the theme. To her in haste; give her this jewel.” He paused, gazing deep into Cesario’s eyes. “My love can give no place, bide no denial.”

And any watching in that moment might be forgiven for wondering just whom his words were meant for.


We’ll leave Cesario and his duke here. Cesario, at least, has come to know himself. Next week we’ll return to Lefeng & family with seasons 2 of Planting Life in a Dying City. Grandparent-to-be Tsouchm has some challenges ahead of em.

After a lifetime as a loner with no family, Tsouchm must now step up to become a parent and grandparent to five orphans and a spouse to the love ey thought far beyond eir reach. Lefeng’s determination took them this far. Can Tsouchm find it in emself to step forward and help not only eir new family, but the community of familyless ey is leaving behind?

If you missed it (or just want a re-read) you can find Season 1 here.

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)
What You Will (S1, E11)

Continue to:
Webserial Catalog
Alexi’s Tale — A Transgender Fairytale
How NOT to Save the World

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.