What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E7)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment

Who is to say what Cesario’s thoughts were as he walked down the drive and away from the countess’ manor? One can speculate, of course. Perhaps he was reflecting on his conversation with the countess or what further entreaties he might make on his lord to give up this futile ‘courtship’.

Whatever his thoughts were, they were disrupted by the sudden appearance of Sir Toby blocking his path.

Many misunderstand Sir Toby, thinking him a comical fellow. Which, indeed, he can be in his cups. But like many, Sir Toby is not a drunkard for love of drinks. Sir Toby is a drunkard for love of what drink gives him — forgetfulness. There is another side to Sir Toby, one seen rarely these days. He is not a nice man, Sir Toby. Few who survive what he has may be termed ‘nice’. Yet he can be, when he chooses, a very impressive man.

It was a different Sir Toby than we have seen thus far who confronted young Cesario on that tree-lined drive. Anyone who has seen that Sir Toby would understand immediately why Cesario — who on their first meeting had confronted the man and demanded to be allowed to speak with the countess — immediately stopped and glanced around for some refuge.

“Gentleman, God save thee.” Sir Toby’s greeting was more harsh than warm, but it met the forms, and Cesario felt constrained to reply.

“And you, sir.”

“That defence thou hast,” Sir Toby began, stepped forward to loom over Cesario, “betake thee to’t: of what nature the wrongs are thou hast done him, I know not. But thy intercepter, full of despite, bloody as the hunter, attends thee at the orchard-end.” When Cesario only stood staring at him, Sir Toby stepped forward again, forcing the youth back. “Dismount thy tuck,” Sir Toby directed, and Cesario scrambled to unsheath his sword lest delay be taken for something else. “Be yare in thy preparation, for thy assailant is quick, skilful and deadly.” With each sentence, Sir Toby forced Cesario back another step.

“You mistake, sir,” Cesario said, trying to remember the proper grip Count Orsino’s fencing master had drilled into him. “I am sure no man hath any quarrel to me: my remembrance is very free and clear from any image of offence done to any man.”

“You’ll find it otherwise, I assure you,” Sir Toby intoned. “Therefore, if you hold your life at any price, betake you to your guard; for your opposite hath in him what youth, strength, skill and wrath can furnish man withal.”

“I pray you, sir, what is he?” Cesario demanded, sure that only some great terror would have sent this man as his second.

“He is a knight, dubbed with unhatched rapier and on carpet consideration; but he is a devil in private brawl. Souls and bodies hath he divorced three.” Cesario did not squeak. He was quite sure of it. He would not swear that he did not whimper. Ignoring him, Sir Toby continued, “His incensement at this moment is so implacable, that satisfaction can be none but by pangs of death and sepulchre. Hob, nob, is his word; give’t or take’t.”

A few moments ago, Cesario had hoped to have many a day before he next needed to speak with the countess. He suddenly rethought that desire. “I will return again into the house and desire some conduct of the lady,” he said, “I am no fighter. I have heard of some kind of men that put quarrels purposely on others, to taste their valour: belike this is a man of that quirk.”

“Sir, no,” Sir Toby grabbed his arm, halting him. “His indignation derives itself out of a very competent injury: therefore, get you on and give him his desire. Back you shall not to the house, unless,” with a sudden motion, Sir Toby dropped Cesario’s arm, lept back, and drew his own sword. “You undertake that with me which with as much safety you might answer him.” Horrified, Cesario stumbled back, tripping over his feet and shaking his head. Sir Toby grinned maliciously. “On then,” he demanded, gesturing into the orchard beside the drive. “Or strip your sword stark naked; for meddle you must, that’s certain, or forswear to wear iron about you.”

Cesario knew nothing of this stranger who was so determined to quarrel with him. He knew well he had no desire to cross swords with Sir Toby in this mood. Seeing no other options, he began to tramp across the orchard as Sir Toby directed.

After a dozen paces, Sir Toby sheathed his sword to Cesario’s great relief. His relief faded when Sir Toby threw an arm across his shoulders. It might have seemed a comradely gesture had it not been so clear he was prepared to haul Cesario bodily at the fainted hesitation. Worse to Cesario’s mind, he had some things to hide which made him leery of close contact with others. He began to walk faster, trying to get a few paces ahead of his interloper. “This is as uncivil as strange,” he said as Sir Toby matched him pace for pace. “I beseech you, do me this courteous office, as to know of the knight what my offense to him is. It is something of my negligence, nothing of my purpose.”

As he finished speaking, they rounded a tree and nearly walked into Fabian, who had been waiting for them.

“I will do so.” Sir Toby said, “Signior Fabian, stay you by this gentleman till my return.”

Sir Toby strode across to the orchard to wear a tall, thin figure could be seen.

Cesario considered trying to run, but it seemed to him that Fabian was quite prepared to chase him down.

Instead, Cesario asked, “Pray you, sir, do you know of this matter?”

“I know the knight is incensed against you,” Fabian replied with a shrug, “even to a mortal arbitrement; but nothing of the circumstance more.”

“I beseech you, what manner of man is he?”

“He is, indeed, sir, the most skilful, bloody and fatal opposite that you could possibly have found in any part of Illyria. Will you walk towards him?”

Cesario shook his head, looking around for some escape.

“I will make your peace with him if I can,” Fabian offered.

After a moment, Cesario nodded. “I shall be much bound to you for’t: I am one that had rather go with sir priest than sir knight. I care not who knows so much of my mettle.”

As Fabian guided Cesario toward their make-shift lists, Sir Toby was… encouraging Sir Andrew.

“Why, man, he’s a very devil; I have not seen such a firago. I had a pass with him, rapier, scabbard and all, and he gives me the stuck in with such a mortal motion, that it is inevitable; and on the answer, he pays you as surely as your feet hit the ground they step on. They say,” here Sir Toby dropped his voice as if to prevent eavesdroppers, though there was no one else to be seen, “he has been fencer to the Shah of Persia!”

Paling, Sir Andrew started backing away. “Pox on’t, I’ll not meddle with him.”

“Ay, but he will not now be pacified: Fabian can scarce hold him yonder.”

And indeed, they could see Fabian arguing with Cesario as they crossed the orchard.

“Plague on’t, an I thought he had been valiant and so cunning in fence, I’ld have seen him damned ere I’ld have challenged him.” Sir Andrew turned to Sir Toby with a sudden thought, ‘Let him let the matter slip, and I’ll give him my horse, grey Capilet.”

“I’ll make the motion,” Sir Toby said, “stand here, make a good show on’t. This shall end without the perdition of souls.”

He signaled Fabian to come trade places with him, muttering to himself, “Marry, I’ll ride your horse as well as I ride you.”

Sir Toby and Fabian between them alternately soothed and threatened until the two were finally facing each other with swords drawn.

Unwilling to stand and wait for the attack, Cesario screwed up his courage and took a wild swing. As he did so, a strange voice cried from the road–

“Put up your sword!”

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