What You Will (S1, E2) – A Queer-er Shakespeare

Season notes: violence, sexism

The surviving sailors gathered together driftwood and broken timbers from the ship and built a large fire. They sat around it all together, with no concern for rank or privilege. Fire and closeness slowly brought warmth back into sea-chilled limbs.

Warmth brought thought beyond the needs of the moment, and Viola finally turned to the future. “Know’st thou this country?” she asked the huddled seamen.

It was the captain who responded, seeming to take strength from a question he had answers to. “Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born not three hours’ travel from this very place,” and he gestured to the southwest, along the coast and away from the imposing cliffs that guarded this section of the beach.

Ilyria, the captain had named this country, but though the name seemed familiar, Viola could not put her hands on it. “Who governs here?”

“A noble duke, in nature as in name.”

Which told her all of nothing. “What is the name?” Viola demanded.

“Orsino,” the captain replied, strangely short and sparing of words he was, when speaking of the lord. He had some history with his lordship that the good captain thought, perhaps, best buried and forgotten.

But to Viola, the name was a relief, for it was as familiar — more familiar — than the name of the land he ruled, and she exclaimed. “Orsino! I have heard my father name him: He was a bachelor then.” Bachelor enough and long enough to be noted by those who had ties there. For if he would not take a wife and have an heir, the land might be disrupted eir long.

The captain nodded and looked away to not meet her gaze, words now falling from him like water tripping over rocks in a stream. “And so is now, or was so very late; for but a month ago I went from hence, and then ’twas fresh in murmur — as, you know, what great ones do the less will prattle of — that he did seek the love of fair Olivia.”

“What’s she?”

The sailors, seeing the captain and their passenger occupied, turned to their own discussions. The captain took note and was relieved. For nothing so worries a captain as a subdued and quiet crew.

Giving his full attention to Viola then, he explained, “The countess is a virtuous maid, the daughter of a count that died some twelvemonth past, then leaving her in the protection of his son, her brother, who shortly also died. For love of him, they say, she hath abjured the company and sight of men.”

The captain was wise in the ways of people, as one must be to command a crew through gale and wrack some twenty years or more. So he was not surprised to see tears once again in Viola’s eyes and recognition in her face. Her state and the countess’ were in truth much alike.

“O that I served that lady,” Viola said, “and might not be delivered to the world, till I knew in full what my estate is!”

“That were hard to compass,” the captain said with a shake of his head, “because she will admit no kind of suit.”

Viola started at that — no kind of suit, not even…

“No, not the duke’s.” The captain answered her unvoiced question.

The captain’s quick understanding in that moment joined with his honesty and courtesy, and Viola came to a decision. “There is a fair behavior in thee, captain; and though that nature with a beauteous wall does oft close in pollution, yet of thee I will believe thou hast a mind that suits with this thy fair and outward character.”

She had to do something, Viola knew. No matter how she wished to fall into grief like the countess, she was a young woman, unmarried and alone, in a foreign country. She had an idea — a dangerous, glorious, heart-shaking idea — she leaned in towards the captain and spoke softly, sure that the wash of sea and cries of gulls would hide her voice from the nearby sailors. “I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, conceal me what I am, and be my aid for such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent.” A disguise she was well familiar with, for often had she and her brother tricked their tutors and parents so. “I’ll serve this duke.”

The captain, of course, was shocked, shook his head in immediate rejection, but Viola pushed on. “Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him: it may be worth thy pains; for I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music. That will allow me very worth his service.” This stopped the captain, caught hold in his mind. For all men have their weaknesses. Viola sought to arouse his ambition, to have the count favor him for presenting a new addition to the count’s court. But it was a far different weakness she touched on. A weakness, a dream perhaps, that the captain would share with no one alive and very few among the dead.

Viola saw the captain’s reluctant agreement, if not the reason for it. She looked out over the sea, reminding herself of the disaster that could await even the most well-provisioned voyages. “What else may hap to time I will commit;” she nodded to herself, then looked back to the captain, “Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.”

Taking a deep breath and sending a prayer winging to the heavens, he committed himself. “Be you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be:” he swore. “When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.”

They gazed at each other a moment, each in their own way casting a coin in the air and trusting to fate and the other that it would land aright.

“I thank thee,” Viola said, “lead me on.

The captain, of course, led her nowhere at that moment. He waited until he was sure all were dry and had eaten what food they could find. Then the group gathered together, carrying what goods they could, and began the long walk around the cliffs to a road where they might flag down aid. From there to the captain’s hometown to prepare her disguise, and finally…

Return to:
What You Will (S1, E1)

Continue to:
What You Will (S1, E3)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.