BACKGROUND LECTURE ON TWELFTH NIGHT
The following information is based upon my taped lecture on this play. Although this text version is not the same as the taped lecture, it does contain the same information. All references are based on the Signet paperback edition which you should consult in conjunction with this lecture.
probably written in 1601 and first performed in January of 1602. We know this because the play is mentioned
that year in the diary of a young man training to become a lawyer at the Inns
of Court in
title of the play is unusual. It refers
to the twelve days of Christmas, which you may recall from the old song,
"On the Twelfth Day of Christmas." In earlier days the celebration
and exchange of gifts which we associate with the 25th of December
were actually conducted during the 12 days which followed that date,
culminating with what is called Epiphany.
For some reason this twelfth day was associated, and continues to be,
with comic misrule, upset and especially confusion over gender. In this country many people observe a
seasonal tradition by taking their family to see "The Nutcracker"
ballet or The Christmas Carol, Dickens' story turned into a stage
play. More recent cultural expressions
may be the film How the Grinch Stole Christmas
or television's A Charlie Brown Christmas. Well, in the
is entirely possible that Shakespeare was commissioned to write the play for a
group of law students to perform at their Twelfth Night celebration, later
followed by performances at his public theater, The Globe. As such, the original audience consisted of
young sophisticated gentlemen who would have been knowledgeable about the
Twelfth Night is one of the few plays Shakespeare wrote which has a secondary or sub-title: "What You Will." Even here Shakespeare is having a little fun. At one level this title is just a throw-away line, much like the titles of Much Ado About Nothing or As You Like It, the Elizabethan equivalent of "Whatever" or "No big deal!" However, in his plays and poems Shakespeare often used the word "will" to refer to sexual desire. So the title "What You Will" also means "Whatever sexual desire you choose to pursue." Throughout the play there are at least three places where characters consciously give themselves permission to chase some inappropriate sexual fantasy which will end up making them appear foolish. I'll point these out as we go through the play.
The source of Twelfth Night has been pretty well identified. The immediate source is a book by a man named Barnaby Ridge titled Ridge: His Farewell to the Military Profession written about 20 years earlier. Ridge wrote a collection of stories he had picked up from many sources and to which he added his own inventions. One of Ridge's stories is about a young woman who disguises herself as a young man and goes to work for a handsome young lord with whom she promptly falls in love. The young lord orders his new employee to go off and win the love of a beautiful woman that he desires. The heroine in disguise tries her best, but the beautiful woman falls in love with her disguise. Comic confusion results. Ridge had stolen this story line from an Italian play written earlier, but in reality the ideas here go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who often wrote about girls who used disguise to get around the restrictions of their own societies. The ancients also had lots of fun with characters who looked alike; identical twins were special favorites. One of the Roman playwrights that Shakespeare had read in school, Plautus, had written a famous comedy about a set of twins; Shakespeare had used it as the basis for his first comedy, Comedy of Errors. So this sophisticated comedy of Twelfth Night is actually based on very old ideas.
There are four major themes which are explored in this play. All the themes have to do with love. In fact no other play by Shakespeare shows so many different kinds of love or reactions to love. The first theme is everybody who loves faces obstacles to overcome in order to achieve their heart's desire. Falling love in a Shakespearean comedy is never easy. You really have to work hard to win. The second theme is that love takes many forms, and these coexist uneasily. There is self-love, misguided love, love which was gender inappropriate, or what in politically correct terms we would say was "deemed inappropriate by a dominant, sexually repressive society." That just means that in this play women fall in love with women and men with men without ever having a chance for that love to be requited or returned. The third theme is that love makes the unworthy appear foolish while correcting the worthy who are simply misguided. Love is the mechanism by which we are shown people acting ridiculously. Those who deserve our scorn appear as fools; those who have something going for them are shown the errors of their ways through love and finally earn our respect as wise. The fourth and final theme is that love is an infection we willingly seek -- in the words of one of the characters in this play, a form of "divine madness." Despite the possibility of appearing foolish we give ourselves permission to experience it -- the same idea I was getting at in my earlier discussion of the sub-title of the play, "What You Will."
The plot of the play combines three different story lines. There is the love triangle of the noble characters: Viola, a clever young woman who is forced to disguise herself as a young man; Orsino, the duke who employs Viola in disguise and with whom she falls in love; Olivia, the beautiful countess Orsino desires and who in turn falls in love with Viola. The second story deals with the low-life characters and their rough humor: Sir Toby Belch, whose name tells you everything you need to know about his character; Belch's favorite pigeon, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, from whom he steals and with whom he carries out an elaborate practical joke on Malvolio, the business manager of Olivia's estate. Malvolio is a character with special political significance for Shakespeare's audience. The third story line is not as prominent as the other two but is absolutely essential for the resolution of the play. It involves Sebastian, Viola's twin brother whom she believes has been drowned, and Antonio, a ship captain who rescues him, falls in love with him and pursues him, even at peril of his own life. These story lines intersect at different times and in different ways with different kinds of comic effects -- from the slap stick to the romantic. Social distinctions are the basis for much of the humor of the play.
I've made the point that gender disguise is what distinguishes this play from some of the other comedies and that the idea goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. This device is found in Shakespeare's comedies of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. The device allows a heroine to exercise greater freedom of action. Young gentlewomen were under great social constraint. They were not allowed to go in public without an escort. They were forbidden to interact with men without a chaperone present. They were not supposed to be involved in choosing their own mates. Once they put on pants their opportunities expanded and the dramatic possibilities increased in the play. In Merchant of Venice a young woman dons the disguise and becomes a judge in a capital case. In Two Gentlemen of Verona a young woman plays a man and watches as her boyfriend tries to betray her with another woman. In As You Like It a bright girl fools even the man who is in love with her and trains him in how she wants him to behave toward her when they are reunited as man and woman. In Twelfth Night we see how a young woman, who is on her own, uses disguise to protect herself in a hostile world. The device of gender camouflage also provides a double vision. As women these pretenders see the world in terms of the traditional conflict between the sexes; as men they are able to inject a subversive note into the smug male world view. In this play, for example Viola is able to educate the man she loves as to the depth of passion and nobility of love women can experience for men, something he never suspected before. Finally Shakespeare could use disguise as a way of introducing comic effects and exposing male hypocrisy to his largely male audience. Women attended the plays, but most of the audience appears to have been men. Nevertheless, no one comes away from a Shakespearean comedy feeling that men are naturally superior to women. If anything Shakespeare's comic heroines seem to be the intellectual superiors of the men they eventually marry, as if they had taken pity on some poor fool they had just tricked.
The reputation of this play has always been very high. It is one of Shakespeare's most beloved works, and many people consider it the best of all the comedies. The humor is sharp, the satire still biting and many of the jokes just as funny as they were 400 years ago. As we go through the play scene by scene I'll point out some of the remarkable achievements Shakespeare realizes in this timeless comedy. Let's look at the play itself now.
Act I, Scene 1
begin the play with the character of Orsino, who is called variously
"count" or the "duke" throughout the play. Often Shakespeare was not consistent in
details such as this. It is sufficient
that we know Orsino is the ruler of the country of
For someone who is supposed to be the ultimate lover, Orsino spends a lot of time describing how love makes him feel. He tells us what music best suits his mood, where one can feel love most acutely, the philosophical nature of loving and existence. The only thing he doesn't spend much time on is the person he supposed to be in love with. He is a connoisseur of love's excesses, a man in love with the idea of love. In the opening lines he listens to love music and in effect wishes that he could overdose on music to deaden the pain he feels from love. Orsino here is copping an attitude. He doesn't want to deaden the feeling; if anything he wants to increase it.
The play begins with a song and will end with one, and in between there is plenty of music. This is in fact one of Shakespeare's most musical plays, and much of the music for the play was recorded in the first book of popular music with musical notations printed right around the time the play was written. So we have the original music for many of the songs.
At lines 4 -- 8 Orsino interacts with the music his own musicians are playing. (Orsino is fortunate to have his own musical group so that when he hears a passage he likes, he can have them play it over and over; I still can't manage that with my compact disc player.)
That strain again! It had a dying fall;
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough, no more!
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
The musical passage reminds Orsino of the smell of violets. Everything about this guy's experience of love suggests that he is on sensory overload. The images are ripe and suggest emotional excess. The feelings change quickly too: after hearing it twice he's tired of it -- it's lost its sweetness.
The next passage, line 9 -- 15, was cited by a great Shakespearean scholar at UC Berkeley, as one of the most difficult in all of the plays to understand fully. Stephen Booth has devoted years of his life to the study of this one play, calling it the most perfect creation of the human mind and spirit. Despite its challenging construction, you get the general sense of its meaning:
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity,
Receivest as the sea. Nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch so'er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
Ironically the spirit of love is able to accept so much and then take even more, yet at the same time it dashes our hopes and turns what is exquisite into something cheap. The last two lines are especially interesting. Orsino here seems to say that love ("fancy") is the ultimate creation of our imaginations ("high fantastical").
At line 16 one of his men asks Orsino why he mopes around the house listening to this depressing music. Why doesn't he go out hunting for deer? This gives Orsino the chance to introduce a serious pun: in those days another name for a stag was "hart," so Orsino can say at line 19 he does hunt the hart, "the noblest that I have." Elizabethans believed that infection was spread through the air by impure chemical substances, but for Orsino his loved one's beauty is so great and divine that she "purged the air of pestilence" [line 21]. (Notice here is the first time he has mentioned the name of his great love, Olivia, just in passing.) He then shifts back to the pun on "hart/heart" and explains when he first saw her, he became a hart and his desires became "the cruel and fell hounds" that tore him to pieces. This last part, as your notes tell you, is a reference to the mythical figure of Actaeon, a mighty hunter, who is supposed to have peeked at the goddess Diana while she bathed. Since she was the goddess of chastity, she wasn't thrilled at being spied on, so she turned Actaeon into a stag and he was hunted down and torn to pieces by his own hunting dogs. There is in the story of Actaeon an object lesson for us all. What Shakespeare is doing here is revealing Orsino's knowledge as an educated gentleman (and Shakespeare's own learning about which he was somewhat sensitive.) The choice of this myth also emphasizes the idea of physically suffering for love.
At this point another servant, appropriately called Valentine, returns with word that Olivia, because her brother has just died, has declared that she will locked herself away from all contact with the outside world for seven years to honor his memory. What Shakespeare is showing here is that both Orsino in his pursuit of love and Olivia in her pursuit of grief are guilty of excess and therefore appear foolish. For example, when Orsino learns of Olivia's voluntary retreat from the world, he is not discouraged about getting a date for Friday night. He is challenged and energized at line 34 in his quest to win the love of this woman who makes it so difficult:
O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love when the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart,
Those sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled,
Her sweet perfections, with one self king.
I have already suggested that Orsino seems much more interested in experiencing the agonies of love than in actually loving a specific woman, whom he names just once. Here we see further evidence that he may not love the actual Olivia. Normally people in love empathize with the emotions of their loved one, but rather than feeling Olivia's grief at the loss of her brother, Orsino's revels in what it shows about her emotional capacity. In the passage above, the "rich golden shaft" refers to Cupid's arrow. The Elizabethans believed that love was governed by the liver, in addition to the heart and mind. Orsino plans to become the sole monarch of all her internal organs and her affections, but it will take a long time. If you think about it, this is an ideal situation for Orsino: he will win Olivia's love, but he'll get to suffer for years before he succeeds. He will make no effort to try to see Olivia until the final scene of the play, but in the interim he will go on and on about love. It is as if he does not require the flesh and blood woman to be present to feel the full emotional impact. You see why I say that he's in love with love.
Olivia is equally excessive in her emotions. Today locking yourself away from the world for seven years because your brother died might get you on the Doctor Phil's show; in Shakespeare's time it was perverse. The average life expectancy was only about 36 years. Olivia is proposing to throw away much of her adult life in the commemoration of death. It is a gesture that is simply self-destructive, and we are not surprised when Olivia begins to have second thoughts about it. Both Olivia and Orsino will learn the folly of their choices through their experience in love and will emerge more admirable because of it.
It is appropriate that Orsino ends the scene with a rhymed couplet at line 41: "Away before me to sweet beds of flow'rs;/ Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bow'rs." You probably know that Shakespeare often signaled the end of a scene by using two lines that rhymed. It was important on his stage, since there were no curtains or lights to let the audience know that the next characters they saw were in a different place or time, to have a device to indicate change. The images presented are Orsino at his best: having just decided to pursue Olivia's love despite the obstacles, he does not rush off to sing beneath her window or to press his love poems into her hands. No, he rushes off to listen to more sad music while smelling flowers. He's already determined the best places to feel the pain of love.
Act I, scene 2
this scene we are introduced to Viola, the heroine of the play. She has just washed up on the shores of
Viola and Olivia have both lost their brothers and are filled with grieving. However, Olivia proposes to lock herself away from the world for seven years to allow the grieving process plenty of time to take place, while Viola does not have that luxury. As a young, unescorted woman in a foreign land, she has to take action to protect herself from danger. She does not have the time to engage in the sentimental excess that both Olivia and Orsino do. She has to take care of business.
is very workmanlike throughout the play in moving the story along. Here in the opening lines we are told the
Shakespeare moves quickly to cover the details we already know. When Viola learns about Orsino, her first response, at line 28, is, "Orsino! I have heard my father name him./ He was a bachelor then." I don't want to suggest that Viola is a mercenary gold-digger, but it wouldn't surprise me if back home she had a chart on the wall of her bedroom showing the most eligible bachelors in the Mediterranean area. The Captain tells her about Olivia's decision, and Viola reacts sympathetically at line 41:
O that I served that lady,
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,
What my estate is.
Viola's "estate" is that she is the daughter of a nobleman, well-educated and attractive. But as a stranger in a strange land, without the protection of a loving, extended family, she is responsible for protecting herself physically, psychologically and sexually. No wonder she comes up with the idea, which heroines in Shakespeare's comedies so often do, of disguising herself as a man.
At around line 51 Viola tells the Captain she will trust him with her secret because he has a "fair and outward character" (the appearance of someone trustworthy). At line 56 she says that she will pretend to be a "eunuch," and at line 62 the Captain confirms the idea of Viola in drag being a castrated male. For a long time scholars tried to explain away the idea of Viola playing the part of a man incapable of sexual action. However, often Shakespeare would often start out with one idea in mind, then change directions and forget to go back and change the text. He probably began with the idea of making Viola a castrated teenaged boy (who were not that uncommon in the Renaissance) and then changed his mind to develop the love interest between Viola and Olivia. This line merely represents an option not taken.
Act I, Scene 3
In the first two scenes we have seen several different reactions to the death of Olivia's brother. What is the reaction of Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch? What does Toby seem most interested in? [Act I, scene 3, lines 1 --43]
Olivia's excessive grieving seems to turn Orsino on; Viola empathizes with Olivia's loss but realizes that elaborate grief is not an option for her. Here Sir Toby Belch, an immediate family member, resents Olivia's exaggerated behavior: "What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus? I'm sure care's an enemy to life" [1 -- 3]. With Toby whatever puts a crimp in the partying is bad; he values "good life" above all else. Throughout the play Toby, who is supposed to be a nobleman although he rarely acts like it, is variously referred to as Olivia's "uncle" or "cousin." The Elizabethans used the term "cousin" to refer to any member of one's extended family beyond your parents or siblings. Whatever you call him it's clear that Belch is a mooch or sponge. He probably showed up for Olivia's father's funeral and has simply not gone home. Olivia's just too nice to ask him to leave, and he will stay there as long as he can. You may have had relatives like this; maybe they're still with you. Belch's name really describes his character.
In addition to being an excessive consumer of food and drink, he is a con man, a swindler. This is not immediately apparent but becomes clear as the scene unfolds. Maria mentions "Sir Andrew Aguecheek," Toby's victim, and Belch's interest in Andrew becomes clear at line 22 when we learn Aguecheek has three thousand ducats a year -- the annual revenue of his estate, a large fortune in those times. Belch plans to trick Andrew out of as much of that fortune as he can get. As we see he does this by promising to fix Andrew up with the beautiful and wealthy Olivia.
Maria is Olivia's gentle waiting woman. She is genteel, can read and write and is considered cultured enough to serve as a companion for Olivia. However, she is an employee. (Notice that she refers to Olivia as "my lady" at lines 5 and 15, a reminder that she is a social inferior to Olivia.) She probably has no money herself and is interested in Belch as a possible husband, as we'll see. There is an attraction between them as well, because they both share a sense of rough humor when it comes to playing practical jokes.
The first three scenes in this play all deal with Olivia's grief, but they each introduce a different story line. Eventually the stories will interconnect, and often in modern productions the scenes are intermixed to give a variety to the opening of the play while preparing us for their coming together. We'll see this intermingling especially in the film version of the play, directed by the famed Shakespearean filmmaker Trevor Nunn. The language in the first two scenes is in verse; this scene is in prose. Toby may have a "sir" in front of his name, but he is still of a lower social class than Orsino or even Viola. In addition the humor of this scene makes prose more appropriate,
Maria is concerned throughout this scene about the prospect of Toby being asked to leave Olivia's house, so she tries to get him to behave. Toby, as he is through much of the play, is already half drunk. She warns him about coming in late at night and making a lot of noise. Like many drunks, Toby is belligerent when his behavior is called in question. At line 5 Maria warns him that "Your cousin, my lady, takes great/ exception to your late hours." Toby shoots back, "Why, let her except before excepted," which your notes tell you is a legal term. It really doesn't make any literal sense here; it's just a way of Toby saying, "So what?" Maria persists at line 8, "Ay, but you must confine yourself within the/ modest limits of order." In other words, you've got to obey the rules of polite society within this household. Toby deliberately misconstrues this warning into a play on words at line 10: "Confine? I'll confine [dress] myself no finer than I am./ These clothes are good enough to drink in, and so/ be these boots too. And [if] they be not, let them hang/ themselves in their own straps." It's a long way to go to get a lame joke about bootstraps, but that's the way Toby's mind works. Maria presses on and adds to the charges against Belch the accusation that Olivia is upset because her uncle has brought in "a foolish/ knight….to be her wooer" [line 16] Here's where we begin to see how the confidence game works.
Andrew Aguecheek (his name comes from the fact that his face is probably very
pale, as if he had a fever or "ague") is a blithering idiot. Now Toby is not going to admit right away
that Andrew is a hapless victim, so he tries to convince Maria that he is a
suitable prospect for his niece.
However, all he can come up with at first is, at line 20, "He's as
tall a man as any's in
Maria knows Andrew's limitations, and so she takes Belch's phrase "gifts of nature," and turns it into an insult at line 29. (A mental defective was sometimes called a "natural.") "He hath indeed all, most natural." She now adds a new accusation: that Andrew quarrels a lot. Quarreling was dangerous for a gentleman, because it could mean that he would be forced to fight frequent duels to defend his honor. Fortunately, says Maria sarcastically, Andrew is also a coward, so he provokes duels but avoids fighting them. This is, of course, a devastating charge against a gentleman's honor, and it prepares us for an elaborate practical joke later in the play.
Toby's next defense is to angrily deny the charge: "By this hand, they are scoundrels and substractors/ that say so of him. Who are they?" Maria's response at line 36 brings the discussion back to her original point about Toby's substance abuse: "They that add, moreover, that he's drunk nightly in/ your company." This refers to another strategy that Belch uses to control Aguecheek; he keeps him drunk most of the times, with Andrew picking up the bar tab. At line 38 Toby turns this accusation into a positive accomplishment; if he and Andrew are drunk nightly, it's because they drink "healths," or toasts, to Olivia.
I'll drink to her as long as there is passage in my throat and drink in
my niece till his brains turn o' th' toe like a parish top [an obscure
reference to some activity that involved a lot of spinning].
In Toby's world it is a point of honor to be drunk all the time, and everyone should join him! As Andrew himself enters at line 42, Toby urges Maria to keep a straight face ("Castiliano vulgo"). He also calls her "wench" as a sign of endearment.
In the next section ask yourself if Andrew meets the expectations of his build-up by Toby Belch. If not, in what ways does he fail? [I, 3, lines 44 -- 138]
This is one of my favorite passages in all of the plays, and like the very thorough German professor I will now take you through this extraordinary passage so you will get all the inside jokes and will know when to laugh. In person Andrew turns out to be a complete fool. but lovable in a way. He's one of those people who walk through life and miss about 90% of what's going on around them. After greeting Sir Toby he sees Maria. Now he's not been introduced to her, but as a gentleman he is supposed to be charming and affable to members of the opposite sex, so he greets her at line 46 with a term of endearment, "Bless you, fair shrew." Unfortunately he picks the wrong rodent. A shrew is a vile-tempered, biting little scavenger, and so this attempt at savior-faire falls flat. Toby is worried that Andrew is not good at talking with girls, the one thing a gentleman was expected to excel at, so he urges Andrew to use this opportunity to practice flirtations on Maria. After all, she is cultured and quick-witted and will give Andrew some idea how to do it. So at line 48 he urges Andrew to "accost" or strike up a conversation with her. Poor Andrew doesn't know what "accost" means (so much for his vaunted ability with languages) and asks, "What's that?" Toby thinks he's referring to Maria and tells him, "My niece's chambermaid." Andrew makes the natural assumption that "Accost" is Maria's name: "Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance." Maria tries to clear up the embarrassment by telling Andrew her name is Mary, but that just compounds the problem as Andrew greets her again at line 54: "Good Mistress Mary Accost." It falls to Toby to explain the misunderstanding at line 55: "You mistake, knight. 'Accost' is front her," [Andrew has no idea what that means] "board her," [as if she were an enemy ship] "woo her," [Andrew remains clueless] "assail her." [He finally understands.]
Andrew realizes he has made an embarrassing blunder and quickly tries to come up with an excuse at line 56: "By my troth, I would not undertake her in/ this company. Is that the meaning of 'accost?'" He couldn't flirt with Maria in front of Sir Toby, so that's why he didn't react to the invitation. Besides, he didn't know the meaning of that tough two-syllable word, "accost"! When Maria starts to leave, Toby challenges Andrew to act decisively at line 60: "And [if] thou let part so, Sir Andrew, wouldst thou/ mightst never draw sword again." If you allow Maria to walk away without impressing her with your wit and gentlemanly qualities, you don't deserve to wear a sword. Carrying a sword was the ancient hallmark of a gentleman, who was given an official coat of arms to authorize his right to do so. Andrew risks losing his honor as a courtly gentleman unless he can perform. Unfortunately quick thinking is not Andrew's strong point, so to stop Maria's departure all he can think to say is what Toby just said, so at line 58 we get this strange threat: "And [if] you part so, mistress, I would I might/ never draw sword again!" Not only is this absolutely ridiculous (Why should Maria care if Andrew ever drew his sword again?), Andrew is so proud of himself for having "thought" of it, he crows, "Fair lady, do you think/ you have fools in hand?" Do you think you're dealing with fools? At line 65 Maria's stinging rebuke goes right over Andrew's head: "Sir, I have not you by the hand." So he gives her his hand and she remarks simply, "Now, sir, thought is free." In other words, as far as your previous questions about having fools in hand, you can draw your own conclusion.
Maria now recommends that Andrew bring his hand to the "butt'ry bar" and let it drink." Your notes tell you the "butt'ry bar" was the door to the storage rooms for butts of liquor. Sometimes in modern production Maria will use her own bosom to represent the butt'ry and clamp his hand on her breast, simply to embarrass him, knowing he is absolutely harmless. That rather dramatic gesture isn't necessary to perceive Maria's real intent here, because when Andrew asks her why, she observes that his hand is dry. She means that he is impotent, dry skin being one symptom of that condition to the Elizabethans. However, Andrew can think of only one situation under which a man's hand might be wet (accident while urinating). For all his failings, at least he can take a leak without getting his hand wet, so he proudly proclaims, "I am not such an ass but I/ can keep my hand dry" . He had asked earlier what Maria's "metaphor" [secret meaning] was, and now he asks what the "jest" is. Andrew always has to have the joke explained to him. At line 75 she calls it a "dry jest" and says she is full of them and, as she lets go of his hand at line 77, "Marry, now I let go your hand, I am barren." Maria leaves Andrew thoroughly befuddled, although he's not sure how..
it is Toby's turn to tease Andrew at line 79: "O knight, thou lack'st a cup of canary! When/ did I see thee so put
down?" Andrew answers: "Never
in your life, I think, unless you see/ canary put me down." Here we see one of the ways Toby takes
advantage of Andrew; as long as he's around to pay the
bar bill, Toby doesn't have to settle for the ordinary French wine. He can indulge in the expensive wine from the
Methinks sometimes I have
no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man
has. But I am a great eater of beef, and I believe
that does harm to my wit.
Today on Oprah, Sir Andrew Aguecheek blows the whistle on the beef conspiracy! Remember a couple of years ago when Oprah ran afoul of the Texas Cattlemen Association? Andrew knows that as a gentleman with a title he is supposed to be superior, but he realizes he isn't and casts about for a reason.
In his frustration, at line 87, Andrew suddenly utters those words Sir Toby fears to hear:
"I'll ride home tomorrow." Horrors! Toby will have to buy his own wine. So Toby asks him why, using the fashionable French word "Pourquoi, my dear knight?" Andrew, the master of languages, responds at line 90
What is pourquoi? Do, or not do? I would
I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have
in fencing, dancing and bearbaiting. O, had I but
followed the arts!
The activities which Andrew does mention as things he has spent a lot of time on include fencing or swordsmanship, which Andrew will reveal in the duel scene later was time wasted. His dancing ability we will judge by his performance at the end of this scene. Bearbaiting was not really an activity but a spectator sport: watching bears fight large dogs. It was the Elizabethan equivalent of the tractor pull or destruction derby.
Toby picks up on that last word, "arts," and uses it to talk about Andrew's hair, which apparently is unflatteringly straight. The hairdresser's "arts" would mean he could curl it, especially using tongs, a pun on "tongues," or curling irons. Like most people on the reality shows on television, Andrew can be easily distracted by discussing his appearance: curl your hair and you'll look better. When Andrew asks for reassurance at line 98, "But it becomes me well enough, does't not?" Toby tells him "Excellent. It hangs like flax on a distaff; and/ I hope to see a huswife take thee between her legs/ and spin it off." "Flax" is a plant used to make fibers for weaving cloth, like linen. The individual fibers were tied around a stick called a distaff and then spun until they twisted together to make a usable thread. To people with dirty minds that distaff might resemble a male erection; housewives often spun the stick on their thighs. All this creates a rather deliciously obscene image of what could happen to Andrew. Of course, if he's not careful Andrew could catch syphilis from his adventures in the flax business, in which case he could lose his hair.
comes back to his decision to go home.
He knows enough to realize that Olivia isn't interested in him. She's locked herself away from the world. Besides, Count Orsino wants to marry
her. Toby reassures him that there's
still some hope. Olivia has sworn she
will not marry someone who is above her in estate (wealth), years (age) and wit
(intelligence). In other words, Olivia may be stupid enough to pick Andrew as
her husband. That's all that Andrew
needs to hear, and at line 109 he cheerfully changes his mind: "I'll stay a month longer. I am a fellow o' th'/
strangest mind i' th' world." He
then offers an observation about his strange mind, that he enjoys masques and
revels -- light musical entertainment and partying. Suddenly Toby sees hope for his protegee; if
he likes masques and revels, he may be a good dancer. He asks if Andrew is good at these
"kickshaws," or musical trifles.
At line 113 Andrew admits that he is, being excessively careful not to
overstate his achievements: "As any man in
Toby has at last found something that Andrew can do to impress girls, and at line 121 he mockingly berates Andrew for having hidden his talents before this. At line 123 he proposes a course of action to impress the world with his ability:
thou not go to church in a galliard and come home
in a coranto? My very walk should be a jig. I
would not so much as make water but in a sink-a-
pace, What dost thou mean? Is it a world to hide
Toby lists four different dances Andrew can perform as he moves through the ordinary events of his day. My favorite is, of course, making water (urinating) in a sink-a-pace, using a pun on a French dance step and a chamber pot or sink. The scene ends with Andrew dancing frantically at Belch's direction and discussing which astrological signs affect your dancing ability. Why are we not surprised that Andrew, who believes beef has harmed his wits, also is a great believer in astrology?
Act I, Scene 4
Here we see how Viola has gotten along in her plan to go to work for Orsino. What complication arises in this scene? [Act I, scene 4]
The complication, of course, is that in the last two lines Viola reveals she is in love with Orsino: "Yet a barful [complicated] strife!/ Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife."
Last time we saw Viola, she was planning to disguise herself as a young man and go to work for Orsino. She has been very successful in just three days, becoming the count's confidante. Shakespeare often sets something in motion and checks in later, leaving it up to the audience's imagination to fill in the missing stages of the event. We don't see how Viola disguises herself or the job interview with Orsino. He just jumps to the established set-up.
"disguise" on Shakespeare's stage was probably little more than a
man's jacket, tights and a phony beard or wig. There was a convention, an unspoken agreement
between actors and audience, that if a character simply changed one aspect of
his/her appearance, the other characters would not recognize that person. Similarly, later in the play we are asked to
accept that Viola and her brother Sebastian are identical in appearance. For Shakespeare's audience if they were
dressed alike, they were close enough to fool everyone in
At line 13 we learn that Viola has quickly gained Orsino's trust. The count tells Viola, now called Cesario, "I have unclasped/ To thee the book even of my secret soul." He urges his newest servant to do whatever he must to get in to see Olivia. At line 18 Viola is overwhelmed by what he is asking of her: "Sure, my noble lord,/ If she be so abandoned to her sorrow,/ As it is spoke, she never will admit me." Orsino now orders Cesario to do whatever he must to speak to Olivia: "Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds/ Rather than make unprofited return." Now this introduces a dilemma for Viola: as a woman, she does not want Orsino and Olivia to get together. As a gentleman Cesario is duty-bound to do what his lord has ordered him to do. Viola/Cesario will wrestle with this ethical dilemma throughout the play because she cannot afford to win Orsino's love in a dishonorable way.
For his part Orsino is convinced that Cesario will succeed where his earlier messengers failed. He mentions the youthfulness of his new servant and then has a strange description at line 30:
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 [voice]
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound.
And all is semblative a woman's part.
These are not the kinds of things one man normally says to another. However, in the final scene in the play Orsino will suddenly discover Cesario's real identity, and he will have to develop erotic feelings for this person who is about to become his wife. So here we see that he is aware of this boy's potential as a girl from the beginning.
Act I, Scene 5
In this scene we meet three very important characters. The heiress Olivia we have heard described by several others. Her business manager is named Malvolio; more about him later. Then we meet Feste, the clown or jester, who is called "fool" frequently by other characters. You need a little background to appreciate this character more fully. Throughout history powerful people have often employed someone whose primary job was to entertain the boss: kings and dukes in the old days, movie stars and rock idols today. Frank Sinatra always had a guy whose job was to make the big man laugh; I'm sure J-Lo and Eminen do the same thing. In the old days this person was called the "jester," the purveyor of jokes or jests. Now in the early days this person was often someone who was mentally or physically challenged, and the humor was primarily laughing at the person. The humor was often heightened by having the jester wear bells so that every time he moved he made noise. (I confess, this humor would wear thin with me in about two minutes.) However, the tradition going back thousands of years was that the jester was a mental defective or fool. Now over the centuries the humor provided by the jester became much more sophisticated than bells or slapstick, but the jester continued to be seen as a fool, because it provided a cover for his humor. If your job was to make jokes to amuse a powerful man, you could get into trouble for offending powerful people in the court or even your boss. However, if you pretended to be a fool, no one could get angry with you because you weren't responsible for what you said. To make this game even more believable, a jester began using a little hand puppet called a zany. The fool would talk to the puppet, and then answer in the voice of the puppet. The zany could be as insulting as possible, because no one could be offended. You can see how this tradition leads right down to today when professional comedians often pretend to be mentally handicapped, like the early Jerry Lewis or Bob "Bobcat" Golthwaite. In an ventriloquist's act, it's always the dummy who cracks the job and the human is the straight man.
Another tradition started long before from the fact that the jesters were the least powerful people at the court and often could wear only rags or castoff clothes. This became the uniform for the jester, an outfit of rags sewn together called "motley." Finally, for reasons too complicated to explain here, the jester wore a cap which had several long spikes or horns, often with bells at the ends, called a "coxcomb." This strange headpiece was also associated with the jester's profession. So we have a professional comedian, called a fool, wearing motley and a coxcomb, dispensing humor which was often barbed and satiric. Review the first 30 lines of this scene. Why is the clown Feste in trouble with his employer? Characterize his humor. [Act I, Scene 5, lines 1 -- 35].
We see Feste here is easy-going with the other members of the household and enjoys trading barbs with them. As the play progresses, however, we will find that he is somewhat removed from the issues that are so important for others, above the fray. We will come to see that he provides a kind of moral vantage point from which we can see the follies that others commit.
Apparently Feste has been away for a while, and Maria warns him at the beginning of the scene that Olivia is angry and will have him hanged. This threat is purely rhetorical; Olivia could not hang Feste, even if she wanted to. Feste turns the threat into a kind of bawdy joke at line: "Let her hang me. He who is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colors." Now "well hanged" meant the same thing for Shakespeare's audience that it does for us: a man being well-endowed sexually. Feste gets off a creative pun when he says such a person need "fear no colors," referring to flags on the battlefield, but also a "collar," or slang term for a hangman's noose. Feste's humor is filled with clever sexual innuendo and plays on words. Notice his obscene joke at line 19 "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage." Maria has heard a lot of his jokes before, so that at line 22 when Feste says he is resolute on two points, as if he was determined not to change his mind on two issues, she supplies the punchline. "Points" could referred to intellectual positions, but it also meant the ties or primitive suspenders that held your pants up: "That if one break, the other will hold; or if/ both break your gaskins [loose trousers] fall" .
line 27 Feste reveals something that will become important at the end of the
play: "If Sir Toby would leave drink, thou wert as/ witty a piece of Eve's
flesh as any in
In the next sequence we'll meet Olivia, about whom everyone has expressed an opinion so far. She is supposedly grief-stricken. How would you assess the level of mourning in this scene? We also meet Malvolio, her business manager. On a large estate and in a big manor house the business steward could be a very important person. He oversaw all the operations, and he could often be spotted because he wore the keys to all the locks on a chain around his neck, sort of like the janitor in a school. What is Malvolio's dominant quality? Why is he so antagonistic toward Feste? [Act I, Scene 5, line 31 -- 98]
At line 31 Feste hopes that he will be able to get out of trouble:
Wit, and't 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 Quina-
palus? "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."
In the first few lines of this speech we see the tension for Feste between his native intelligence and his reputation for being a fool. Although he says here that he lacks any wit, he is consistently the most intelligent character in the play, as Viola will attest later. As a comic Feste has discovered the inherent humor in inventing phony but impressive-sounding experts, as Quinapalus here. Educated people may try and impress people by quoting Roman writers; this jester just makes up his own. This is the same comic routine that was used for many years by an inventive comedian, Professor Irwin Corey, who would present very plausible-sounding arguments citing scholars and then quickly descend into howling silliness. David Letterman will also occasionally use this comic technique of mock learnedness.
Olivia is obviously angry with Feste and orders him to be taken away. At this point Feste does something that seems strange to us: he openly challenges his employer and says, she is the fool and must be taken away. Feste can get away with this because he is an "allowed fool," see line 94; this is, he is allowed to engage his superiors with barbs and witticisms. Olivia isn't interested in playing and calls him dishonest and a "dry fool" . There's that word that set Sir Andrew off in scene three but here it is used to mean "unfunny." Feste chooses to interpret the word to mean "thirsty" at line 41:
Two faults, madonna, that drink and good
counsel [sound advice] will amend. For give the dry fool drink,
then is the fool not dry. Bid the dishonest man
mend himself; if he mend he is no longer dishonest;
if he cannot, let the botcher [mender of old clothes] mend him.
Feste's refutations of the charges of being dishonest and unfunny are not particularly humorous, but they do show us the basis for most of his humor: playing on the different meanings of words. By the way, his calling Olivia "Madonna" seems to be a kind of mock honorary title; no one else calls her that in the play. At line 45 he goes into his mock learnedness routine again, as if he were a philosophy major on powerful drugs:
Anything that's mended is but patched; virtue that trans-
gresses is but patched with sin, and sin that amends
is but patched with virtue. If that this simple syllo-
gism will serve, so; if it will not, what remedy?
Well, technically, in the language of philosophy, this is not a syllogism, but doesn't it sound impressive? It's just a play on the words "sin" and "virtue" in asserting that most things are neither one of the extremes but a mixture of both good and bad. Behind the foolery, Feste often has ideas which we would do well to heed. At line 54 he uses a Latin phrase: "cucullus non facit monachum," which means "A cowl or robe doesn't make a monk." He then applies this truism to himself by assuring Olivia at line 56 "I wear not motley [the uniform of the fool] in my brain." Just because he's supposedly mentally challenged doesn't mean he's stupid. Feste ends his initial exchange with Olivia by spouting academic-sounding gobbledygook at line 50: "As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty's/ a flower. The lady bade take away the fool;/ therefore, I say again, take her away."
Now if Olivia were as grief-stricken as everyone says she is, she would have no interest if listening to the fool's lame jokes. But she does listen and accepts his challenge at line 57 to prove she is a fool. She enjoys the give-and-take. Feste warns her that he will have to "catechize" or question her to prove she is a fool, which she readily accepts. Feste's "proof" at line 65 is quite extraordinary:
Fool: Good madonna, why mournest thou?
Olivia: Good fool, for my brother's death.
Fool: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
Olivia: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Fool: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your
brother's soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool,
This is breathtakingly tasteless! You don't make jokes about the soul of your employer's brother being in hell. The poor woman is so wracked with grief that she has vowed not to leave the house for seven years. The disposition of one's soul after death was something people in this time took very seriously. And that's why Feste made this apparently tasteless joke. It is actually a reminder to Olivia that her grief should be mitigated by the knowledge that her brother is in a better place; Feste has used his humor to comfort Olivia in her loss, probably more than any other member of her household. No wonder Olivia's response at line 71 shows her spirits lifting: "What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth/ he not mend?" Remember Feste's "syllogism" back at line 44 about "mending?" Olivia is beginning to see the virtue in Feste's humor.
We now meet Malvolio, who does not agree with Olivia's assessment. I've told you that he is the business manager for Olivia's estate, a position of importance, but still one of her employees. Shakespeare's audience would have recognized the type immediately. At line 74 he shoots down Feste's attempt to comfort Olivia. She asked if he did not mend:
"Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death/ shake him. Infirmity, that doth decay the wise, doth/ ever make the better fool." Malvolio's knee-jerk reaction to anything light, frivolous or kind throughout the play is self-righteous condemnation. If effect he says, "You think he's funny? Wait till he dies. Sickness and death makes even wise men fools." So much for comfort!
last decades of Queen Elizabeth's reign had seen the rise of a new kind of
religious fanatic, the puritan. These were people who were attracted by the
more extreme Protestant zealots in
were called "puritans" because they sought to "purify" the
Anglican Church, the state religion of
their black-and-white beliefs about salvation and damnation, the puritans were
very concerned about what they saw as immoral behavior by anyone else. They had become a political force on the city
Malvolio's negative reaction to Feste is more than just a religious stance; he is jealous of anyone else who is close to Olivia, including Toby. Feste says at lines 77 -- 80 that he may be no more than a fool, but Sir Toby is not taking bets that Malvolio is a genius. We now see Malvolio's personal enmity at line 81:
I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such
a barren rascal. I saw him put down the other day
with an ordinary fool that has no more brains than
a stone. Look you now, he 's out of his guard
already. Unless you laugh and minister occasion
to him, he is gagged. I protest I take these wise men
that crow so at these set kind of fools no better
than the fools zanies..
Before Malvolio had objected to Feste's levity on religious grounds, but now he becomes personal. He says that Feste isn't much of a jester, that he was beaten in an exchange of wits with another clown who really was a fool. Feste only succeeds in his job when people laugh. He concludes by saying that supposedly smart people who claim such professional comedians are funny are no better than the little hand puppets that I mentioned earlier, like the ventriloquist's dummy. Now this really hits below the belt, attacking Feste's professional competence. Feste never accuses Malvolio of being an incompetent business manager.
But Olivia does appreciate Feste's humor. After all he just used it to comfort her in her grief. Malvolio is calling her a dupe. At line 90 she defends her jester:
O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and
taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous,
guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those
things for birdbolts that you deem cannon bullets.
There is no slander in an allowed fool, though
he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known
discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.
Olivia's accusation that Malvolio is "sick of self-love" is very perceptive. In fact it will be Malvolio's imagining that everyone, including Olivia, is in love with him that will lead to the practical joke that will devastate him. Feste, she implies, is a decent, kindhearted person who means no harm, whereas Malvolio blows everything out of proportion, turning innocent birdshot into massive missiles. Feste has been allowed to engage her with jokes and satiric remarks. That's his job. This doesn't mean he is guilty of slander as Malvolio seems to suggest. In the same way Malvolio is in his position because he is "discreet," or responsible and serious, but his complaints against the jester, unfair as they are, do not make him a bitter, negative person. She accepts both her employees for what they are and what they do for her. Feste is so pleased by her defense of him at line 97 that he wishes the god of trickery, Mercury, will make her a spokesperson for fools.
In this next sequence Maria will bring word of a visitor at the front gate. Now it would be unusual for someone to call at Olivia's house. Remember she is in mourning and has vowed to lock herself away from the world. What's Olivia's reaction to the news? Why does she agree to see the messenger? [Act I, scene 5, lines 99 -- 165]
Maria brings word that a young gentleman at the gate wishes to speak with her. Olivia guesses that it's a messenger from Orsino; she knows the passion of the duke/count. At line 102 Maria describes him as "a fair young man and well attended" (accompanied by a number of other servants, suggesting that he's someone important.) Now this piece of information is quite revealing: the fact that he is young and "fair," or good-looking, and has some signs of social prestige intrigues Olivia, who will ask to see him. Furthermore, Maria knows her employer well enough to know that this information will be of interest to her. Notice that in the following exchanges both Toby and Malvolio will absolutely fail to recognize Olivia's personal interest in this young stranger.
When she is told that Toby is talking with the visitor, Olivia angrily sends Maria to stop him at line 106: "Fetch him off, I pray you. He speaks nothing/ but madman. Fie on him!" Olivia knows her uncle's disposition well, and she doesn't want him to create a bad impression. After Maria leaves, Olivia sends Malvolio to deal with the messenger at line 108: "If it be a suit from the Count, I am sick, or/ not at home. What you will, to dismiss it." Here we get the subtitle of the play, What You Will, used for the only time in the play. Notice that its sense is dismissive, sort of like "Whatever!" for us. This is similar to the title of another play written about this time, Much Ado About Nothing. It also means "whatever you choose," which is the mantra of the characters in this play who make fools of themselves over love.
With Malvolio gone, Olivia warns Feste that his behavior "grows old, and people dislike it" , meaning Malvolio. Feste, however, saw how his employer stood up for him and he offers this double-edged blessing at line 112:
Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy
eldest son should be a fool; whose skull Jove
cram with brains, for -- here he comes -- one of thy
kin has a most weak pia mater [brain].
Feste praises Olivia for empathizing with him and other "fools," as if her son were a member of the fraternity. However, he quickly adds a hope that any son she might have will have plenty of brains to compensate for Uncle Toby's impeded mental powers, as he staggers in.
The next exchange, at line 116, is one of Shakespeare's greatest portrayals of a drunk. Toby is trying to be cool, although he is overjoyed to see Feste again and is plagued with his trademark belching. He tries to explain away his lapses in behavior as he blunders his way through the conversation.
Olivia: By mine honor, half drunk. What is he at the gate, cousin?
Toby: A gentleman
Olivia: A gentleman? What gentleman?
Toby: 'Tis a gentleman here. A plague o' these pickled herring! How now, sot?
Olivia immediately recognizes Belch's condition and was correct in her assessment that Toby would speak "nothing but madman." She's most interested in who this fair young visitor is and asks Toby for information, which is pointless. He can only blurt out twice that it's a gentleman. The reason Olivia seems surprised is that it would be unusual for a member of the upper classes to come unannounced to your front door. Toby belches loudly and tries to blame the pickled herring he had with his wine for breakfast. He recognizes Feste, a potential drinking buddy, and calls him "sot," an inappropriate term to use in front of Olivia.
At line 123 Olivia reprimands Toby. Notice the euphemism she uses to refer to his drunkenness:
Olivia: Cousin, cousin, how have you come so early
by this lethargy?
Toby: Lechery? I defy lechery. There's one at the gate.
Olivia: Ay, merry, what is he?
Toby: Let him be the devil and he will, I care not.
Give me faith, say I. Well, it's all one.
Olivia doesn't want to insult her uncle [remember "cousin" could refer to any relative beyond your immediate family], so she uses "lethargy" to refer to his drunkenness, as if his staggering were caused by excessive sleepiness. Toby mishears and thinks she is accusing him of sexual arousal and angrily denies the charge. (Ironically, most drunks do "defy lechery," since they're usually incapable of performance.) He returns to the point of his appearance, to tell her there's a visitor. When in frustration Olivia asks for more details, Toby dismisses the whole question: he simply doesn't care who it is.
After Toby staggers out Olivia and Feste have a short comic discussion of whether her uncle's intoxication has reached the first stage (being a fool), the second stage (being a madman) or the third (being drowned). She thinks he's in the third stage and asks that the "crowner," or coroner, be sent for to pronounce his verdict, but Feste reassures her it's only the second stage. Consequently he, the fool, will look after Toby, the madman.
Malvolio returns with more information about the visitor, but Olivia remains frustrated in her desire to find out what she really wants to know. Malvolio is dismayed by the visitor's behavior: he demands to see Olivia. Malvolio was told to get rid of him and has used the most common polite excuses -- that the lady of the house is sick or is sleeping, but Cesario has refused to be deterred. (Remember, Orsino charged him/her in Act I, scene 4, line 21 to "Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds." Cesario's refusal to play the game of social fabrications is leaping civil bounds. Olivia is at first angered by this behavior and orders at line 145, "Tell him he shall not speak with me." Malvolio has anticipated this response and tells her, "H'as been told so; and he says he'll stand/ at your door like a sheriff's post, and be the supporter/ to a bench, but he'll speak with you." This threat to stay at her gate like a board used to post notices is not very genteel, but that just seems to intrigue Olivia all the more. Who is this guy?
Olivia asks Malvolio at line 149 "What kind o' man is he?" Malvolio gives her the same kind of non-answer her uncle did before, "Why, of mankind." So she asks again, "What manner of man?" Malvolio answers again with a kind of pun, "Of very ill manner. He'll speak with you, / will you. or no." She asks a third time, "Of what personage and years is he?" (The fact that Olivia keeps asking questions about this stranger alerts us that she's interested, although Toby and Malvolio remain clueless.) Malvolio finally gives her some specific information at line 155:
Not old enough for a man nor young
enough for a boy; as a squash [unripe pod of peas] is before 'tis a
peascod, or a codling [unripe apple] when 'tis almost an apple.
'Tis with him in standing water [at the turning of the tide], between boy and
man. He is very well-favored [good-looking] and he speaks very
shrewishly [like a teenager]. One would think his mother's milk
were scarce out of him.
Olivia finally finds out the visitor is good-looking, although this judgment comes from Malvolio. It's enough information for her to take the next step and see him for herself. Notice that the comparisons Malvolio uses above are the kinds of things someone who lived on a large estate where food was grown would use, things like peas and apples.
When Olivia agrees to see Cesario she orders Maria to place the veil over her face. A woman in mourning would normally appear only in a veil of mourning, but we'll see that Olivia also wants to play a practical joke on her caller. Furthermore, at line 165 she says, "We'll once more hear Orsino's embassy," letting us know that she knows all about Orsino's passion. It's the messenger she's interested in.
The first exchange between Olivia and Cesario/Viola takes place in prose, because
it is largely a joke. In this next sequence look for the change from prose to verse as the indication of where the characters get serious. Why doesn't this shift come at the same place for both characters? What words convince Olivia to violate social convention and speak with Cesario without anyone else present? [Act I, scene 5, lines 166 -- 312]
This sequence opens with a practical joke. Depending on how the director chooses to stage the scene, there are at least two women present wearing veils when Cesario enters. When he asks which one is the lady of the house, Olivia answers at line 167, "Speak to me. I shall answer for her. Your will?" That implies that Maria, or any other veiled woman present, is Olivia rather than Olivia herself. Cesario launches into the overly formal, elaborate speech Orsino has asked her to present to his lady love at line 168:
Most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty
I pray you tell me if this be the lady of the house,
for I never saw her. I would be loath to cast away
my speech; for, besides that it is excellently well
penned, I have taken great pains to con [memorize] it. Good
beauties, let me sustain no scorn. I am very comptible [sensible],
even to the least sinister [impolite] usage.
Cesario realizes he is being made the butt of a joke and doesn't want to waste his fancy speech if Olivia is not present. His request for information emphasizes the perception that Orsino's message, while beautiful ("well penned"), is insincere since the messenger has had to memorize or "con" it. Cesario asks again at line 178 which woman is Olivia, and the countess asks sharply at line 180: "Are you a comedian" or actor, having to learn his lines. In Viola/Cesario's response we get one of the innumerable hints at the secret of her hidden identity: "No, my profound heart; and yet (by the very/ fangs of malice I swear) I am not that I play./ Are you the lady of the house?" She is not the same person as the one she plays (a man) -- a piece of dramatic irony.
Olivia finally admits that she is the lady of the house at line 184: "If I do not usurp myself, I am." Cesario quickly turns that statement against Olivia and her resistance to Orsino: "Most certain, if you are she, you do usurp/ yourself; for what is yours to bestow is not yours/ to reserve." In other words, you have no right to deny a worthy man who loves you; you owe it to yourself and the world to marry and produce an heir. This is an ad-lib by the quick-witted Cesario who immediately returns to his prepared remarks, telling Olivia, "I will// on with my speech in your praise and then show/ you the heart of my message." When Olivia tells him to get to the point and skip the praise, Cesario objects at line 192: "Alas, I took great pains to study it, and 'tis poetical." Olivia, who remains unfazed by Orsino's verbal efforts, declares if it is poetical it is more likely to be "feigned" or phony. At line 195 she tells Cesario one reason why she has allowed him to enter her house:
I heard you were saucy at my gates, and
allowed your approach rather to wonder at you
than to hear you. If you be not mad, be gone; if
you have reason, be brief. 'Tis not that time of
moon with me to make one in so skipping [insignificant] a dialogue.
This passage reinforces the perception that Cesario/Viola's behavior in demanding to see Olivia went beyond "all civil bounds," as Orsino instructed her. If all this messenger is going to do is repeat Orsino's tired declaration of love, Olivia has no patience. Maria makes the answer more definite at line 201: "Will you hoist sail, sir? Here lies your way." Characters in a Shakespearean play seldom deliver straight-forward messages, so here Maria turns the occasion into a metaphor about hoisting anchor and sailing away. It is a mark of Cesario's quick wit that he answers Maria in the same vein: "No, good swabber [a sailor who swabbed the deck]; I am to hull [a ship remaining at rest] here a little longer." He then says to Olivia at line 203: "Some mollification for your giant, sweet lady," referring to the short Maria sarcastically
This comment on Maria's size is similar to references in several of Shakespeare's plays written around this time where one teenaged actor is shorter than the other actor who specialized in playing the women's roles. We saw such a reference in A Midsummer Night's Dream with Hermia and Helena. Many scholars believe that in the late-1590's Shakespeare had two principal boy actors, one of whom was noticeably shorter than the other, hence the sarcastic reference to Maria as a "giant."
When Olivia expresses disapproval of Cesario's behavior in delivering his message at line 205, "Sure you have some hideous matter to deliver,/ when the courtesy of it [your demeanor} is so fearful," Cesario responds at 214, "The rudeness that hath appeared in me have I/ learned from my entertainment." In other words, "You treated me badly, played jokes on me. I'm simply answering in kind." He makes it clear that his message is entirely peaceful at line 208 -- 211 but for Olivia's ears alone. At line 215 he tells her, "What I am, and/ what I would are as secret as maidenhead: to/ your ears, divinity; to other's profanation." This last part really arouses Olivia's curiosity -- something divinely secret! She immediately orders everyone else to leave so she can "hear this divinity," and in so doing she violates one of the cardinal rules of courtly ladies -- always have a chaperone present when you speak to a strange man. Cesario understands how to play the psychological game to get Olivia to listen by promising something mysterious.
As soon as Maria, Malvolio and the others have left, Olivia asks, "What is your text?" at line 220. Cesario answers by addressing her as "Most sweet lady," but before he can complete his thought, Olivia answers her own question about Cesario's "text" as if "most sweet lady" were a quotation or idea from the Bible, the "text" upon which a preacher might base his sermon. At line 222 she mockingly declares "most sweet lady" to be "A comfortable doctrine, and much may be/ said of it. Where lies your text?" That is, "Where in the Bible does this idea come from?" This is an elaborate play on ideas, much like "hoist sail" and "swabber" back at line 201. Olivia is testing Cesario's mental quickness in responding to this comic riff, and the kid comes through by answering, "In Orsino's bosom." If this is the source in the Bible, the book of true faith, demands Olivia, "In what chapter of his bosom?" Cesario says at line 226, "To answer by the method [playing this word game] in the first of his heart." Olivia is not impressed by Cesario's message, although she has enjoyed playing the game. At line 228 she declares, "O, I have read it; it is heresy." She rejects the claim that Orsino's love is genuine or that she should take it seriously.
Cesario/Viola now does something daring. At line 230, he asks to see Olivia's face. Why would he/she ask to see behind that black veil? As a woman, Viola might be naturally curious to check out her competition. As a man Cesario would recognize by her flippant conversation that Olivia is terribly vain. Asking to see her face would be a way to keep her talking, to locate another approach to persuade her to accept Orsino. Olivia is vain. A proper courtly lady at this point would end the conversation immediately and excuse herself, but Olivia jumps at the chance to show herself to this young stranger at line 231:
Have you any commission from your lord to
negotiate with my face? You are now out of your
text. But we will draw the curtain and show you
the picture. [unveils] Look you, sir, such a one I
was this present. Is't not well done?
She realizes that Cesario is probably going beyond the instructions he received from Orsino, but she willingly plays along and refers to herself as a picture, a thing of beauty at this moment. She is proud of her beauty and asks if, like a painting, it is well done. If Viola is curious and Cesario is just trying to keep her talking, what do you think Olivia makes of this request to see her face? That's right -- the kid must be interested in her.
Cesario/Viola's response to the question "Is't not well done" at line 236 reveals just a little natural jealousy: "Excellently done, if God did all," answers Cesario/Viola. It's about the only place in the play where Viola reveals any jealousy about her rival for Orsino's love. Here she is, in love with this guy who only knows her as a boy, and she's got to win Olivia for him. No wonder she questions whether Olivia's beauty is natural or is chemically enhanced. Olivia probably misses the full import of this catty remark, but she assures Cesario about her beauty: "'Tis in grain, sir; 'twill endure wind and weather." If she is like a beautiful picture, the paint won't fade.
Up to this point the entire scene has been in prose because it has been primarily comic. Now Cesario/Viola suddenly gets serious. Perhaps, she realizes how desperate her own situation is; maybe she wonders how Olivia can make a joke out of the love of a man she would die to have. In any event she begins to speak verse as she analyzes Olivia's attitude at line 239:
'Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white
Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on.
Lady, you are the cruel'st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave,
And leave the world no copy.
Viola acknowledges that Olivia's beauty is natural and genuine. Her disdain for Orsino's love is just not understandable, especially given the power of Viola's own passion. So Cesario/Viola uses an argument that men had used on women since the Middle Ages -- you are so beautiful, you owe it to the world to get pregnant as soon as possible so that you leave a legacy of your beauty. The impregnation is a dirty job, but the guy is willing to do it.
Viola may be serious, but Olivia still treats the situation as a joke, so she continues to speak in prose at line 244:
O, sir, I will not be so hard-hearted. I will give
out divers schedules [various descriptions] of my beauty. It shall be
inventoried [catalogued], and every particle and utensil [detail] labeled
to my will [as if in a legal document]: as, item, two lips, indifferent red;
item, two gray eyes, with lids to them; item,
one neck, one chin, and so forth. Were you sent hither
to praise me?
In this passage we see how Olivia enjoys mocking Orsino's passion and how aware she is of her own beauty and its ability to captivate men. She is vain and cruel toward those who fall under her spell. In the final question in this passage we see her indirectly reminding Cesario that he is a messenger and has a particular job he must fulfill. She is intrigued that this young servant has asked to see her face and wonders if he has fallen for her, i.e. wants to "praise" her.
As a woman Viola finds Olivia's attitude indefensible. Orsino's love, which the countess mocks, Viola would give anything to possess. At line 251, again in verse, she pronounces her judgment of Olivia:
I see you what you are; you are too proud;
But if you were the devil you are fair.
My lord and master loves you. O, such love
Could be but recompensed though you were crowned
The nonpareil [epitome] of beauty.
Women who rejected men were often accused of being "proud"; in fact, the term was often used to emotionally blackmail women into submitting to a man's advances, just to avoid the accusation. At the same time Viola has to admit that she is "fair" or beautiful. Nevertheless, she could be the most beautiful in the world, the "nonpareil," she should recognize and "recompense" the ardor of Orsino's passion.
What Olivia hears is that this intriguing young man finds her "fair." She wants to hear more, so she asks at line 255, "How does he love me?" looking for more details, more praise. She has now shifted to verse. Cesario answers with rather conventional images of passion: "With adoration, with fertile tears,/ With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire." Olivia is not impressed, but she realizes that she must be polite, and in the passage from 258 to 264 she carefully praises Orsino for all his virtues but concludes, "I cannot love him./ He might have took his answer long ago."
Now Viola sees the same things in Orsino, but she is consumed by passion for him and his qualities. She articulates her mystification at Olivia's attitude at line 265:
If I did love you in my master's flame,
With such a suff'ring, such a deadly life,
In your denial I would find no sense;
I would not understand it.
Now, this idea touches a nerve in Olivia and she asks, "Why, what would you?" i.e. "what would you do if you loved me." In her effort to convey Orsino's affection, and perhaps to articulate her own fantasy about how she wishes someone would woo her, Viola makes a fatal mistake in answering Olivia's question beginning at line 269.
Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons [songs] of contemned [unrequited] love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Hallo your name to the reverberate [echoing] hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out, "Olivia!" O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me.
On the surface this passage is romantic claptrap, filled with exaggerations. This idealized lover would camp outside his girlfriend's house, building a small structure (in violation of zoning regulations) out of willow branches -- willow was the tree associated with sorrow and unrequited love. The lover's soul was the girlfriend, inside the big house. The lover would write country-western songs and sing them all night. (Try that in my neighborhood and I'm calling the cops!) The lover would call out the girl's name so loud it would echo from the hills. He would drive her crazy with this kind of stalking behavior until she relented and "pitied" him, i.e. gave him what he wanted.
However, imagine what Olivia hears. This attractive young man describes over-the-top behavior to prove his love, behavior which "leaps over all civil bounds." He would violate the standards of polite society to prove his devotion. He has already begun this process by his insistence on talking with her and then seeing her face. He seems willing to go to any length to prove his love. We may find the content silly, but the passage is very poetic. Notice how the sounds of "reverberate" and "babbling" in a way imitate the very echo effect they describe. The power of the words has a real effect upon Olivia. Much as we saw in Romeo and Juliet the human voice and imagination are the ultimate organs of romantic love. No wonder at line 278 she observes, "You might do much."
Where does Viola come up with this description? She may well be imagining how she would like to be courted by the man she loves. There's a kind of desperation in the description given by the poor young woman who is trapped in a role she does not want to play. Think for a moment about Orsino behaving like this. Is he the guy to build the cabin and write the songs? Hardly! He's back home finding a comfortable position in the garden to suffer for love. Maybe in some way Viola wishes Orsino were more like the idealized, action-packed lover she imagines here.
Olivia is now fully in love. But before a Renaissance lady can allow herself to indulge in love, she has to make sure her potential lover is socially appropriate. And so Olivia asks at line 278, "What is your parentage?" and Cesario/Viola answers, "Above my fortunes [because I have to work for another person], yet my state is well [I am a member of the upper class]./ I am a gentleman." Olivia ends the conference, telling Cesario to return to Orsino and tell him she cannot love him, but asking Cesario to return to tell her how he takes the news. This request sets up an awkward dilemma for Cesario/ Viola: on one hand Olivia says Orsino has no hope; on the other, she offers this suggestion she may just be playing coy, so come back tomorrow. The countess offers the young man a tip for delivering the message at line 284. This action may be a test of his status as a gentleman. A person with real gentility would never accept a tip, unlike the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Cesario denies that he is "a fee'd post" or paid messenger, and reminds Olivia that Orsino is the one who wants a little consideration. At line 287 he places a kind of curse on Olivia: "Love make his heart of flint that you shall love [the man you fall in love with];/ And let your fervor, like my master's, be/ Placed in contempt. Farewell, fair cruelty." Of course, that is exactly what is about to happen to Olivia.
Olivia now alone repeats pieces of the conversation she just had to let us know how much she is in love. At line 296 she asks, "Even so quickly may one catch the plague?" Here again is that odd way the Elizabethans had of seeing love as an affliction, a wonderful state to be in, but an illness nonetheless. She calls for Malvolio and tells him to return a ring that Cesario had left behind despite her refusal to accept it. She means the ring, of course, as a secret indication of her affection for Cesario. Olivia has now become the initiator in this love affair. Of course, she feels she has no choice and at line 311 she concludes, "Fate, show thy force; ourselves we do not owe [we have no control over ourselves]./ What is decreed must be -- and be this so!" However, before she gave way to her passion, we see her give herself permission to feel this way at line 299, "Well, let it be." This is simply another way of stating the subtitle of the play, "What You Will."
second act of the play begins with two short scenes. The first scene introduces us to Viola's
supposedly drowned brother, Sebastian, who lands in
This scene seems to come out of nowhere. We had only been prepared by a brief reference back in Act I, scene 2 to Viola's missing brother. Shakespeare expects us to figure out where these two guys come from and how they relate to the rest of the play.
Sebastian reveals his real identity to Antonio as he prepares to part from him. Apparently Antonio saved Sebastian from the sea after the shipwreck. At that time Sebastian, for some reason, gave Antonio a phony name. Perhaps he did not wish strangers to know who he was, the son of a wealthy man, until he could trust them. Maybe it is just part of the pattern of deception in which all the other characters indulge in this play. In any event Sebastian tells his friend who he is and of the sorrow of the loss of his sister at line 25: "A lady, sir, though it was said she much/ resembled me, was yet of many accounted beautiful." So we get the idea of the physical resemblance of the brother and sister reinforced. Like Viola, Sebastian feels himself almost overwhelmed by his grief.
What's most important in this scene is the powerful love which Antonio feels for Sebastian. He does not want to part from him. When he learns that Sebastian is of the upper class, he asks if can serve as his servant at line 35. Finally, in the last five lines of the scene, after Sebastian has left for Orsino's court, Antonio reveals that he loves the boy so much, he will follow him to Orsino's, despite the fact that he has many enemies there. At line 47 he declares: "But come what may, I do adore thee so/ That danger shall seem a sport, and I will go." This statement, made in verse, unlike the rest of the scene in prose, is a serious declaration, as Antonio gives himself permission to do something stupid in the name of love, just as Olivia had back at the end of Act I, scene 5. Both Antonio and Olivia have chosen to fall in love with someone who is not gender appropriate.
Do Antonio and Sebastian have a homosexual relationship? The text does not suggest that the interest Antonio has is sexual. Elsewhere in the plays Shakespeare does allude to sexual relations between men, although the term "homosexual" was not in use at that time. Commentators back in the 19th Century took great pains to deny that there was anything erotic in Antonio's love; he just liked Sebastian a whole lot. It is true that men in the Elizabethan time were often much more emotionally intimate with other men than they were with their wives or girlfriends. Shakespeare's own sonnets are filled with this kind of affection. More contemporary scholars and directors have argued that Antonio could well be an aging gay man seeking a younger companion. Shakespeare's text lets us have it both ways. The important thing is that Antonio will put himself in harm's way for the sake of love.
The second scene where Malvolio catches up with Cesario takes place only minutes after he had left Olivia's house. Yet Shakespeare has inserted the first scene into the time sequence. Why? What information do we, the audience, receive in the first scene that changes our perception of the dilemma Viola discovers in the second scene? When Olivia falls in love with Cesario/Viola she creates a real problem. How can Viola win Orsino's love and still remain loyal to his charge that Cesario win Olivia's love for him?
The appearance of Sebastian suggests the solution. However, only we in the audience glimpse this possible development. This difference in what the characters perceive and what we perceive is what allows us to enjoy the humor of the comedy, the discomfort and uncertainty of the characters while we rest assured that there will be a solution at the end. Olivia and Viola will each get the man they can love.
As we might expect Malvolio is very short-tempered and surly in delivering the ring and message to Cesario. However, we get the secret meaning when he throws the ring to the boy and warns him not to come again on Orsino's behalf, except to come tomorrow and tell Olivia how the count takes this rejection. At line 12 Cesario declares, "She took the ring of me. I'll none of it." This suggests that Cesario/Viola quickly guesses what's going on. To protect the noble lady's honor he pretends that she had given him a ring. However, at line 17, after Malvolio has stomped out, throwing the ring on the ground, Viola tells us,
I left no ring with her. What means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her.
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.
None of my lord's ring? Why, he sent her none.
I am the man.
It doesn't take Viola long to figure out what has happened. She is much more perceptive about emotional issues than most of the men in play. Can you see Orsino. Toby or Andrew picking up the clues the way Viola has here?
Once Viola figures out the situation, she expresses some sympathy for poor Olivia, but who does she blames for the terrible mistake? At line 25 she concludes,
If it be so as 'tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
Viola's decision to dress up and behave as a man has led directly to this confusion, but, like all the other characters in the play, she does not accept responsibility for the harm she has caused. No, the fault is some abstraction called "disguise" that is the culprit.
At line 29 she continues laying the blame on someone or something else:
How easy is it for the proper false
In women's waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be.
Yes, that's the source of the problem. Because Olivia is a woman she mistook the reality of the situation. Nor is Viola guilty because, of course, she's a weak woman as well. The concept that women were "weaker" than men was widely accepted in Shakespeare's society. The comedies, however, consistently show that in matters of the heart, women were usually stronger and smarter than men.
Cesario/Viola concludes by analyzing the situation at line 36 just in case anyone has missed all the ramifications:
As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master's love.
As I am woman (now alas the day!)
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe?
O Time, thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie.
Here again we see Viola ducking responsibility for her own behavior. There's nothing she can do to alter the situation, so she calls on some abstraction called Time to straighten out the mess she has made. It is an all-too-human response.
Act II, Scene 3
The next scene is a drunken party with just Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Feste joins them for fun and games. Finally Maria comes in to warn them that they are making too much noise. What conflict is anticipated in the first 86 lines of this scene? [II, 3, lines 1 -- 86]
We have all probably had this experience of being at a party which has gone on far too long, and one diehard insists that no one leave; we must keep the party going all night. At the beginning Toby is trying to convince Andrew that going to bed after is actually going to bed early. It's the kind of twisted logic that doesn't make sense even if you're already drunk. Andrew says plaintively at line 4, "I know to be up late is to be up late." Toby, playing the mock philosopher, denies this conclusion at line 8: "to go to bed after / is to go to bed betimes [early]" To prove his point he asks the obvious question, "Does not our lives consist of the four elements.?" This is obvious, because everyone at that time knew that all existence consisted of earth, air, fire and water. Everyone, that is, except Andrew, who must have missed that day in school when they covered the subject. He answers, "Faith, so they say; but I think it rather consists of eating and drinking."
Feste enters and does a visual joke based on a popular illustration of the time showing two donkeys and titled "We Three." (You were supposed to realize that the third ass was the person looking at the picture.) Toby asks for a "catch," a song. Andrew agrees and compliments Feste on his voice and on his recent performance, which he repeats word-for-word at line 22: "In sooth, thou wast in very gracious fooling/ last night, when thou spok'st of Pigrogromitus, of/ the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus." Andrew had even sent him a tip of three sixpences for his performance. It's revealing that Andrew, who doesn't know the four elements and can't speak a word of French, has absorbed Feste's performances word-for-word. Essentially everything that Feste does in the play is designed to get a tip, and so he gives Andrew some more of the mockery of learned language at line 27 that delighted the knight before: "I did impeticos thy gratillity, for Malvolio's/ nose is no whipstock. My lady has a white hand,/ and the Myrmidons are no bottle-ale houses." This quickly degenerates into sheer nonsense, but that has not kept scholars for the last four hundred years from searching for the "hidden meaning" in "myrmidons" and "bottle-ale houses."
The party needs music, and both Toby and Andrew offer Feste, whom Andrew has praised for having a "sweet breast," or voice, a tip to sing. When Feste asks what kind of a song they want, a "love song" or a "song of good life," (party song), they both answer, "a love song," to which Andrew adds, ridiculously, "I care not for good life" [line 39]. Feste sings one of the most famous songs in all of Shakespeare's plays at line 40:
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear, your true-love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers' meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure;
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
These lyrics are the equivalent of an Elizabethan country-western song -- a popular number about fleeting love and unrequited affection and especially songs about love cut short by death. We know how the music for this number went, because a song-book of popular pieces was printed right around this time, and some of songs from the plays are included. We don't know for sure if Shakespeare wrote the music or just used popular numbers already composed. In the Trevor Nunn film version of the play, this song is done as a duet by Feste and Maria and it is pointedly sung to Sir Toby, emphasizing the idea that neither he nor Maria are getting any younger, and he needs to make a decision.
Toby and Andrew are sloppy drunks, and they weep at the sentiments of this song, until Toby snaps out of his funk and declares, "Let's party!" in effect and asks at line 68, "Shall we make the welkin dance?" literally, "Shall we make the heavens dance." He wants Feste to start a "catch" or "round" that "will draw three souls out of one weaver." The weavers were noted for their piety and singing of religious hymns. Toby wants a song so good it will have triple effect on a holy man. The catch that Andrew suggests is "Thou Knave." Feste tells him that if they sing that song, he will be required to calls Andrew "thou knave." That doesn't bother Andrew at all; people call him "knave" all the time. Then Feste, in a fooling mood, says he can't start since the first line is "Hold thy peace!"
Maria enters and angrily tells the boys they are making too much noise and that Olivia has told Malvolio to come and throw them out of the house. Using his own gobbledy-gook nonsense answer, Toby dismisses the threat, proclaiming at line 77, "Am I not consanguineous?" that is, "Am I not a blood relative of Olivia?" Toby further flaunts his contempt for the admonition to be quiet by singing lines from old songs, including the seasonal favorite at line 85, "O the twelfth day of December." When Feste compliments Toby on his "admirable fooling," Andrew, not to be out done, says, at line 82, "Ay, he does well enough, if he be disposed,/ and so do I too. He does it with a better grace, but/
I do it more natural." The knight does not realize that his use of "natural" here can also mean that his fooling is that of an idiot, or "natural."
In the next sequence notice how Toby and Malvolio battle for control of the household. What is the principal conflict between these two very different men? [II, 3, lines 87 -- 191]
Malvolio enters the room with a blast at line 87:
My masters, are you mad? Or what are you?
Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to
gabble like tinkers at this time of the night? Do you
make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak
out your coziers' catches without any mitigation
or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place,
persons, nor time in you?
Toby answers at line 94: "We did keep time, sir, in our catches. Sneck up!"
Malvolio is justifiably angry about the racket the party-guys are making, but his rage reveals a real personal animosity and a social prejudice. He begins by questioning their sanity and then accuses them of behaving like "tinkers," itinerant, lower-class workers who were notorious for drinking. He then accuses Toby and Andrew, both knights, of turning Olivia's house into a cheap dive, an "alehouse." The singing he characterizes as "coziers' catches," or songs by shoemakers, again suggesting that their behavior is socially inappropriate. Drunkenness by members of the upper classes was tolerated; King James himself once got smashed at a state dinner and had to be carried from the room. Malvolio, in his condemnation, is stepping over a line and equating behavior with social class. Toby denies that he and the others did not respect time; they kept musical time in their singing. He insults Malvolio with a great Elizabethan oath: "Sneck up!" Feel free to use the phrase whenever you need a slightly more refined put-down than the usual vulgarity.
The fact is that Malvolio is envious of title and rank. In a couple of scenes we will learn his innermost fantasy is to become a count and use that title to straighten up everyone else's behavior. Malvolio represents the power of censure, the self-righteous condemnation of whatever others enjoy. Malvolio uses his position and Olivia's justifiable displeasure to advance his own agenda. At line 95 he tries a slightly less hostile approach to get Toby's attention:
Sir Toby, I must be round [direct] with you. My
lady bade me tell you that, though she harbors
you as her kinsman, she's nothing allied to your
disorders. If you can separate yourself and your
misdemeanors, you are welcome to the house. If
not, and it would please you to take leave of her,
she is very willing to bid you farewell.
Malvolio invokes Olivia here as his authority for controlling Toby's behavior. He makes it clear, although indirectly, that his niece is perfectly willing to see Toby leave, if he can't behave. Notice, "If not, and it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell." Is that too subtle a warning? Well, it is if you're a leech like Toby. It will take a tow truck to get him out of the house.
Toby ignores Malvolio's warning and, with Feste, sings a song which taunts the business steward indirectly. At line 111 he sings a line which asks, "Shall I bid him go, and spare not?" Feste teases him by answering, "O. no, no, no, no, you dare not." At line 113 he blasts Malvolio directly, reminding him of his position in the household and in that society: "Out of tune, sir? Ye lie." Despite what your notes tell at this point, I believe the line is directed at Malvolio for suggesting, back at line 94, that Toby and his friends are committing a nuisance by their singing. Toby then uses the ultimate argument against Malvolio at line 113: "Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou are virtuous,/ there shall be no more cakes and ale?" Malvolio is just a servant, an employee, and he is out of line criticizing Toby's behavior. Furthermore, his self-righteousness gives him no moral superiority over others. Having a good time, here symbolized by "cakes and ale," is not affected by Malvolio's judgment. Feste agrees, and echoes the same sentiment at line 116, "Yes, by Saint Anne, and ginger [often put in ale] shall be hot in the mouth too." Toby adds the final insult at line 118: "Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs," and calls for another cup of wine in direct defiance of Malvolio. Elizabethans often used dried bread crumbs to polish silverware, and here Toby reminds Malvolio that the chain he wears around his neck to hold all his keys is a badge of his office, his inferior status as a servant. Furthermore, the line suggests that Malvolio is so proud of being an employee, he preens and tries to advertise his lowliness by polishing his chain.
Malvolio now shifts his attention to Maria; if he can't control Toby's drinking, he can try to keep Maria from enabling it, what he calls, "this uncivil rule." He threatens to tell Olivia if Maria does what Toby asks. This is not the first time we've seen Malvolio try to control the way others behave; if moral persuasion doesn't work, he'll use threats. Maria, anxious to catch Sir Toby, quickly makes her allegiance clear when she says at line 124, "Go shake your ears," implying that as an ass Malvolio has ears large enough to shake. The question is whether Malvolio hears Maria's defiance of his directive or if she waits until he is safely out of earshot before she utters her insult.
Andrew has kept quiet as long as Malvolio was in the room; now, when it's safe, he tries to think of some way to insult the steward. He comes up with this strange plan at line 126 that he will challenge him to a duel, an affair of honor, and then not show up for the fight. Andrew believes this will make Malvolio look like a fool; in reality such actions would make Andrew look like a coward in the eyes of all the gentlemen. Toby urges him to issue the challenge and offers to help. This hare-brained idea will resurface in the next act.
Maria, realizing this joke will backfire on the boys, quickly offers an alternative way to make Malvolio look foolish. At line 132 she observes that Olivia is acting strange ever since Cesario had visited, reinforcing what we have already seen in the countess' behavior. At line 140 Maria reveals that Malvolio is a kind of Puritan. Andrew, who probably doesn't know what a Puritan is, says if that were true, he would beat the steward, "like a dog." At line 142 Toby questions this statement:
Toby: What, for being a Puritan? Thy exquisite
reason, dear knight.
Andrew: I have no exquisite reason for't, but I have
reason good enough.
Just as he doesn't know what a Puritan is, Andrew doesn't have any idea what an "exquisite" reason is. So he's reduced to assuring Toby he does have reasons for his strong feelings. Andrew's problem is that people around him are always talking about things he doesn't understand but which seem to require strong responses.
Maria now gives us the most perceptive evaluation of Malvolio's character at line 146:
The devil a Puritan that he is, or anything
constantly but a time-pleaser [sycophant]; an affectioned [phony] ass,
that cons state without book [tries to act like a gentleman] and utters it by great
swarths [swaths]; the best persuaded of himself [an egomaniac]; so
crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies that it is
his grounds of faith that all that look on him love
him; and on that vice in him will my revenge find
notable cause to work.
Malvolio's problem isn't so much his religious beliefs but that he pretends to be something he really isn't and that he has too high an opinion of himself and thinks that everyone else shares that opinion. Olivia had made a similar observation back in Act I, scene 5, line 90 when she said to him, "O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio." Maybe the implied superiority of the Puritan beliefs attracted people like Malvolio who needed to feel superior; or maybe the religion encouraged its adherents to develop these character flaws. In either case Maria's description makes it easier for the audience to enjoy the practical joke about to be played on the steward. Maria now proposes to fool Malvolio by using her ability to imitate Olivia's handwriting and composing a supposed love letter wherein Olivia will reveal that she loves Malvolio. She suggests that Toby, Andrew and Feste will eavesdrop on Malvolio when he finds and reads the letter. At line 168 Andrew gets to offer one of the few jokes he has in the whole play.
After she leaves Toby reveals his affection for her, or at least as much affection as he is capable of at line 179: "She's a beagle, true-bred, and one that adores me." I guess being called a beagle by the man you want to marry is better than being called a pit bull. Notice that Toby knows exactly how she feels about him and what she wants from him. Not to be outdone Andrew confesses, "I was adored once too." How poignant! As they leave to continue the party Toby reminds Andrew that he will need to send home for some more money. When the knight worries that if he doesn't win Olivia's hand, he will out of money. Toby assures him that the marriage is a certainty.
Act II, Scene 4
Notice how this scene differs from the previous one. Feste is in this scene as well and sings another song. Finally, notice how Viola tries to educate Orsino about the reality of women and their love. [II, 4]
Like the previous scene this is a kind of party with music, but how different the mood! Rather than getting drunk on sack, Orsino is getting intoxicated on his own emotions. In the opening lines he requests a song performed the previous night. A servant is sent to find Feste, who performed the number. In the first lines of the play Orsino defined his mood by music: "If music be the food of love…." While they wait for Feste's arrival. Orsino instructs Cesario in the proper way to use music to heighten your pain in love. At line 15 he says
If ever thou shalt love,
In the sweet pangs of it remember me:
For such as I am all true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in all motions else [distracted in all your emotions]
Save in the constant image of the creature
That is beloved. How dost thou like this song?
Between the lines here there is a sense of pride Orsino seems to be taking in his suffering for love, as if to say, "I'm the poster boy for unrequited love." He tells us he thinks only of his beloved, but he has apparently made no effort to see her.
At line 21 Cesario answers that the song being played, while they wait for Feste's performance, "gives a very echo to the seat [the heart]/ Where Love is throned." This is the kind of elaborate courtly love talk that Orsino enjoys, and he guesses that since Cesario can talk the talk he must have walked the walk, i.e. been in love. At line 23 he asks, "thine eye/ Hath stayed upon some favor [face] that it loves./ Hath it not, boy?"
Cesario/ Viola's answer is one of the classic examples of dramatic irony in the play. By that I mean that as Cesario the answers at line 25 have one meaning for Orsino, but as Viola the answers have another meaning for us:
Viola: A little, by your favor
Orsino: What kind of woman is't?
Viola: Of your complexion.
Orsino: She is not worth thee then. What years, i'faith?
Viola: About your years, lord.
Orsino: Too old, by heaven.
Notice that in his first answer Viola has a little pun. Orsino had asked back at line 24 about "some favor" Viola had fallen for, and at line 25 she answers, "A little, by your favor," a subtle way of reminding us and hinting to Orsino that his is the "favor" she loves. After declaring that Cesario shouldn't be chasing any woman as old as he is, Orsino proceeds to lecture the boy on the correct age for a girlfriend offering this rationale at line 32.
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves [as men],
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are.
Given Orsino's behavior in pursuing a woman who obviously does not love him, he gives proof to his own charge that men are "giddy and unfirm." No wonder at line 35 poor Viola agrees, in a further example of dramatic irony, "I think it well, my lord." She has firsthand evidence of men's failing to make the right choice in love. Naturally Orsino misses the significance of Viola's ironic remark, as he continues to offer his insights to a person who knows better at line 36:
Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent [a bow under tension];
For women are as roses, whose fair flow'r,
Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.
Here Orsino is telling Viola that women's biological clocks run down more quickly than men's; Viola, trapped in her disguise and eaten by passion for a man who hasn't a clue, probably doesn't need to be reminded of her time running out. She takes Orsino's last remark and invests it with much more emotional force when she says at line 40: "And so they are; alas, that they are so./ To die, even when they to perfection grow." In a subtle way this is part of the education of Orsino about real women and real love that Viola undertakes. She repeats his idea about women fading quickly, but she points out what a tragedy it is.
Feste enters at line 42, and Orsino requests an old love song which he says reminds him of "the old age" at line 48, meaning the good old days when, Orsino implies, people knew how to love. The song Feste sings is an even more plaintive love song than the one he sang at the party in the previous scene. It's all about a young man preparing to die because his girlfriend is cruel. He details the kind of wood to be used for his coffin ("cypress" which was associated with the sorrow of a broken heart) and what he is to wear on his shroud ("yew" also associated with death). It's a beautiful little song, but it also represents the sentimentality and emotional excess which characterizes Orsino's whole approach to love. Orsino obviously enjoys being made to feel so bad; we can only imagine what is going through Viola's mind. The duke gives Feste a big tip, and the clown thanks him in a very strange way at line 73:
Now the melancholy god protect thee, and the
tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for
thy mind is a very opal. I would have men of such
constancy put to sea, that their business might be
everything, and their intent everywhere; for that's
it that always makes a good voyage of nothing.
Feste's response here to Orsino is actually very sarcastic, but because of the Clown's habit of using mockery and because he masquerades as a fool, Orsino probably doesn't pick up the implied insult. He calls on the "melancholy god" to look out for Orsino who obviously likes really depressing love songs. Feste characterizes Orsino's mind as matching the "changeable taffeta" of his doublet, a material which seems to change colors in different light. This in turn will reflect his mental processes, which like the opal, are of no single color. Feste seems to be saying that, despite his commitment to love, Orsino lets his conflicting emotions rule his life. Feste reinforces this idea of inconstancy by then associating the duke with the sea's tides and winds which blow him all over the place, without any clear single purpose. Despite his reputed commitment to Olivia, Orsino's emotional excess renders him at a loss. Feste ends with a little bawdy pun: the word "nothing," elsewhere in the plays, was used as a play on "nodding," which in turn was a slang term for sexual activity. All this big uproar and exaggerated emotions, says Feste, is "much ado about nothing" in the final analysis. Feste leaves.
Orsino orders Cesario to go back to Olivia, whom he calls a "sovereign cruelty" at line 81, and to argue more forcefully for her love. He thinks that her resistance may be because Olivia thinks he's only interested in her wealth. He tells Cesario to make clear he is not interested in her "dirty lands," that is her property. The only "gem" he wants is that of her beauty. All this is simply a way of assuring that he will not demand an expensive dowry if she should agree to marry him.
This scene represents a real challenge for the actress playing Viola. She must at once convey her love for Orsino, her frustration over his choices and her disappointment over his rather limited view of women. She now at line 88 tries to talk Orsino out of his stubborn pursuit of a woman who will never love him:
Viola: But if she cannot love you, sir?
Orsino: I cannot be so answered.
Viola: Sooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love as great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia. You cannot love her.
You tell her so. Must she not then be answered?
We can see Viola trying to lead Orsino into considering the possibility of someone being in love with him, just as he is with Olivia. The problem with people like Orsino is that they are so self-centered they never consider other people's feelings. And sure enough at line 94, he now lectures Cesario on why no woman could love as strongly as he does:
There is no woman's sides
Can bide [withstand] 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 [capacity to hold].
Alas, their love may be called appetite [physical lust],
No motion of the liver [considered the source of real passion] but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt [she'll quickly regret her choice],
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.
Poor Viola is probably really tempted to reveal her true identity at this point and force this sexist "smuck " Orsino to admit that a woman can love as passionately as he. In fact she may well start to tell him the truth at line 104: "Ay, but I know -- " But what can she tell him? She can't reveal her true identity yet, so she comes up with a brilliant alternative, Cesario's mysterious sister. When Orsino asks what Cesario knows, the young man responds at line 106,
Too well what love women to men may owe.
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man
As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
And so in this indirect way Cesario/Viola introduces the idea of someone loving Orsino. Viola uses her disguises as a way to force Orsino to recognize the capacity of women for genuine feeling and independent action. In the same way Shakespeare most often uses his romantic comedies to make the same point with his largely male audiences. Shakespeare was not a proto-feminist, trying to lead his society into political correctness. But he is exploring the dramatic tension between male stereotypes of women and the reality of his authentic, intelligent heroines. The great irony is, of course, that women could not demonstrate this reality themselves but had to be portrayed by teenaged boys on the Elizabethan stage.
When Orsino asks what the history is of this supposedly superior woman, probably with a very sarcastic tone, Viola has the opening she needs at line 110:
A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm I' th' bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought;
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at her grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more; but indeed
Our shows are more than will [we show more passion than we really feel];
for still [always] we prove
Much in our vows bur little in our love.
Notice how this description of the mythical sister fits Viola herself exactly. Women in Elizabethan society were supposed to wait for men to make the first move, (although Olivia certainly didn't). But Viola, trapped in her disguise, her "concealment," has multiple reasons why she cannot reveal her love. She gives us a powerfully moving portrait of a woman who can never reveal her love, and yet she feels just as powerfully as Orsino who can let the world know of his affection. The image of "Patience on a monument" is especially effective. It refers to a feminine figure often found on tombstones representing the supposed capacity of women to suffer great loss in silence. She ends with a comparison between men and women in their ability to suffer. She's a kind of gender subversive.
Now Orsino can only conceive of "suffering for love" in the melodramatic images of Feste's song. If Cesario's sister suffers unrequited love, he asks at line 120, "But died thy sister of her love, my boy." Suddenly Viola is reminded of the reality of her situation, and she gives a very ambiguous answer at line 121: "I am all the daughters of my father's house,/ And all the brothers too, and yet I know not." Orsino hears the answer that says Cesario's sister must have died, because the boy is his father's only daughter. Viola then quickly adds, because of her disguise, that she is the only brother too. But there's that slight possibility the Captain mentioned, that Sebastian may still be alive, so she adds, "and yet I know not." Because Shakespeare revealed Sebastian to us back in II, 1, we can appreciate Viola's uncertainty. Cesario/Viola probably feels she may have revealed too much at this point, and she quickly changes the subject back to making a return visit to Olivia. Orsino's lesson is done for the moment, and he quickly reverts back to being a fool for love, even offering a jewel to win Olivia's affection.
Act II, Scene 5
scene, where an elaborate practical joke is played on Malvolio, is one of the
funniest in all of Shakespeare's plays.
I have seen Twelfth Night performed in many productions, both
professional and amateur, in this country and in
The reason Shakespeare replaced Feste with Fabian seems to have to do with keeping Feste from being completely committed to any one of the different groups in the play. Although he will later join in the fooling of Malvolio, he maintains some distance from the worst excesses of Toby by not being here in this scene. Besides, his special kind of humor isn't really needed for a scene where the thing that's funny is how Malvolio fools himself.
Fabian is just another one of Olivia's servants, and like everyone else we meet at her house, he has a grievance against Malvolio who "brought me/ out of favor with my lady about a bearbaiting here." It's easy to see Toby, Andrew and the rest as just high-spirited guys who enjoy a good time, but if you had to put up with their drunken brawls every night, you wouldn't be amused. And here Fabian acts as if holding a bearbaiting at Olivia's house was no big deal. However, a bearbaiting consisted of getting a bear to fight specially trained mastiff dogs, probably for money from a lot of rabid spectators. It was the Elizabethan equivalent of having monster trucks crush cars out in the driveway. If you were Olivia you probably wouldn't find it innocent fun.
At line 14 Maria directs the boys to hide in the shrubbery to watch while Malvolio discovers the phony letter. She describes at line 15 how Malvolio "has been yonder in the/ sun practicing his behavior to his shadow this hour." This is such a revealing detail about Malvolio, who is always thinking about how he appears to others. There is a similar detail in the great film Lawrence of Arabia where the heroic wannabe T.E. Lawrence strides along the top of a train surrounded by thousands of Arabs, watching his shadow and calculating the effect he is having on the spectators he wants to impress. Maria promises the letter will make a "contemplative idiot of him" [line 18], that is a egotist at whom others laugh. At line 21 she calls him "a trout that must be caught with tickling" or flattery.
Now the physical setup for the next 160 lines is that while the three jokers eavesdrop on Malvolio, their reactions will wildly swing from laughter to rage; they laugh at Malvolio's gullibility and then they are enraged by what he says. Their extreme reactions keep threatening to reveal their presence to Malvolio, so they are constantly struggling to remain hidden. The director and actors usually augment this comic situation by having the boys come up with wildly improbable ways of getting close enough to hear Malvolio while still hiding, an occasion for a lot of physical humor. Finally, Shakespeare discovered a simple principle of humor: Watching someone make a fool of himself is funny; watching others watch someone make a fool of himself makes the action even funnier. Remember, however, that the true humor of the scene is only fully realized in performance.
Malvolio enters at line 23:
'Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once
told me she [Olivia] did affect [like] me; and I have heard herself
come thus near, that, should she fancy [fall in love] it should
be one of my complexion. Besides, she uses me with
a more exalted respect than anyone else that
follows her. What should I think on't?
The opening sentence here is that echo of the real-life Puritan cliché about "God's will," which they were always citing as the source of their good luck. Remember, at the time he wrote this play Shakespeare had to be careful to avoid the charge of blasphemy, so he substituted "fortune" for "God." Later in the scene he'll use "Jove" as a replacement. You could blaspheme with the names of the Roman gods all you wanted. Now comes the big surprise: Malvolio, even before he finds the letter, is convinced Olivia is in love with him. He cites all these things he thinks she's said as evidence that she's in love with him. Remember in I, 5 when Olivia told him he was "sick of self-love"; apparently she was right on the mark. We see absolutely no evidence that Olivia has ever looked at him in a sexual sense, but he knows she's hot for him and analyzes her words and behavior to bolster his self-delusion. Then at line 35 he reveals his real purpose in fantasizing about Olivia loving him and wanting to marry him: "To be Count Malvolio." He doesn't love her; he just wants to get his hands on her power. He's always looking for examples where noble women have married men below their social station, as at line 39: "There is example for't. The Lady of the/ Strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe." We can imagine that Malvolio has cut out all the stories from the National Enquirer where powerful women have made improbable marriages, like Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett.
At this point (line 41) Andrew is so outraged be bursts out, "Fie on him, Jezebel" Unfortunately, of course, he picks a villainous character from the Bible but of the wrong gender, "Jezebel" being a .fem fatale.
Malvolio now begins to fantasize about being married to Olivia, and his fantasy tells us a lot about his character. Notice that the supposed object of his affection hardly appears in his vision. Not surprisingly for someone "sick of self-love," Malvolio is the central figure in his dream. Furthermore, as a Puritan Malvolio was supposed to reject any worldly affectation, such as fine clothes or jewels. He was supposed to be a simple, plain man of faith. But at line 44 he begins his fantasy, "having been three months married to her,/ sitting in my state -- " he pictures himself sitting above all the other people in Olivia's household, in a position of authority, probably in a throne on a dais. He continues at line 47, "Calling my officers about me, in my/ branched velvet gown; having come from a day-bed where I have left Olivia, where I have left Olivia sleeping --". First, as soon as he is married, he hires "officers" to do his bidding. Next, he envisions himself in a fancy embroidered robe, something very non-Puritan. Finally Olivia is conveniently out of the way in his dream, leaving him to deal with other people's shortcomings by himself. Olivia is sleeping on a sofa somewhere, probably exhausted by the sexual satisfaction Malvolio has delivered. At line 52 the fantasy builds to the payoff:
And then to have the humor of state; and
after a demure travel of regard, telling them I
know my place, as I would they should do theirs, to
ask for my kinsman Toby --
Malvolio has created exact details of how he will appear to others: his "humor of state" or how to appear to others as the one in authority. This is the kind of thing he has been practicing. He looks at each person present to assert his power. He uses a very unusual way of describing his new position: "I know my place, as I would they should do theirs." He knows what he is as Olivia's husband, Count Malvolio; the others must do their positions, or their jobs under Malvolio's control. Now he moves to the whole point of his marriage fantasy -- his confrontation with Toby, who is now not his employer's uncle but his kinsman, under his power. The eavesdropping Toby almost explodes. At line 58 Malvolio describes the meeting:
Seven of my people, with an obedient start,
make out for him. I frown the while, and per-
chance wind up my watch, or play with my -- some
rich jewel. Toby approaches; curtsies there to me --
Malvolio has a rich and full fantasy life. When he asks for Toby in his dream, it's not just one or two people who jump to obey, but seven of his people. That's power! Malvolio wants to let the rest of his people know that he is not happy and so he frowns and plays with a watch, a new and very expensive possession at that time. Maybe not a watch, and he reaches down as he fantasizes the moment and touches his steward's chain! A reminder of his humble position at that moment intrudes into his dream and he quickly changes the detail to some rich jewel. Toby finally comes running in response to Malvolio's summons, and look what he does -- he curtsies, the sign of submission by a social inferior.
Malvolio is now triumphant. He can afford to be magnanimous to the beaten Toby at line 65: "I extend my hand to him thus, quenching/ my familiar smile with an austere regard of control --" He offers his hand, like a good winner, but he doesn't smile. He shows by his stern or "austere" expression that he is holding his temper. It's interesting that Malvolio thinks of himself as smiling frequently, but when he reads the letter he is told that Olivia wants him to smile more often. Toby, at line 68, has his own fantasy: that he will punch Malvolio in the mouth. Malvolio continues to imagine what he will say to Toby, "Cousin Toby, my fortunes having/ cast me on your niece, give me this prerogative of speech…/ You must amend your drunkenness." There it is, through some abstract force called fortune, Malvolio has won the love of Olivia just so he can tell Toby to quit drinking. This is so self-centered and judgmental, whatever horrible practical joke is played on Malvolio, everyone will feel it is fully justified. At line 78 Malvolio adds another admonition: "Besides, you waste the treasure of/ your time with a foolish knight." Andrew suddenly brightens up and announces, "That's me, I warrant you [I know]." Sure enough, Malvolio identifies the culprit as Andrew, to which the knight tells us at line 83, "I knew 'twas I, for many do call me fool." How proud he is to have guessed correctly!
In the rest of this scene Malvolio finds the letter. Maria has been very careful to construct the letter in such a way as to avoid a direct identification of Olivia as the writer and Malvolio as the intended recipient of the letter. Why? [II, 5, lines 84 -- 209]
Maria has written the letter to maximize the psychological damage and public humiliation to Malvolio. If she had simply forged a letter addressed to him and signed Olivia's name, when the joke was made public people would have said, "Shame on you, Maria." However, by making the letter deliberately ambiguous, she forces Malvolio to jump to his own conclusions and in the process reveal his own egotistical gullibility. The letter is extremely clever and sophisticated, and it makes us wonder why a woman as smart as Maria would want to settle for an old drunk like Toby for a husband. But then in almost all Shakespeare's comedies the heroines have IQ's much higher than their husbands.
Malvolio finds the letter at line 87, and fortunately for the eavesdroppers and us he reads it aloud. He first recognizes Olivia's handwriting from certain letters in the address on the outside of the letter:
By my life, this is my lady's hand [handwriting]. These be
her very C's, her U's, and her T's; and thus makes
she her great P's. It is, in contempt of question [undoubtedly],
This is one of the funniest bawdy jokes in the play. When Malvolio exclaims about Olivia making her "great P's," her capital letter, even the snickering schoolboy gets the joke. Even the celestial Olivia has to relieve her bladder sometimes. The real joke is with the other letters. "Cut" was the Elizabethan equivalent of "cunt." The idea that the priggish Puritan Malvolio unwittingly picks out those three letters at random makes it even funnier. Everyone in Shakespeare's audience got the joke, if they could spell. However, a large number of the spectators were illiterate and, like Sir Andrew at line 91, had to have it explained to them. There must have been two distinct moments of laughter in the performance of the original play.
The letter is not addressed to Malvolio but to someone called "the unknown beloved." Malvolio makes an assumption and in the process will make himself look more foolish when the joke is revealed. At line 92 Malvolio reads:
"To the unknown beloved, this,
and my good wishes." Her very phrases! By your
leave, wax. Soft, and the impressure of her Lucrece,
with which she uses to seal. 'Tis my lady. To
whom should this be?
Besides the handwriting, the choice of phrases, he believes identifies the letter as coming from Olivia. It is not in an envelope but folded three times and the letter sealed with wax. In order to ensure privacy the hot wax had a special design placed in it by a signet ring. Olivia uses one which shows the Roman heroine Lucrece, about whom your notes tell you. Breaking the wax is a social taboo, unless you are the one to whom it's addressed. Malvolio continues to fool himself.
The letter opens with an odd little poem at line 98:
"Jove knows I love,
Lips, do not move;
No man must know."
"No man must know." What follows? The numbers
altered! "No man must know." If this should be
Here we get the first use of the politically correct "Jove," the chief Roman god and a substitute for the taboo "Lord" or "God" on the Elizabethan stage. The little poem is a teaser, and it teases Malvolio, who repeats the last line three times before articulating his fondest hope that he is the man. By the way the "numbers altered" here referred to the change in the poetic meter of the poem which follows.
Maria drops two more ambiguous hints in the next part of the letter at line 106:
"I may command where I adore,
But silence, like a Lucrece knife,
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore.
M,O,A,I doth sway my life."
Obviously Olivia commands Malvolio as his employer, but you could say the same thing about Fabian or Feste. The reference to the "Lucrece knife" evokes the idea of the noble woman protecting her reputation but suffering inwardly, without blood. Poor Olivia! Someone needs to relieve her. It's a dirty job, but Malvolio's willing! The last line about "M, O, A, I" is a master stroke. Why does Maria use those letters in that sequence? Fabian calls it "A fustian riddle," something sounding very complicated and mysterious. Malvolio repeats the line and racks his brain to come up with the answer. Toby describes this process at line 115 as a "staniel" or small hawk going after the wrong prey, or in this case the wrong meaning. Malvolio's self-deceptive analysis continues at line 116:
"I may command where I adore." Why she
may command me: I serve her; she is my lady.
Why, this is evident to any formal capacity. There
is no obstruction in this. And the end; what should
that alphabetical position portend? If I could make
that resemble something in me! Softly [let's see], "M,O,A,I."
He pounces on the fact that he works for Olivia as if this were an overwhelming proof. You can hear him trying to convince an imaginary critic (and himself) when he says, that the fact is "evident to any formal capacity," i.e. apparent to any reasonable intelligence. But then he comes back to the riddle of the letters and tries to make it fit his name. Toby and Fabian at line 122 compare him to a hunting dog following a cold scent until he is able to find what he's looking for. "M" does begin his name, but as he says at line 129, "there is no consonancy in the/ sequel [consistency in the sequence]. That suffers under probation [examination]. A should/ follow, but O does." The boys make a joke about making Malvolio cry "O" when they beat him. Nevertheless, he overcomes the problem at line 138: "This simulation [hidden meaning] is not as the/ former; and yet, to crush this a little, it would bow/ to me, for every one of these letters are in my name." In a memorable production Malvolio literally crushed and twisted the letter to try and get the letters into the proper sequence. Here we see the genius of Maria's invention. This hint is just close enough to allow Malvolio to convince himself but is still not exact so that his self-deception will make his humiliation all the more satisfying when it comes out in public.
The letter continues and encourages Malvolio's secret ambition at line 142:
"If this falls into thy hand, revolve [change]. In my
stars [social rank] I am above thee, but be not afraid of great-
ness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness,
and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."
Malvolio undoubtedly falls into the third category of greatness -- he has just lucked out. Of course the letter is encouraging Malvolio to accept the changes in his station that he has dreamed about. The letter then offers some specific changes Olivia wants to see at line 147:
"[T]o inure [prepare] thyself to what thou
art like to be, cast thy humble slough [exterior] and appear
fresh. Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with
servants. Let thy tongue tang arguments of state;
put thyself into the trick of singularity. She thus
advises thee that sighs for thee. Remember who
commended thy yellow stockings and wished to see
thee ever cross-gartered. I say, remember. Go to,
thou art made, if thou desir'st to be so. If not, let
me see thee a steward still,. the fellow [equal] of servants,
and not worthy to touch Fortune's fingers. Farewell,
She that would alter services with thee,
The Fortunate Unhappy."
What Olivia supposedly asks Malvolio to do is essentially what he is already doing. She wants him to act above his humble social station, to pick a fight with a kinsman, like Toby. She urges him to be "surly with servants," like Feste and Maria. She advises him to make himself "singular," to stand out from his peers. Then the advice gets strange: to wear yellow stockings and to tie his garters around his legs in a elaborate crossed pattern. Maria will tell us a few lines later that Olivia hates the color yellow, but Malvolio assumes that if his employer has said anything about his fashion choices, it must have indicated approval. The letter urges Malvolio, "Thou art made, if thou desir'st to be so."
From line 160 on Malvolio reviews all the evidence that the letter was written by Olivia for him. He is convinced he is correct in his assumptions:
Daylight and champian [open country] discovers not more. This
is open [apparent]. I will be proud. I will read politic authors,
I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance [inferior friends],
I will be point-devise, the very man [what the letter advises].
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade [fool]
me, for every reason excites to this [conclusion], that my lady
loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of
late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered; and
in this she manifests herself to my love, and with
a kind of injunction drives me to these habits of her
Malvolio's response to the letter from when he first finds it is to convince himself that his fantasies are true. Here he swears he will do whatever the letter has told him to do, which is what he was already doing. So he will read books that make him appear more intelligent than he really is and to act as if he is superior to the other servants. He will quarrel with Toby, which he had already been doing. He knows that his fashion choices have impressed Olivia and he will continue with them because they please her. In effect Malvolio gives himself permission to fall in love, much as Olivia did when she allowed herself to lust after Cesario.
Of course none of this is Malvolio's doing. Olivia has fallen for him and plans to make him her husband because God has singled him out for His special favor. (There is a kind of arrogance in Puritanism that imputes everything to God's Will.) In the next sequence, beginning at line 170, notice how many times Malvolio thanks some higher power for his success:
I thank my stars. I am happy [successful]. I will be
strange [arrogant], stout [courageous], in yellow stockings, and cross-
gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on. Jove
and my stars be praised. Here is yet a postscript.
"Thou canst not choose but know who I
am. If thou entertain'st [reciprocate] my love, let it appear in
thy smiling. Thy smiles become thee well. There-
fore in my presence still [always] smile, dear my sweet, I
Jove, I thank thee. I will smile; I will do everything
that thou will have me.
In the course of this scene Malvolio has used "fortune," "stars," and "Jove" to substitute for "God's Will." None of it was Malvolio's doing or desire. Now the last injunction in some ways is the funniest. Remember the first time we heard Malvolio speak, back in Act I, scene 5? Olivia asked him if he didn't think Feste's humor improved after the Clown had helped ease her grief, and the self-righteous prig said, at line 74, "Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him." Based on that response, would you guess that Malvolio was a fun kind of guy, given to smiling and laughing? Hardly! In every production I've ever seen of this play Malvolio is a very dour person. When he reads this directive that his lady love wants him to smile more, he really has to work at getting his face to unfreeze enough to form a grotesque smile. It's always a bit of very funny physical comedy.
When Malvolio leaves Toby, Andrew and Fabian collapse with laughter. Toby is so impressed by the quality of the joke that he announces at line 183 "I could marry this wench [Maria] for this device [joke]." This prepares us for the marriage of Maria and Toby at the end of the play. Now Andrew wants to be a full part of the levity, but he can't think of what to say, so he becomes like a little kid who can only say "Me too!" when someone says something that sounds neat. How many times, from line 181 to the end of the scene, does Andrew say the equivalent of "Me too"? Maria explains the full significance of the humor and what we can expect later in the play at line 198 -- 206. We'll see the final effect of the practical joke over the next three acts.
Act III. Scene 1
In the first 85 lines of this scene we get a slight digression as Cesario arrives at Olivia's house and has an exchange with Feste. How is Feste's humor here different from his humor earlier in the play? Then Cesario will have a short conversation with Toby and Andrew before Olivia enters. What seems to be Toby's attitude toward the young man? [III, 1, lines 1 -- 85]
The conversation between Cesario and Feste does not add to the plot line in the least. It does give us a further sense of Feste's (and Shakespeare's) kind of humor: plays on words. We see this kind of comic misuse of language in the elaborate joke in the first 10 lines of the scene about "living by the church." As Feste explains at line 11, "To see this age! A sentence/ is but a chev'ril [fine leather] glove to a good wit. How/ quickly the wrong side may be turned outward." We've seen Feste's quick wit in nonsense comedy, in the mockery of pretentious speech and sentimental love songs. Now we have a more philosophical humor. Cesario agrees that misunderstanding can occur when people take the meaning of words in the wrong way, saying at line 14, "They that dally nicely [play tricks]/ with words may quickly make them wanton [ambiguous]." We get this exchange at line 16,
Feste: I would therefore my sister had had no name.
Viola: Why, man?
Feste: Why, sir, her name's a word, and to dally with
that word might make my sister wanton [promiscuous]. But indeed
words are very rascals since bonds disgraced them.
Feste goes a long way just to create a pun on "wanton." Then he makes an interesting point in the second sentence above. In the good old days a man's "word" was his promise, but as the times became more litigious, people came to depend more on "bonds," formal, provable legal agreements. As he says at line 24 "words are grown so false I am loath to/ prove reason with them."
When Cesario asks if Feste works as Olivia's "fool," the clown gets in a great barbed remark at line 33:
No, indeed, sir. The Lady Olivia has no folly.
She will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and
fools are as like husbands as pilchers [small herrings] are to her-
rings -- the husband's the bigger. I am indeed not
her fool, but her corrupter of words.
The point of Feste's fooling is always to try and get a tip, the primary way he has of picking up pocket money. Al though Feste declared back at line 29 that he did not care for Orsino's young messenger, at line 45 when Cesario gives him some money, the jester suddenly bestows a blessing on Cesario/Viola:
Feste: Now Jove, in his next commodity [shipment] of hair,
send thee a beard.
Viola: By my troth, I'll tell thee, I am almost sick
for one, though I would not have it grow on my
In a time when nearly all men wore beards, Viola is hair-challenged. Of course she can use the lack of a beard to further her disguise as a teenager. So when Feste hopes she soon matures enough to grow facial hair, she uses that wish to express one of the dramatic ironies found throughout the play where the audience alone gets the full significance of a character's comment. The beard she is "almost sick for" is undoubtedly Orsino's.
Having begged one tip, Feste tries for two with a literary allusion at line 50:
Feste: Would not a pair of these [coin he previously got] have bred, sir?
Viola: yes, being kept together and put to use [lent out].
I would play Lord Pandarus of
to bring a Cressid to this Troilus.
In the story of Troilus and Cressida, supposedly dating back to the Trojan Wars, Troilus was a prince, and Cressid a Trojan maiden whose uncle, Lord Pandarus, engineered a love affair between the two young people. When they were separated by the war, Cressid was forced to betray his love and ended her life a figure of scorn and contempt and died a beggar (see Feste's comment at line 56.) For his part in the ill-fated affair, Pandarus gave his name to unsavory character who brings men and women together for illicit sex, i.e. a panderer or pimp. It's obviously a clever way for Feste to get a second coin, because the person being begged has to recognize the reference. It also illustrates one of the interesting ways by which Shakespeare's creativity works. At times in his career when he was working on or had just finished a play, he would refer to the subject in another play. Right around the time he was writing this play he was working on his own version of a tragic love story called Troilus and Cressida. He did the same thing in Hamlet, referring to Julius Caesar and also Macbeth, referring to Antony and Cleopatra. Feste also makes a more contemporary literary allusion, as your notes tell you, when he explains at lines 58 -- 60 why he chooses to use the word "welkin" rather than "element."
In a passage from line 61 to 69 Viola comments on the role Feste plays, saying, "This fellow is wise enough to play the fool." This passage is in verse signifying that it is serious compared to the earlier foolery. Shakespeare has Viola confirm what we already suspected: that Feste is hardly a fool but is indeed a very intelligent and observant person. Like Maria and her perceptive letter, real intelligence in this play is found with some of the lower-class servants.
Toby and Andrew enter at line 70 and greet Cesario. Andrew parrots a few words in French (not very well), and when Cesario answers him in courtly language, the knight quickly reverts to English. Now Toby uses certain words in an unusual manner, much like Feste, but in this case the word-play is not for comic effect but almost hostile. At line 75 Toby says,
Toby: Will you encounter the house? My niece is
desirous you should enter, if your trade be to her.
Viola: I am bound to your niece, sir. I mean, she is
the list of my voyage.
Toby: Taste your legs, sir; put them to motion.
Viola: My legs do better understand me, sir, than I
understand what you mean by bidding me taste my
Toby: I mean, to go, sir, to enter.
Viola: I will answer with gait and entrance. But
we are prevented.
Olivia has made a big deal over the arrival of Cesario, sending Toby, among others, to watch for him. I think Toby picks up on Olivia's excitement and resents it, especially since he wants to keep Andrew interested. He is territorial about Olivia and her home. When he greets Cesario in this sequence there is almost a competitiveness in his use of language. The underlined words above challenge Cesario to get the hidden message. At first he speaks as if Cesario were an arriving merchant ship. The young man gets the joke and answers appropriately, showing his quick wit. Then Toby changes the metaphor with "Taste your legs," and Cesario expresses his confusion in a clever pun about his legs "under-standing him." What's really important in this exchange is that Olivia, by her behavior, confirms everyone's suspicions about her feelings for Cesario when she rushes out to meet him. A proper young noble woman would never do that; it reveals her emotions to everybody, including the servants. In the remainder of this scene how else does Olivia make a fool of herself for love? [III, scene 1, lines 86 -- 166]
It is always a potentially messy and embarrassing situation when one person desperately loves someone who can't stand that person. Viola/Cesario has an additional problem. As Viola, she wants Olivia to continue rejecting Orsino's advances; as Cesario she is duty-bound as a courtly gentleman to do everything possible to further her master's wishes. As Olivia rushes out to meet Cesario, the young man continues speaking as an accomplished gentleman. Now in the Renaissance gentlemen watched each other closely, actually copying down especially impressive words and phrases others used. The highest achievement for a courtly gentleman was to be taken for a courtier, a gentleman of the court. Andrew, who's not very good at this game, decides to use Cesario as his model in the exchange at line 86 -- 93:
Viola: Most excellent accomplished lady, the heavens rain
odors on you.
Andrew: That youth's a rare courtier. "Rain odors" --
Viola: My matter hath no voice, lady, but to your
own most pregnant and vouchsafed ear.
Andrew: "Odors," "pregnant," and "vouchsafed" --
I'll get 'em all three all ready.
Cesario's opening lines are an exaggerated greeting to Olivia, calling down the sweetness of the heavens on her as a blessing. Then he seeks to speak to her alone, without a chaperone, as he had done back in Act I, scene 5, so he says his message is not for anyone else -- "hath no voice" -- except for her "pregnant" -- quick-understanding and "vouchsafed" -- confidential -- "ear." Andrew doesn't have a clue what Cesario is saying, but he likes the big words, so he memorizes three that he wants to use himself. You only need to look at his choices to realize that when he tries to use these three words in a single sentence, it's going to be a disaster.
Olivia dismisses everyone and takes Cesario's hand. She plays the coquette, and as the language changes from prose (humor) to verse (serious) she asks his name. When Cesario refers to himself as her servant, she jumps on that idea. How can he call himself her servant when he rules over her passion? She suggests that his remark is "lowly feigning" at line 101 -- phony humility. Olivia reminds him that he is the servant of Orsino and then rejects any mention of the count's name. When Cesario gently urges his master's suit, Olivia urges him at line 110 to "undertake another suit,/ I had rather hear you to solicit that/ Than music of the spheres." The Elizabethans believed that when the universe was in perfect harmony, the heavens produced a music that was transcendentally beautiful.
Olivia now reveals her intentions with an apology at line 113:
I did send,
After the last enchantment you did here,
A ring in chase of you. So did I abuse
Myself, my servant, and, I fear me, you.
Under your hard construction must I sit,
To force that on you in a shameful cunning
Which you knew none of yours. What might you think?
To modern audiences Olivia's behavior sending the ring to Cesario probably seems perfectly normal. In the context of that age, however, it is an embarrassment that Olivia feels bad about. Notice that she characterizes her actions as an "abuse" of everyone involved, including her servant Malvolio. She fears that Cesario must think badly of her for her violation of the code of polite society. She compares her situation at line 120 as having put her reputation at risk, as if it were a bear, chained to a stake and set upon by angry, unmuzzled dogs. (Remember Fabian talking about staging a bear baiting at Olivia's house?) She asks Cesario what he thinks at line 124, and Viola/Cesario replies, "I pity you." Here's a general rule for living: if you ask someone what they think of you, hoping for some expression of love, and they reply that they pity you, it's not a good sign. Olivia is so besotted with Cesario that she tries to make something positive out of pity, saying at line 125, "That's a degree to love." Cesario makes it crystal clear that he/she has absolutely no interest at all in Olivia, observing that we sometimes pity our enemies.
Confronted with the awful truth that the young man is not in love with her, Olivia almost makes an escape from total embarrassment, beginning at line 128:
Why then, methinks 'tis time to smile again.
O world, how apt the poor are to be proud.
If one should be a prey, how much better
To fall before the lion than the wolf. Clock strikes
The clock upbraids me with the waste of time.
Be not afraid, good youth, I will not have you,
And yet, when wit and youth is come to harvest,
Your wife is like to reap a proper man.
response here is adult, considered and very classy. Rather than blaming someone else, like the
losers on reality television shows, Olivia manages to retrieve some
dignity. She pays tribute, indirectly,
to Cesario, saying it was better to be shot down by him as a superior man,
"the lion," than by some second-rate guy, "the wolf." She doesn't wallow in self-pity but decides
to get on with her life, "to smile again," and not to waste any more
time. She even wishes Cesario well and
envisions that when he finally does marry, his wife
will get a real winner. Wouldn't it be
wonderful if we could all extricate ourselves from inappropriate relationships
as Olivia does here? She points out his
exit, "due west," and Cesario replies with a touch of gentle humor,
"Then westward ho!" at line 136.
Your notes explain that this was the cry used by the boatmen who
transported people on the
Alas, Olivia's acceptance of the end of her illusions about love does not last. Most people are not able to handle that kind of rejection. And so she asks the young man what he really thinks of her at line 140, setting off a series of dramatic ironies:
Olivia: I prithee tell me what thou think'st of me.
Viola: That you think you are not what you are.
Olivia: If I think so, I think the same of you.
Viola: Then think you right. I am not what I am.
Olivia: I would you were as I would have you be.
Viola: Would it be better, madam, than I am?
I wish it might, for now I am your fool.
Olivia asks pathetically what the man thinks of her who has just broken her heart and told her that he pities her. How low can love make us stoop? Cesario is getting irritated and tells her she is mistaken in her self-perception of being in love with a man, the first dramatic irony. Olivia misconstrues and thinks he is insulting her sanity. Cesario agrees that he is not what he seems to be, the second irony. Finally, when she wishes Cesario would be what she wants him to be, i.e. in love with her, he angrily says that she has made him her fool. He means that her holding onto a hopeless desire has made him appear foolish, and it also alludes to the fact that as Viola, Olivia's misdirected passion is doubly pointless, the third irony. These ironic statements are things that only the audience picks up on at this point.
You can tell when someone is besotted with love when even insults make the person horny, as Olivia shows us at line 147: "O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful/ In the contempt and anger of his lip!" Then she makes an absolute fool of herself:
Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
By maidhood [virginity], honor, truth, and everything,
I love thee so that, maugre [despite] all thy pride,
Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause;
But rather reason thus with reason fetter,
Love unsought is good, but given unsought is better.
The line of reasoning in the last four lines gets complicated, but the overall meaning is clear. Olivia is throwing herself at Cesario and asking him to ignore the disgust he has expressed about her passion. She begs him to accept her unwanted love and return her affection. Can't you simply accept the fact that I am pursuing you, despite the convention that the man does the wooing?
Cesario/Viola has tried to be polite and tactful, without success. Now she explodes with rage at line 160:
I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,
And that no woman has; nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.
And so adieu, good madam. Never more
Will I my master's tears to you deplore.
We get still one more hint at the gender surprise that awaits Olivia at the end of the play. Now Cesario declares that he is through playing games with Olivia, trying to get her to love Orsino while the willful countess makes goo-goo eyes at Cesario. But Olivia is so far gone that she uses the possibility of accepting Orsino's love as a kind of emotional blackmail to make Cesario come back: "Yet come again; for thou perhaps mayst move/ That heart which now abhors to like his love." Poor Olivia can't get much lower than this.
Act III, Scene 2
Ironically Andrew is the first person in the play, other than the two principals, to realize that Olivia is in love with Cesario. How does he reach this realization? Why does he immediately decide to return home? How do Toby and Fabian convince him that what he saw did not mean what he thinks it meant? [III, 2, line 1 -- 84]
Andrew, the nitwit, is the first person to discover Olivia's passion for Cesario. This discovery is more clearly shown in performance than in the text. In some productions he grabs a glimpse of Olivia throwing herself at the youth; in other versions he spies on the whole meeting between the two. However, he finds out, Andrew instantly realizes he will never get that date with Olivia. Furthermore, he is offended that the countess prefers a servant over a knight such as himself. He decides to go home immediately; Toby's fund of ready cash is about to disappear.
Fabian becomes Toby's accomplice and makes the argument at line 18 that Olivia's behavior with Cesario was calculated to make Andrew react:
She did show favor to the youth in your sight
only to exasperate you, to awake your dormouse
valor, to put fire in your heart and brimstone in
your liver. You should then have accosted her, and
with some excellent jests, fire-new from the mint,
you should have banged the youth into dumbness.
This was looked for at your hand, and this was
balked. The double gilt of this opportunity you
let time wash off, and you are now sailed into the
North of my lady's opinion, where you will hang
like an icicle on a Dutchman's beard unless you do
redeem it by some laudable attempt either of valor
or of policy.
Andrew, you just know his whole life has been like this. He thinks he sees something (Olivia's clear
rejection of his affections), but someone comes along and convinces him that he
didn't see what he thought he did.
Furthermore, it's all his fault. He was supposed to have done something in
response to Olivia's provocation, and he didn't realize it. Fabian convinces him that she expected him to
step up and defeat Cesario in a contest of wit with newly-minted, original
insults. (Not much chance of that!) She
wanted Andrew to have "accosted" her (there's that word again!) and
win her heart. He has blown his
chance. Fabian describes how badly
Andrew has tarnished his reputation in a wonderful comparison to a recent
expedition to the polar seas north of
Toby urges Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel and to hurt him seriously. He assures Andrew that the report of value in combat really turns women on (lines 38 -- 39). Now Shakespeare has prepared us for this development. Back in Act I, scene 3 Maria had referred to the fact that Andrew liked to pick fights but was too much of a coward to ever follow through. And in the confrontation with Malvolio in II, 3 at line 125 Andrew himself offered a plan for revenge on the steward: challenge him to a fight and then not show up for it. In his warped view of the world, this would make Malvolio appear to be a fool; in the reality of the courtly gentleman, this would make Andrew appear to be a coward. Toby directs Andrew to write a challenge at line 43:
Go, write it in a martial hand. Be curst [bitter] and
brief; it is no matter how witty, so it be eloquent
and full of invention. Taunt him with the license of
ink. If thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not
be amiss; and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet
of paper, although the sheet were big enough for
the bed of Ware in
about it. Let there be gall enough in thy ink, though
thou write with a goose pen, no matter. About it!
knows that Andrew will have trouble writing a coherent letter of challenge, so
he says just make the handwriting appear serious ["martial
hand"]. There's no hope Andrew can
be witty, so shoot for "eloquent" and inventive. Andrew can be as insulting as he wants in a
letter, since there's no danger of an immediate attack. In the language of Shakespeare's time you
could refer to someone in the formal third-person pronoun of "you" or
in the informal pronoun of "thou."
Unless you knew the person you were talking to very well, to use
"thou" was an insult, so Andrew's urged to use the word at least
three times. Toby uses a very specific
comparison to describe how many lies about Cesario Andrew should include in the
letter: as many lies as will fill the sheet of paper, even if the sheet were
big enough to fit the bed of Ware. So
much of Shakespeare's humor is topical, like the icicle on Barents' beard; it
is also local. Apparently in an inn in
the little town of
At line 55 Toby reminds us that his only interest in Andrew is to spend his money. He correctly predicts that neither Andrew nor Cesario will be eager to fight. As he says about Andrew's courage at line 61, "For Andrew/ if he were opened , and you find so much blood in/ his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I'll eat the/ rest of the anatomy." The liver was thought to be the seat of the emotions in the body, and blood was believed to carry the emotions through the body. So Toby offers to eat Andrew's body if his liver is found to contain any blood at all (enough to "clog the foot of a flea"). Although not predisposed to violence, Cesario appears intelligent enough to recognize that the letter Andrew will write comes from a fool. So Toby will rely on a verbal challenge to try to bring Andrew and Cesario to fight.
Maria enters with news of Malvolio's transformation. Line 67 reminds us of the short stature of the young boy playing this role when Toby refers to Maria as "the youngest wren of nine," what we might call "the runt of the litter." Shakespeare prepares us for Malvolio's ridiculous appearance by having Maria laughing hysterically and using some unusual comparisons. At line 70 she describes his improbable appearance and behavior:
there is no
Christian that means to be saved by believing
rightly can ever believe such impossible passages
of grossness. He's in yellow stockings.
is so outrageous in costume and actions that to believe he is for real would
challenge the faith of even a devout Christian! He has crossed his garters, "Most
villainously; like a pedant that keeps a/ school in th'
church. I have dogged him like his/
murderer" [lines 75 -- 77]. The comparison here suggests that crossed
garters were so out of fashion that only clueless schoolteachers who ran
small-time operations in the local church were still doing it. (Shakespeare may have spent several years in
his youth working in just such a school.)
The reference to Maria having "dogged him like his murderer"
seems to suggest that she has gotten as close to him as would someone following
him to kill him. At line 78 we learn "He does smile his/ face into more
lines than is in the new map with/ the augmentation of the
Act III, scene 3
Shakespeare allows us to enjoy the pay-off of the joke on Malvolio and to see
what Andrew writes in his challenge, he takes us back to check in with
Sebastian and Antonio. They have now
entered the capital of
At the opening of this scene Antonio explains his reasons for having followed Sebastian into the city. Notice how he openly acknowledges his love for the young man, but adds another reason for his obsessive behavior at line 4:
I could not stay behind you. My desire
(More sharp than filed [sharpened] steel) did spur me forth;
And not all love to see you (though so much
As might have drawn one to longer voyage)
But jealousy [anxiety] what might befall your travel,
Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger,
Unguided and unfriended, often prove
Rough and unhospitable. My willing love,
The rather by these arguments of fear,
Set forth in your pursuit.
Antonio is not shy about proclaiming his love for Sebastian, a love so strong that it could have led him to travel much further ("a longer voyage") to be with the young man. But he adds another reason, a concern ("jealousy") that being young and naïve ("skilless"), Sebastian might get into trouble. Now whether Antonio's worry about his friend getting into trouble is legitimate, or just another rationale for his own obsession, what this passage does do is set up the reason for Sebastian's reaction when strange people start recognizing him. He thinks it's all part of a criminal plot to rob him. Of course, from Antonio's perspective, when he falls into Olivia's clutches Sebastian does get into trouble.
Sebastian acknowledges Antonio's love and concern for him. His expression of appreciation is in very formal language, suggesting a sense of gratitude without any kind of emotional commitment. When he declares his love for Olivia, the young man will use a very different kind of language, much more direct and emotionally charged. Whatever Antonio's feelings, Sebastian is not swept off his feet by the ship captain. At line 13 he says,
My kind Antonio,
I can no longer answer make but thanks,
And thanks, and ever oft good turns
Are shuffled off with such uncurrent [worthless] pay,
But were my worth [wealth], as is my conscience firm [my sense of your value],
You should find better dealing.
In effect Sebastian here just expresses his appreciation and says he wishes he had the means to reward Antonio more fully for his love and concern. The formality of his language reminds us of his status as a educated, courtly gentleman and also keeps out any sense of emotional attachment. Sebastian quickly changes the subject and proposes to view the sights.
Antonio has to explain why he is a marked man in
The offense is not of such a bloody nature,
Albeit the quality of the time and quarrel
Might well have given us bloody argument [it could have been more serious].
It might have since been answered in repaying
What we took from them, which for traffic's sake [purposes of trade]
Most of our city did. Only myself stood out [refused to go along];
For the which if I be lapsed in this place
I shall pay dear.
Antonio's explanation makes it clear that he is no murderer. Furthermore, the rest of those involved in the attack have since made their peace with Orsino. Only Antonio has been defiant. Perhaps it is the same nonconformist trait that we see in his rash decision to follow Sebastian. What's the purpose of this lengthy explanation and offer of mitigating circumstances? Shakespeare will have a problem with the character of Antonio at the end of the play. He will be one of several misfits, like Malvolio and Andrew, who are made fools by love, who don't end up with the person they love. We are led to believe that he will be pardoned for his offenses against Orsino, especially since no one was killed and the rest of the perpetrators have been forgiven.
Finally Antonio gives Sebastian his purse while he goes off to find rooms for them at an inn called "The Elephant." We already know that the young man is broke from line 17, and the captain at line 44 says, "Haply [perhaps] your eye shall light upon some toy [knickknack]/ You have desire to purchase, and your store [wealth]/ I think is not for idle markets, sir." Antonio probably figures that since his open declaration of love didn't work, maybe bribing the kid may make him more forthcoming. Sebastian agrees to take the purse, but only to hold it for his friend and goes off on his own.
Act III, scene 4
We have been prepared for this scene for some time: Malvolio's appearance before Olivia. I want you to notice the complicated levels of awareness. Malvolio will quote extensively from the letter. We recognize certain key words and phrases, and we realize why he cites those particular items. But Olivia has no idea of the letter. She doesn't realize he's quoting. What does she think he's talking about? [III, 4, lines 1 -- 88]
Olivia is frantic over Cesario's return visit, and at line 2 she wonders how to bribe him:
"How shall I feast him? What bestow of him?/ For youth is bought more oft than begged or borrowed" [lines 2 --3]. This is the same strategy for seduction that Antonio just tried in the preceding scene. Olivia realizes she is too giddy and speaking too loudly, so that the servants may overhear her, and at line 4 she asks for Malvolio because "He is sad and civil [formal],/ And suits well for a servant with my fortunes." Olivia sees herself as a servant to love. Maria says he is coming but warns that he is acting strangely and at line 8 declares, "He is sure possessed." Maria is preparing Olivia to see Malvolio as crazy. In Shakespeare's day there were two causes for insanity: the excess of some emotional state, what we might characterize as a nervous breakdown; and possession by demons, what we might diagnose as schizophrenia. Of the two forms of madness, possession was definitely the scarier. When Olivia asks about Malvolio's symptoms, Maria says at line 10, "he does nothing but smile" and warns her employer to have a guard to protect her.
At line 13 Olivia sees a parallel between her steward and her own condition: "I am as mad as he,/ If sad and merry madness equal be." Here we see that ambivalent quality of love which Shakespeare explored in the oxymorons of Romeo and Juliet.
In the next 50 lines the humor comes primarily from the fact that Malvolio quotes from the letter about which Olivia has no inkling; what he says we understand, but she hears as mad ranting. She asks why he is smiling when she called for him because it is a serious or "sad" occasion. Malvolio responds at line 19:
Sad, lady? I could be sad. This does make
some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering;
but what of that? If it please the eye of one, it is
with me as the very true sonnet is, "Please one,
and please all."
Malvolio is so proud that he appears in this ridiculous, affected fashion of having his garters crisscrossing his legs that he has to call attention to it so she doesn't miss the significance. Now lovers were supposed to write short poems or "sonnets" in praise of their loved ones. Malvolio's sonnet is his garter. If he pleases his beloved, he pleases everyone. What does Olivia make of all this?
When Olivia asks what's wrong with him, he points out another way he has obeyed the directions in the letter at line 26:
Not black in my mind, though yellow in my
legs. It did come to his hands, and commands shall
be executed. I think we do know the fine Roman
In case Olivia has missed his yellow stockings, he points them out and explains that he has them on in response to the suggestions she has made in the letter, suggestions which he has taken as commands. He knows these directions come from her, because although the letter was not signed to protect Olivia's modesty, he has recognized her handwriting, the "fine Roman hand" written in elegant italics. Once again, what does Olivia make of all this?
Concerned that he is ill, she asks if he will go to bed. He hears this, of course, as an erotic invitation and eagerly answers at line 31, "To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and I'll come to thee." Poor Malvolio is really excited! Olivia asks why he smiles and kisses his hand. (Courtly gentlemen used this gesture as a way of emphasizing their romantic comments.) Now Maria joins in and asks Malvolio why he is behaving so oddly. The love besotted steward sees this as an opportunity to fulfill another suggestion from the letter: to be surly with servants. He replies at line 36: "At your request? Yes, nightingales answer daws!" What he means here is that his love has elevated him above the common flock of crows or "daws" to become a superior, elegant bird, a "nightingale." Normally he would disdain to answer a mere servant who asked an insulting question as Maria has done, but even the nightingale responds to the crow sometimes. Maria persists in asking about his "ridiculous boldness" in front of Olivia; he is not acting as a servant should, with humbleness and restraint.
Now Malvolio refers to his favorite part of the letter, the part about achieving greatness. From line 40 to line 58 he will quote from the letter, and Olivia's response will remind us she has no idea what he's talking about. Malvolio is so self-possessed that he fails to see that the supposed author of the letter on seven different occasions fails to recognize the quotations.
Malvolio: "Be not afraid of greatness." 'Twas well writ.
Olivia: What mean'st thou by that, Malvolio? [#1 failure]
Malvolio: "Some are born great."
Olivia: Ha! [#2]
Malvolio: "Some achieve greatness."
Olivia: What say'st thou? [#3]
Malvolio: "And some have greatness thrust upon them."
Olivia: Heavens restore thee! [#4]
Malvolio: "Remember who commended thy yellow stockings."
Olivia: Thy yellow stockings? [#5]
Malvolio: "And wished to see thee cross-gartered."
Olivia: Cross-gartered? [#6]
Malvolio: "Go to, thou art made, if thou desir'st to be so."
Olivia: Am I made? [#7]
Malvolio: "If not, let me see thee a servant still."
Olivia: Why, this is very midsummer madness.
If this were a sanity hearing presided over by Olivia, Malvolio has flunked. Of the three causes of greatness, Malvolio is especially fond of the third one, having "greatness thrust upon him." Why? Notice how failure to recognize #7 makes it clear that Olivia doesn't even realize he is quoting from another source. Elizabethans believed that around the summer solstice, "midsummer," people would act in a crazy manner, especially about love, i.e. A Midsummer Night's Dream.
When a messenger comes with word of the return of Cesario, Olivia rushes out to see him, but she does give specific directions at line 63: "Let this fellow be looked to. Where's my cousin/ Toby? Let some of my people have a special care/ of him. I would not have him miscarry for the/ half of my dowry." Olivia is a very kind person, and although Malvolio is only an employee, she gives instruction that he be cared for, citing Toby as a possible caregiver; he might as well do something useful for a change. She even suggests that money is no obstacle to Malvolio's treatment. Now all this kindness serves only to convince Malvolio even further that his employer is in love with him. Alone, at line 67, Malvolio explains the significance of what just happened:
O ho, do you come near me now? No [Do you see who I am?]
worse man than Sir Toby to look to me. This
concurs directly with the letter. She sends him on
purpose, that I may appear stubborn to him; for she
incites me to that in the letter. "Cast thy humble
slough," [behavior ]says she; "be opposite with a kinsman,
surly with servants; let thy tongue tang with
arguments of state [weighty matters]; put thyself into the trick of singularity." And consequently sets down the manner
how; as, a sad face, a reverend carriage, a slow
tongue, in the habit of some sir of note [dressed as a grand gentleman]
, and so forth.
From when Malvolio first read the letter he has carried on an imaginary argument over its authenticity and whether or not it was directed to him. He keeps citing evidence that he is indeed Olivia's beloved, as if he had to convince someone else. Now he finds all kinds of hidden meanings in Olivia's confusion over his strange behavior, so that the choice of Toby as caregiver was deliberate, allowing Malvolio to work on being an arrogant aristocrat, as he says "some sir of note," i.e. someone with a title. Malvolio here reads from the letter to make sure he gets all the details correct. Better yet, I imagine that he has memorized the letter in its entirety.
He continues his self-justification at line 78:
I have limned [caught her like a bird] her; but it is Jove's doing, and Jove make me thankful. And when she went away
now, "Let this fellow be looked to." "Fellow."
Not "Malvolio," nor after my degree [my social status as a servant] , but "fellow." Why everything adheres together, that no
dram of a scruple, no scruple of a scruple, no
obstacle, no incredulous or unsafe circumstance [no impossible objection] --
what can be said? Nothing that can be can come
between me and the full prospect of my hopes.
Well, Jove, not I, is the doer of this, and he is to
Malvolio wins his self-argument here. Olivia's use of "fellow," or social equal, proves she thinks of him as her future husband. There can be no possible doubt that the letter and its contents are authentic. He even makes a pun (something unusual for the sober business manager) on "scruple," as a pharmacist's measure of something very small, and "scruple" as doubt -- not even a doubt as big as a third of a dram, another measurement of smallness. The discovery of the trick played on Malvolio will be all the more devastating because it will be apparent to those who read the letter that he has deluded himself most of all. Least we feel to bad for the abused lover, notice how he expresses his "love" in this passage -- he has caught her, like a trophy, and he expresses his triumph not as the achievement of true love, but as the fulfillment of his hopes for social advancement. He doesn't love Olivia; she is just the means to his end, which is power. Finally, we get the self-deprecation. It wasn't his doing but "God's will," here expressed with the euphemism of "Jove," the chief Roman god, used to get around the charges of sacrilege.
In the next sequence Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria get to play with Malvolio. What do they pretend to assume is wrong with him? How do they treat him? [III, 4, 88 -- 147]
Remember that the people at this time believed that one of the causes of insanity was possession by the devil. It was very scary to be around such a person, not just because of the possibility his unpredictable behavior, but also because the possession was believed to be contagious. So throughout the sequence the three jokesters behave as if Malvolio is a dangerous lunatic, which angers him, and they try to calm him by offering advice and speaking to him as if he were a child, which angers him all the more. At line 90 Toby vows to speak to Malvolio, despite the danger, "if all the devils of hell be drawn in little," that is concentrated inside his head. At line 97 Maria pretends to hear the devil in Malvolio's voice: "Lo, how hollow the fiend speaks within him!" At line 103 Toby urges Malvolio to resist the possession: "What, man, defy the devil?" At line 121 Toby characterizes Malvolio's behavior as playing "at cherry-pit," a child's game, "with Satan."
To treat Malvolio's illness the three "concerned" visitors suggest using a gentle approach, so as not to anger the fiend inside him. At line 108 Fabian says, "Carry his water to the wise woman," the local healer. And you thought peeing into a small cup was a modern invention! Finally, at line 124 Maria advises Toby to get Malvolio to say his prayers, and when Malvolio becomes enraged by her presumption, she observes that the demons make him mad at the idea of godliness. Part of Toby's "gentle" approach is to speak to the steward as if he were a child, calling him between lines 118 and 121 "bawcock," "chuck," and "biddy," three terms used to address children. For her part, Maria keeps reminding her friends, and Malvolio, that Olivia is very concerned about him: "Sir Toby, my lady/ prays you to have a care of him" [line 98]; "My lady would not lose him for more/ than I'll say" [line 110]. Both times Malvolio reacts as if these are further proof of her love. Finally, there's a subtle social put-down. At line 93 Fabian addresses Malvolio as "sir," like a social inferior addressing a gentleman. However at the next line Sir Toby, a real gentleman, calls Malvolio "man," reminding him that the steward is only an employee and a wannabe.
Malvolio rejects all efforts to "help" him. At line 129 he condemns Toby, Maria and Fabian: " Go hang yourselves all! You are idle, shallow/ things; I am not of your element. You shall/ know more hereafter." He is so emboldened by the letter, he is insulting even to Toby, using that word "element" which Feste had refused to use because it was overused back at Act III, scene 1, at line 59. Notice that Malvolio teases them by saying they will learn more about his true worth in the future. After he has gone Toby, at line 141 outlines his plan for continuing the joke by having Malvolio tied up and placed in a dark room, the standard treatment for lunatics in those days. They can get away with it because Olivia already believes he is crazy.
In the next sequence Sir Andrew returns with his letter challenging Cesario. On what grounds does he challenge the young man? What does Toby propose to do with the letter? [III, 4, lines 148 -- 208]
Back in III, 1, line 43, Toby had told Andrew to be "curst, but brief" in his challenge. The results in Andrew's letter are not exactly brief, and it's not clear how curst they are because the letter is not very comprehensible. Andrew, of course, thinks it's really hot in its insults. At line 2 he announces, "I warrant there's vinegar and pepper in't." Toby reads Andrew's letter aloud, beginning at line 153:
Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow….
Wonder not nor admire not in thy
mind why I do call thee so, for I will show thee no
Thou com'st to the Lady Olivia, and
in my sight she uses thee kindly. But thou liest in
thy throat; that is not the matter I challenge thee for.
Having denied Olivia's favor to Cesario as the reason for the challenge, Andrew offers no other explanation for his challenge. Furthermore, Andrew writes the letter as if Cesario were physically present and were disputing the contents of the letter. Fabian congratulates the letter, even as he calls it "senseless" at line 165, and offers the explanation that Andrew has avoided any subsequent legal problems by avoiding giving any reason for the challenge, as at line 159. Toby continues reading the letter at line 167:
I will waylay thee going home; where
if it be thy chance to kill me -- ….
Thou kill'st me like a rogue and a villain….
Fare thee well, and God have mercy
upon one of our souls. He may have mercy upon
mine, but my hope is better, and so look to thyself.
Thy friend, as thou usest him, and thy sworn enemy,
This is probably the only letter of challenge in which the challenger doesn't tell us what he intends to do to his opponent, but instead focuses on what may happen to himself. Andrew just can't help himself from being kind-hearted and polite. He worries about God having mercy on Cesario's soul and signs himself as both the youth's "friend" and "sworn enemy." He manages to write the entire letter without once mentioning the grounds for the duel. Toby commends the letter and sends Andrew off to prepare for the sword fight. He tells the knight to wait for Cesario in the orchard, as if he were the "bum-baily," the rent-a-cop that was used to arrest debtors. He advises Andrew to draw his sword when he sees Cesario and to utter a loud curse, which will frighten him. Often in modern productions Andrew goes off practicing his curses.
Toby now tells us he will not deliver the challenge since it is so stupidly written, and he assumes that Cesario has "good capacity and breeding," that is intelligent, as shown by the fact that Orsino has employed him as a messenger. Therefore, he will only laugh at Andrew's letter. Therefore, Toby will deliver the challenge orally. Judging by Cesario's youth and slight build, he believes the young man will be as reluctant to fight as Andrew is. He concludes, at line 203, "This [describing the fencing skill of the other one] will so fright them both that they/ will kill one another by the look, like cockatrices." Your notes explain the significance of the "cockatrice."
In the next sequence we have the conference between Cesario and Olivia, followed by the comic confrontation between Andrew and the youth. How does the form of the language in this part signal the change in tone? How do the two combatants seek to avoid a fight?
[III, 4, lines 209 -- 322]
The change in language between the section at lines 209 -- 225 and what comes both before and after should be clear, as well as the reason for the change. Both Olivia and Cesario find themselves in double binds. As the countess says at line 209,
I have said too much unto a heart of stone
And laid mine honor too unchary on't [carelessly upon it].
There's something in me that reproves my fault;
But such a headstrong potent fault it is
That it but mocks reproof.
Olivia realizes she has risked her honor by spilling her heart to someone who doesn't really love her. It is a fault that she wishes to "reprove" or correct. However, her passion is so strong that the fault mocks any effort to change her behavior. Hence, she faces a dilemma of continuing to do something she knows she should not do. At line 216 she tries bribing Cesario by giving him a jeweled locket which contains her picture.
Viola faces a similar dilemma. She rejects Olivia's advances, but she is duty-bound to try and win her love for Orsino. As she says at line 214, "With the same havior that your passion bears,/ Goes on my master's griefs." At line 221 when Viola urges Olivia to give her true love to her master, the countess replies that she cannot give what she has already bestowed on Cesario. Although both are trapped by the dilemmas they face, Olivia, all honor and sense of restraint swallowed up by unrequited love, blackmails Cesario into coming again at line 224: "Well, come again tomorrow," with the implicit hope that the youth may change her mind about Orsino.
The comic duel takes up the next 100 lines. It is another opportunity for lots of comic effect and physical humor as Toby and Fabian conspire to get Andrew and Cesario into a sword fight both desperately wish to avoid. How to the two combatants react to the situation? How does each try to get out of the fight?
Toby at line 228 warns Cesario that he is in mortal danger, "That defense thou hast, betake thee to't." He has no idea what Andrew's grievances are, but he warns that the knight is deadly. At line 245 he declares "Souls and bodies hath he divorced three," that is he has killed three men. Later Fabian will try to explain Andrew's apparent lack of a martial appearance, saying at line 274 Andrew doesn't look ferocious but is a "skillful, bloody, and fatal opposite." Throughout the sequence Toby and Fabian deliberately use technical terms related to fencing, probably to increase the level of anxiety of the young man: "Dismount thy tuck [sword], be yare [complete] in thy preparation"[line 232]; "'hob,nob' is his word;/ give't or take't!'" [line 248]; Fabian calls the fight "mortal arbitrament" [line 271].
Cesario reacts with horror at the prospect of a fight. He denies that he has done anything to insult any man. At line 250 he proposes to return to the house and Olivia's protection, claiming, "I am no fighter" [line 251]. Toby replies that he will not allow Cesario to back out of the fight and leaves Fabian to guard Cesario from running away. The young man asks if the challenge isn't just a trick to test his courage. He pleads with both Toby and Fabian to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Andrew, saying at line 281, "I am one that had rather go with sir priest than with sir knight," that is with the man of peace than with the duelist who must protect his honor. Just before the swords are finally drawn, Viola considers revealing her real identity at line 313: "A little thing/ would make me tell them how much I lack of a man."
his part Andrew is equally upset at the idea of the duel. Despite having written his "saucy"
letter of challenge, he is angry when Toby tell him at
line 289 that Cesario is an accomplished swordsman. "They say he has been/ fencer to the Sophy," the ruler of far-off
Toby and Fabian continue the joke by telling each that the other requires at least a show of conflict to satisfy their honor, promising no one will be killed in the fight. This provides an opportunity for lots of non-verbal humor as Andrew and Cesario carry out the most reluctant, incompetent sword fight in history. Lots of fun!
In the final sequence of this scene the plot line involving Viola finally meets the plot line of her brother Sebastian. How do you account for the way she reacts to the intervention of Antonio? How do you account for the reaction of Toby and Andrew to the way Cesario treats Antonio? How do you account for the fact that some characters speak prose in this sequence and some speak verse? [III, 4, lines 323 -- 408]
Antonio happens upon the comic duel, and he takes it seriously. At line 328 he tells Toby he will defend the person he takes to be Sebastian at all costs: "[I am] One, sir, that for his love dares yet do more/ Than you have heard him brag to you he will." The people in this scene for whom the action suddenly becomes serious speak verse; those who continue to think it is a joke continue to speak prose. Toby, probably because he's already drunk, quickly takes up Antonio's challenge and starts to fight with the captain. He'll start the same kind of fight with Sebastian later with disastrous results. The arrival of the officers quickly stops the fight because dueling was a criminal offense. In the middle of the tumult at line 336 Andrew assures Viola that "I'll be as good as my word. He will bear you/ easily, and reins well." This makes perfect sense to us, but poor Viola doesn't realize Andrew is taking about his horse and must be very confused.
Antonio, who put himself knowingly in harm's way by following Sebastian, now says at line 344, "This comes with seeking you," as if it were Sebastian's fault. He asks for his purse back, not only because he may need to pay a fine, but because it was common practice for prisoners to have to pay for their meals while in jail. Naturally Viola has no idea what he is talking about, and although she offers to share her purse with him, the captain still accuses her of ingratitude, a serious violation of the gentlemanly code of behavior. At line 378 Antonio calls Cesario "Sebastian" after describing how he had saved the youth from death. All that Viola hears is her brother's name. All that Toby, Fabian and Andrew hear is the charge of ingratitude based on the youth's being afraid to acknowledge his friend. At line 385 Viola says to the audience:
Methinks his words do from such passion fly
That he believes himself; so do not I.
Prove true, imagination, O prove true,
That I, dear brother, be now ta'en for you.
So while Viola says she doesn't believe Antonio, she does allow the possibility that she has been mistaken for Sebastian and hopes it means he is still alive. She goes on to tell us that she has imitated her brother in her disguise, and at line 395 she hopes again that Sebastian has somehow managed to survive: "O, if it prove,/ Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love." Toby condemns Cesario at line 397 as "A very dishonest [dishonorable] , paltry boy, and more a coward than a hare." He and Fabian now change their message to Andrew and tell him they knew before that Cesario was afraid to fight. At line 403 Fabian assures the knight, "A coward, a most devout coward: religious in it." Enraged, and encouraged because he now thinks it safe to attack, Andrew vows, "'Slid
[shortened form of the sacrilegious oath 'God's eyelid'], I'll after him again and beat him." Toby urges that he do so, but having seen Andrew's pathetic swordplay, warns him, "Do, cuff him soundly, but never draw thy sword" [line 405]. So the scene ends with a pending collusion between Toby-Andrew and Sebastian.
Act IV, Scene 1
three scenes of Act IV explore the issue of madness and sanity and how
different characters react to the idea that they may have lost their
minds. In the first scene what convinces
Sebastian that the people of
Sebastian is unsettled when strangers seem to know him and talk with him of things he has supposedly done. Not surprisingly, he assumes they are lunatics. As the scene open
Feste is trying to get Cesario to return to Olivia's and growing increasingly angry at what he interprets as the youth's attempt to pretend he's someone different. At line 7 he declares, facetiously, "nor your name is not/ Master Cesario; nor this is not my nose neither./ Nothing that is so is so," In a very real sense Feste is right in his final statement, although he doesn't realize it. Identities are about to be turned upside down. In his irritation Sebastian tells Feste to "vent thy folly somewhere else" [line 10]. Now we have seen Feste's sensitivity to words throughout the play, and we shouldn't be surprised when he fixates on "vent," which strikes him as pretentious. At line 12 he responds:
Vent my folly! He has heard that word of
some great man, and now applies it to a fool. Vent
my folly!….I prithee now, ungird thy
strangeness, and tell me what I shall vent to my
lady. Shall I vent to her that you art coming?
If Sebastian can use an unusual word or phrase, so can Feste, who tells the youth to "ungird his strangeness." Sebastian now tries to bribe Feste to leave him alone. The fool appreciates the money, but he warns Sebastian at line 21 not to expect much: "These wise men that give fools money get themselves a/ good report -- after fourteen years' purchase." It will take a long time and a lot of money before Feste will speak well of Sebastian.
Toby, Andrew, and Fabian enter. True to his word Andrew slugs Sebastian and is shocked when the young man slugs him back three times, wondering aloud if all the people of Illyria are mad. Not surprisingly Toby jumps into the fight, threatening to disarm Sebastian ("throw thy dagger o'er the house" [line 29]. Feste runs to tell Olivia, anticipating that this attack will get Toby and Andrew in trouble. For his part Andrew now changes his tactics, threatening at line 34 to have him charged with battery, even though he, Andrew, threw the first punch. Let's hope the knight doesn't take the case to Judge Judy. Toby persists in his effort to intimidate the youth, and at line 41 Sebastian frees himself from Toby's grip and draws his sword. As he does so, he changes to verse, because he takes this attack seriously. Toby and the boys continue to use prose.
enters and, enraged by Toby's attack on her beloved, quickly puts an end to the
fight, calling her uncle "ungracious wretch" and my personal
favorite, "rudesby." Toby is in big trouble and departs. Olivia invites Sebastian into the house at
line 55, to hear how many "fruitless pranks/ This
ruffian hath botched up," that is tricks he tried to pull off. The countess begs the young man, saying at
line 57, "Thou shalt not choose but to go./ Do
not deny. Beshrew
his soul for
What relish is in this? How runs the stream? [What does this mean?]
Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.
Let fancy [imagination] still my sense in Lethe [river of forgetfulness] sleep;
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!
So apparent Sebastian is willing to play along with a crazy person if she is attractive. When Olivia at line 64 repeats her plea, "Nay, come, I prithee. Would thou'st be ruled by me!" Sebastian agrees. Suddenly a whole new world of possibilities opens up for Olivia and she drags the suddenly pliant young man off into the house.
Act IV, Scene 2
In the previous scene a man who thought everyone else was crazy learned to go with the flow and got a very pleasant surprise. In this scene a man who is treated as if he were crazy resists mightily until someone has pity on him. What is Feste trying to teach Malvolio in this scene? [IV, 2, lines 1 -- 134]
This scene is an example of how Shakespeare misdirected the audience's attention from off-stage action. While Olivia and Sebastian discover each other for the first time, we get this action happening at the same time as Toby and Maria try to figure out how to end a practical joke which has gone on far too long. Feste performs the function of continuing the joke, but he also tries to teach Malvolio an important lesson.
Maria, the joke director, decides to have Feste dressed as the local curate, Sir Topaz, visit Malvolio in his dark room and tease him. Feste agrees to put on the disguise of gown and phony beard, but at line 5 he observes, "I would I were the first that ever dissembled/ in such a gown," a reminder of the poor quality of ministers, especially out in the country. When Feste greets Toby at line 13 he is fully into his part:
Bonos dies [Latin for "Good day"] ,
Sir Toby; for, as the old hermit of
wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc, "That that
is is"; so, I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson;
for what is "that" but that, and "is" but is?
is doing his comic routine of the make-believe scholar, here an improbable
figure called the Hermit of Prague who doesn't know how to write. King Gorboduc is a
legendary king of ancient
Malvolio has been imprisoned in a dark room, the standard treatment for lunatics. Feste is the first human contact he has had in some time. His first request is for the parson to go to Olivia who he believes will rescue him. Feste chides the demon which supposedly possesses him at line 26: "Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vexest thou this/ man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies?" Malvolio, of course, protests his sanity and whines that he has been locked in a dark room. (Usually on stage Malvolio is shown at a small window from which he cannot see anyone.) Feste and Malvolio argue over whether or not the room is dark. Feste denies that it is dark, using his comic nonsense at line 37: "Why, it hath bay windows transparent as/ barricadoes, and the clerestories toward the south/ north are as lustrous as ebony; yet complainest/ thou of obstruction?" Can you find at least three ways in which this passage is self-contradictory? Feste continues to hector Malvolio on the issue of light, saying at line 43, "I say there is no darkness/ but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled/ than the Egyptians in their fog." This last passage is a reference to Moses plaguing the Egyptians in the Bible.
Malvolio still won't give Feste what he wants to hear, a little bit of humility and less of the arrogance which got Malvolio in trouble in the first place. Instead the self-righteous steward demands a test of his sanity. (In some states sanity is actually determined by having a person count backward from 100 by threes!) Feste tries a more philosophical approach, and asks Malvolio to state the opinion of the ancient Greek thinker Pythagoras regarding wild fowl. Malvolio replies that the Greek thought that the souls of the dead might inhabit birds. When asked his reaction to this idea, Malvolio rejects it as unworthy of the human soul. Feste now condemns Malvolio at line 58:
Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness.
Thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I
will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a wood-
cock, lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam.
Now it is possible to see this exchange simply as a continuation of the practical joke that has been played on Malvolio all along. I choose to see this as an effort, using humor, to get Malvolio to re-examine his smug superiority that he has all the answers. The scene can be played both ways, giving cause to many in the audience to laugh at how Malvolio is being teased while others see in it an attempt by Feste to provide some kind of therapy for the self-righteousness of the Puritan.
However, we see the scene, Toby has seen enough. He abandons the imprisoned Malvolio and walks away with Maria at line 69:
I would we were
well rid of this knavery. If he may be conveniently
delivered [turned loose] , I would he were; for I am now so far in offense with my niece that I cannot pursue with
any safety this sport to the upshot [logical conclusion].
The practical joke on Andrew and Cesario backfired when Sebastian showed up. Toby and Maria make the mess and leave it for Feste to clean up.
Feste now speaks to Malvolio as himself, and the desperate steward begs for pen, ink and paper to write a note to Olivia. Ironically Malvolio must depend on the man he vilified back in the first act. The opportunity gives Feste a chance to crack jokes about his own reputation for being mentally challenged. At line 89 he asks,
Feste: Alas, sir, how fell you beside your five wits? [How did you go mad?]
Malvolio: Fool, there was never man so notoriously
abused. I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art.
Feste: But as well? Then you are mad indeed, if you
be no better in your wits than a fool.
Malvolio curses Sir Topaz for being an ass, the minister pays a return visit
and urges him to "leave thy vain bibble
babble" [line 100]. Malvolio
continues to press for help, saying at line 109, "I tell thee I am as well
in my wits as any/man in
Feste's message of tolerance and kindness is very understated, but ultimately it is the clown, the man who has most reason to hate Malvolio, who helps the wronged man out of his situation.
Act IV, scene 3
How does Sebastian convince himself to go ahead with his love for Olivia under these circumstances? [IV, 3, lines 1 -- 35]
at Olivia's we see the outcome of the couple's discovery of love. Sebastian comes out and tries to understand
what has happened. Before Olivia took
him in the house, he thought everyone in
And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus,/ Yet 'tis not madness." He explains more fully at line 9:
For though my soul disputes well with my sense
That this may be some error, but no madness,
Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune
So far exceed all instance, all discourse, [accounts of similar events]
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust [belief] but that I am mad,
Or else the lady's mad.
Sebastian goes on to dispute this last assertion, telling us that Olivia could not command her servants and carry on the household affairs if she were truly insane. Nevertheless, despite his uncertainty, Sebastian accedes to Olivia's request. She asks him to go into a nearby chapel and "Plight me the full assurance of your faith," that is to take a solemn oath that he will marry her. You can understand her haste; she's had so much trouble getting him to accept her love, she's not going to take any chances with a change of mind. Sebastian, despite his uncertainty, goes along, swearing at line 32: "I'll follow this good man [the priest] and go with you/And having sworn truth, ever will be true."
Act V, Scene 1
In this final scene all the loose ends get resolved, Viola's secret is finally revealed, and characters get what they deserve. Which characters are left unhappy by the final resolution of the comedy? Why does Viola take so long to final admit her true identity, once Sebastian is revealed? What is the significance of Feste little song at the end of the play? [Act V, scene 1, lines 1 -- 410]
the first 100 lines Orsino, having sent messages to Olivia throughout the play,
finally shows up at her house. But first
we ease into the scene by having some more patented begging by Feste. He appears at the opening of the scene with
the letter Malvolio sent to Olivia. No
wonder Fabian wants to see it; after all, he may get into more trouble with his
employer for his part in the joke on the steward. But Feste won't give it up. When Orsino enters, Feste shares with the
Duke a little bit of his home-spun wisdom at lines 12 -- 23. The clown shows how relevant his folk truth
is and the adds some of his nonsense academic gabbled-gook at line 21;"
your four negatives/ make your two affirmatives." When Orsino rewards his
wit with a tip, Feste goes for a second coin at line 29: "But that it
would be double-dealing, sir, I/ would you could make it another." When he gets a second tip, he immediately
tries for another, using a number of creative efforts. He begins by using the Italian phrase for
"one, two, three," employed in gambling games. Then he alludes to
triple time in popular dances. Then he
recalls the three note peal of St. Bennet's Church in
proceedings now become serious as Antonio is brought in as a prisoner. Orsino recognizes him and praises his skill
and courage in battle, although he was an enemy. We learn that although the captain did attack
Orsino's ships and cause serious injury among the duke's sailors, he did not
kill anyone. In his comedies Shakespeare
was usually careful not to have characters guilty of murder, especially, as in
this case, that character will eventually be pardoned. Cesario/Viola acknowledges Antonio's help in
dealing with the sword fight, but declares that Antonio's message to him, such
as calling him "Sebastian," was "distraction," or insanity
. Viola is at pains throughout this
scene to play down the possibility that her brother may be alive; any suggestion
that Antonio knows something is dismissed as insane. Antonio defends his actions against Orsino at
lines 72 -- 75, denying that he was a thief or pirate, again subtly playing
down the idea that Antonio is a bad person.
He openly acknowledges his obsession with Sebastian, which he calls
"witchcraft" at line 76. (The
idea here is that it wasn't Antonio's fault he was arrested in
When Olivia enters things really heat up. In the following sequence both the countess and the count will accuse Cesario of disloyalty, as Antonio had done. Olivia greets Orsino in a very dismissive manner at line 101: "What would my lord, but that he may not have,/ Wherein Olivia may seem serviceable?" In effect she says, "What I know you want you're not going to get, and whatever I can do for you I'll do only to appear, 'seem,' obedient, 'serviceable.'" Then at line 103 she suddenly turns to Cesario and accuses him, "Cesario, you do not keep promise with me." Apparently, she had extracted a promise at the troth-plighting before the priest that the youth would not go back to work for Orsino. Unfortunately, at that moment Orsino finally begins his ardent courtship of his lady love in person at line 105:
Orsino: Gracious Olivia --
Olivia: What do you say, Cesario? -- Good my lord --
Viola: My lord would speak: my duty hushes me.
Olivia: If it be aught to the old tune, my lord,
It is as fat and fulsome to mine ear
As howling after music.
In this passage as Orsino starts his eloquent address to Olivia, she in effect tells him to shut up so Cesario can speak. You don't need to hit the duke upside the head with a 2x4 to let him know how she feels about him, and who she values. Of course, Viola, the loyal servant, tries to defer to Orsino, but Olivia makes it clear that she really doesn't want to listen to Orsino any more. It is a brutal putdown of this powerful ruler in public -- a potentially dangerous move.
Orsino accuses Olivia of not playing the game of love fairly at line 112:
Orsino: You uncivil lady,
To whose ingrate and unauspicious altars
My soul the faithfull'st off'rings have breathed out
That e'er devotion tendered. What shall I do?
Olivia: Even what it please my lord, that shall become him.
This is strong stuff. He calls her "uncivil," a very strong charge among these most civilized gentle folk. He has treated her as a goddess with an "altar," but she has received his love with "ingratitude." He has loved her more fully and faithfully than any woman ever was, and she now rejects his devotion. In his pain and frustration he cries out, "What shall I do?" and she coldly answers, "Whatever!" Up to this point Orsino has seemed kind of a wimp, whining about love. Now we see a different Orsino, energized by rejection, and dangerous. At line 116 he examines his options:
Why should I not, had I the heart to do it,
Like to th' Egyptian thief at point of death,
Kill what I love -- a savage jealousy
That sometimes savors nobly.
Orsino evokes a story from the ancient Greeks about a man who sought to kill the woman he loved but whom he could never possess. Such an action, suggests Orsino, might seem noble to some. However, he continues at line 120, he has an alternative course of action:
But hear me this:
Since you to non-regardance cast my faith,
And that I partly know the instrument
That screws me from my true place in your favor,
Live you the marble-breasted tyrant still.
But this your minion, whom I know you love,
And whom, by heaven I swear, I tender dearly,
Him will I tear out of that cruel eye
Where he sits crowned in his master's spite.
Come, boy, with me. My thoughts are ripe in mischief.
I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love,
To spite a raven's heart within a dove.
He has quickly discerned that Cesario has betrayed him and is Olivia's beloved, so he will kill the youth to spite Olivia, even though the count loves Cesario himself. Within less than 100 lines, Cesario has been accused of betrayal by Antonio, Olivia and Orsino. His employer threatens to make the consequences fatal. So how does Viola/Cesario respond to the threat at line 132? "And I, most jocund, apt and willingly, [glad and readily]/ To do you rest, a thousand deaths would die." That's right, the supposedly disloyal kid says he would gladly die at Orsino's hand if it would give him some peace of mind. Furthermore, when Olivia asks him why he would choose to follow Orsino under these circumstances, Cesario answers at line 134: "After him I love/ More than I love these eyes, more than my life,/ More, by all mores, than e'er I love wife." That would seem to make clear where the youth's loyalties lie; like Antonio he seems determined to put his life at risk to follow someone of the same gender.
Olivia reminds him of his recent promise and calls him "husband" at line 143. That, of course, stirs things up even more. Cesario/Viola denies the implication, but Olivia produces the priest who attests to the "contract of eternal bond of love" at line 156. Orsino is now absolutely convinced of his employee's treason, marveling at how deceitful he is as a youth and wondering how much more disloyal he will become as he ages. He now banishes Cesario and tells him to take Olivia and get out of his sight. When Cesario protests his innocence, Olivia believes he is acting out of fear at line 171.
Shakespeare now shifts the scene to a comic interlude with Andrew and Toby. In part he does this to provide emotional relief from the heavy-duty betrayal charges, but mostly he does it to prolong the suspense over the inevitable revelation of Viola's secret. Having learned nothing from their previous encounter, Andrew and Toby have apparently attacked Sebastian again, and he has bloodied both of them. Andrew enters, calling for a surgeon to go treat Toby's wounds and accusing Cesario of the attack at 180: "The count's gentleman, one Cesario. We/ took him for a coward, but he's the very devil incardinate."
In previous plays I have pointed out how Shakespeare often has lower class characters stumble over words of more than one syllable. The same provision applies to literacy-challenged gentlemen like Andrew, who manages to twist "incarnate" into a nonsense word "incardinate." When Cesario/Viola denies the charge, the fourth denial so far in this scene if you're keeping track, Andrew at line 185 blames Toby for the ill-conceived attack. When Toby himself is helped in by Feste, Andrew observes that if Toby had not been drunk, he would have acquitted himself better in the fight than he did. Ironically, when Toby asks for "Dick Surgeon" at line 197, Feste has to tell him that the care provider is dead drunk. (Just a reminder that the "surgeon" who provided first aid for minor medical emergencies, including teeth extractions, also doubled as a barber, hence the red-and-white striped barber's pole.) Toby piously declares at line 201, "I hate a drunken rogue."
Andrew holds out the consolation that he and Toby will receive medical treatment together and gets an unexpected response at line 204:
Andrew: I'll help you, Sir Toby, because we'll be
Toby: Will you help -- an ass-head and a coxcomb [fool]
and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull. [gullible sucker]
This is a very brutal way to end the friendship between Toby and Andrew, and modern productions sometimes try to soften Toby's rejection, by having him embrace Andrew after having insulted him. However, their relationship was a scam all along, and Toby, having ruined any chance he might have had to stay with Olivia, strikes out at a handy target -- poor, dumb Andrew. Although this is a comedy, not every character gets what he desires, and Andrew is one of those bitterly disappointed. It is also the last we see in the text of Toby or Andrew.
Sebastian finally enters at line 209. In modern productions the audience is eager to judge how close he and his disguised sister are in appearance; in Shakespeare's day the audience just accepted that the two were identical if they wore the same clothes. What is of more interest is Viola's reaction. She will not reveal her identity for 46 lines. What dramatic and/or psychological reason can you see for this delayed recognition?
The other characters react predictably to the appearance of the two on stage together. Olivia looks at Sebastian strangely, what he calls at line 212 a "strange regard." Orsino sees the brother and sister as an optical illusion, what he describes at line 217 "A natural perspective, that is and is not." Antonio is perplexed and asks at line 222, "How have you made division of yourself?/ An apple cleft in two is not more twin/ Than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian?" Olivia's reaction at line 225 is perhaps the most evocative, as she stares at two men who sexually excite her: "Most wonderful." Sebastian is puzzled as well and tells us he never had a brother, just a sister who was drowned. He begins firing questions at Viola about her identity. She answers, pretending to be equally uncertain and even suggests that this may be a ghost of her dead brother. He responds by saying at line 239, "Were you a woman, as the rest goes even,/ I should my tears let fall upon your cheek/ And say, "Thrice welcome, drowned Viola!" Viola persists in being coy about her identity. She offers the fact that her father had a mole and died on her thirteenth birthday, both of which Sebastian confirms. Finally, after prolonging the suspense, she offers to reveal her true identity by changing out of her masculine attire and tells everyone at line 253 that she is indeed Viola. This business about changing into the proper clothes tells us again how costume creates identity on Shakespeare's stage. Viola's prolonged denial of her true identity gives everyone else on stage a chance to adjust to this surprising development.
The reactions of the characters to Viola's true identity vary. Sebastian gently teases his beloved about her mistake at line 263: "You are betrothed both to a maid and man," probably to help ease the embarrassment over her past obsession. At line 318 Olivia makes her peace with Orsino, saying she welcomes him as a brother-in-law and offering to host and pay for both their weddings. More importantly Orsino now reviews his relationship with Cesario and reinterprets everything the youth had said to him. At line 267 he concludes,
Orsino: Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times
Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.
Viola: And all those sayings will I over swear,
And all those swearings keep as true in soul
As doth the orbed continent the fire
That severs day from night.
Shakespeare has prepared us for Orsino's rapid reconfiguration of Cesario's gender. He realizes in a flash that Viola is in love with him. For her part Viola reconfirms her promise of love, comparing it to the constancy of the sun, a heavenly body that most in Shakespeare's audience still thought circled the Earth. Orsino asks to see Viola in her proper clothes, and at line 320 he formally discharges her from her duties as his servant:
Your master quits [releases] you; and for your service done to him
So much against the mettle [qualities] of your sex,
So far beneath your soft and tender breeding,
And since you called me master for so long,
Here is my hand; you shall from this time be
Your master's mistress.
This is as close as Orsino comes to a formal proposal of marriage. Olivia adds her best wishes and calls Viola "sister" at line 328.
We now have only the mess of the joke on Malvolio to deal with. We now learn at line 275 that the sea captain who helped Viola back in I, 2, and who still has her belongings, has been jailed on a charge brought by Malvolio. There's no further explanation of this development; it's just mentioned before the Duke says he will free the captain. Dramatically, it is a kind of emotional "piling-on," coming up with still one more reason not to extend Malvolio much sympathy when he appears in a few lines. Olivia suddenly remembers her steward's mental condition, which she calls a "frenzy," suggesting that it may be caused by love as hers was, and asks Feste about him. The clown characterizes his condition at line 284: "Truly, madam, he holds Belzebub at the/ stave's end as well as a man in his case may do." Here is still one more reminder that the jokesters pretend that Malvolio is possessed by a demon, here rather humorously portrayed as Malvolio holding him off with a long stick. When Feste produces the letter from the steward, he explains that he should have delivered it earlier, but that since Malvolio is crazy, it doesn't matter when he gives it to her. Asked to read it to his employer, Feste reads it in a loud, obviously crazy-sounding voice, claiming that he has to read it in the style in which it was written by a lunatic.
Olivia tires of Feste's relentless humor and has Fabian read the letter at line 303. The letter, as we might expect, reveals an angry, self-pitying Malvolio, threatening Olivia for being responsible for his treatment. When he is brought in at line 330 his first words are
"Madam, you have done me wrong." Despite Feste's efforts to help Malvolio to be less sure of himself and his own righteousness, the steward has apparently learned nothing.
He produces the letter and points out how he has followed her instructions, only to be "made the most notorious geck and gull" [line 345]. Olivia now draws the connection with Maria, who has obviously written the letter and who first told the countess her steward was insane. At line 353 she offers Malvolio an opportunity for "justice":
This practice hath most shrewdly passed upon thee,
But when we know the grounds and authors of it,
Thou shalt be both the plaintiff and the judge
Of thy own cause.
Olivia's first reaction here is to give Malvolio the means for his own revenge, without knowing who or what was involved in the joke or why. This offer prompts Fabian to speak, since he is the only one present who was in on the original joke. His speech, from line 357 -- 370 contains five important points. First, Fabian and Toby were behind the joke on Malvolio. Second, their reason at line 363 was "some stubborn and uncourteous parts/ We had conceived against [Malvolio]." This suggests that there was no one cause bur rather the steward's general character which was inflexible and insulting. Third, Maria only wrote the letter because Toby implored her to. (This conveniently ignores the fact that Maria came up with the idea of the letter and provided the creative details that made it successful.) For her efforts Toby has married her. Fourth, Fabian concludes that the reasons for the trick and the outcome should "pluck on laughter [rather] than revenge" [line 368] since there were "injuries" on both sides. Fifth, and most important, Fabian places Malvolio's complaint in the context of the miraculous event which has just preceded, the discovery of siblings believed dead and true love for four people. In light of that, Malvolio's problems seem small indeed. Now, at line 371, Olivia speaks of Malvolio not as a wronged plaintiff but as the butt of a joke: "Alas, poor fool, how they have baffled you!" Fabian's confession and explanation seem to have changed the previous sympathy for the steward.
Feste now confesses his part at line 373 and makes the rationale for the trick all the stronger:
Why, "some are born great, some achieve
greatness , and some have greatness thrown upon
them." I was one, sir, in this interlude [comedy], one Sir
Topas, sir, but that's all one. "By the Lord, fool, I
am not mad!" But do you remember, "Madam, why
laugh you at such a barren rascal? And you smile
not he's gagged"? And thus the whirligig of time
brings in his revenges.
Malvolio now realizes that lots of people know the details of the letter, and they know which lines Malvolio used to fool himself. Does he really want a general discussion of the meaning of "M,O,A,I"? How will he feel when the details of his self-delusion are made widespread? Feste heard him at his most vulnerable, when he pleaded with the fool that he was not insane, and now the man he insulted with his arrogance back in Act I is throwing his words back in his face. Feste remembers exactly the cutting insults Malvolio hurled at him when he sought to comfort Olivia's grief, and now he repeats them to remind Malvolio of the consequences of his cruelty and self-righteousness. No wonder Malvolio runs out at line 380, shouting, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" Not everyone ends this comedy happy with his or her lot. Orsino is given what should be the final speech of the play. He sends after Malvolio to seek some way of resolving his pain. He promises again to clear up the legal problems of the sea captain. And he asks a third time to see Viola in her feminine clothes, when she will become "Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen" [line 390].
Normally in a Shakespearean play the final lines are given to whatever character is left in charge, the person who will see to it that order is restored to a troubled world and the truth made public. However, in this play, after all the other characters leave, Feste is given the last word in the form of a song. It is appropriate that this play, which begins with music and has songs scattered throughout, should end musically. But how the music has changed! Orsino's interest in the opening scene was focused on the emotional and aesthetic quality. Feste's emphasis is on the moral content of the lyrics, summing up the lessons of the play. Nearly everyone in the play was made a fool of love at some point. The lucky ones -- Orsino and Olivia, Sebastian and Viola -- learned from their folly. Others -- most notably Malvolio and Andrew -- had their folly punished. At one level Feste's little song, "The Rain It Raineth Every Day," is just a nonsense piece. (The musical notation for the original song survives in a songbook from that period.) It is interesting that the same song is sung by another famous jester or fool in the powerful tragedy King Lear at a dramatic highpoint. By being at the end of the play Shakespeare seems to invite us to find parallels between the message of the song and the characters we have met. Which character has a problem with drinking? Which character forgot to "lock his gates," metaphorically, and lost a lot of money? Which one tried to gain a wife by "swaggering," or behaving unnaturally?
Finally, Feste's song is significant because it reminds us that the real world we inhabit is plagued by rain, and troubles, daily. If we are lucky, we learn a few lessons in the years given to us. The world of the comedy is make-believe, where every play ends with marriage and people living happily ever after. The great 18th Century scholar, Samuel Johnson, although he liked Twelfth Night, said that it "exhibits no just picture of life," it's just a fantasy. Others might argue that the power of the play is precisely that it is make-believe. The contrast between our own disordered lives and the romantic perfection of the play may help us recognize love when we are lucky enough to stumble upon it and to treasure it..
The end of the lecture on Twelfth Night