David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 3-4

— 1.3 —

In Olivia’s house, Olivia’s personal servant, Maria, and Olivia’s alcoholic uncle, Sir Toby Belch, who was staying with Olivia for a while, were talking.

“Why the Devil is my niece so heavily grieving the death of her brother?” Sir Toby Belch said. “Why does she want to mourn him and to stay away from men for the next seven years? I am sure that grief is an enemy to life.”

Sir Toby Belch may have been correct in his opinion of excessive grief, but he was a Hell-raiser and a partier and a lover of the drinking of alcohol and the spending of money — especially other people’s money. Maria, the personal servant of Olivia, had been sent to Sir Toby to try to convince him to keep regular hours and to party less.

“I swear, Sir Toby, you must start coming home and going to bed earlier. Olivia dislikes your late hours. She takes great exception to them.”

“If she wants to except something, then let her make an exception of me,” Sir Toby replied.

“You must engage in moderate and orderly conduct. Confine yourself — and your drinking — within reasonable limits.”

“Confine? The only thing that I will confine myself in is my clothing! These clothes are good enough to drink in, and so are these boots! If my boots are not good enough to drink in, then they can hang themselves by their own bootstraps.”

“Your chugging and drinking will be your downfall. I heard Olivia talk about your drinking yesterday, and I heard her talk about a foolish knight you brought here to woo her and to try to marry her.”

“Who? Sir Andrew Aguecheek?”

“Yes, him.”

“He is as brave a man as any man in Illyria.”

“So what?”

“He’s rich. He has an income of three thousand ducats a year.”

“True, but he will keep his wealth for only a year. He is a fool and a spendthrift.”

“You should not say that,” Sir Toby said. “He plays cello, and he speaks three or four languages from memory without having to hold a translating dictionary in his hands, and he has all the good gifts of nature.”

“He is a natural, all right,” Maria said. “He is a natural fool — if not an idiot. In addition, he is a great quarreler. Fortunately, he also has the gift of being a coward. If not for this gift of retreating from those whom he has angered, all wise and prudent people think that he would quickly receive the gift of a grave.”

“The people who say those things are scoundrels and gossip-mongers. Who are these people?”

“These people are those who add that he and you get drunk together each night.”

“We get drunk from drinking to the health of my niece, Olivia. I’ll drink to her as long as I have a throat and Illyria has alcohol. Anyone who will not drink to Olivia’s health until his brain spins like a top is a coward and a knave.”

Seeing Sir Andrew coming, Sir Toby said to Maria, “Heads-up. Speaking of the Devil, here comes Sir Andrew Agueface now.”

Sir Andrew, who was tall and thin, entered the room and said, “Sir Toby Belch! How are you, Sir Toby?”

“Sweet Sir Andrew! I am well.”

To Maria, a very small and very short woman, Sir Andrew said, “Hello, fair shrew.”

Unfortunately for Sir Anthony, “shrew” has more than one meaning. He was thinking of a very small mammal, but Maria thought of an evil-tempered woman.

Maria instantly disliked Sir Andrew and instantly realized that all the rumors about him being a fool were true. She had no interest in him, but she would be polite — make that somewhat polite — to him because she was Olivia’s personal servant.

She replied, “Hello to you, too, sir.”

“Offense,” Sir Toby said to Sir Andrew. “Take the offense.”

“What are you talking about?” Sir Andrew asked.

“I am talking about this woman, my niece’s personal servant.”

“Ms. Offense,” Sir Andrew said to Maria, “I hope to know you better.”

Maria’s nickname was Mary, so she said, “My name is Mary, sir.”

“That’s a good name: Mary Offense —”

Sir Toby said, “You are mistaken, Sir Andrew. Her name is not ‘Offense.’ I meant for you to take the offense, to mount an attack, and to conquer this woman. Imagine that you are a pirate attacking a ship.”

Sir Toby was more than willing to get Sir Andrew to do and say stupid things and expose himself as a fool. Sir Toby knew that Maria’s wit was more than adequate to defend herself against whatever offense Sir Andrew would attempt to mount.

“I am not willing to mount this woman,” Sir Andrew said. “Heaven forbid that I should mount an attack on a woman!”

Disgusted, Maria said, “Fare you well, gentlemen. I am leaving now.”

Sir Toby, “If you let her go so easily and with such a weak offense, you may never have the opportunity to draw your sword again.”

Maria smiled faintly. She knew the part of a man’s body that Sir Toby was referring to as a “sword.”

Sir Andrew said to Maria, “If you leave now, I may never have the opportunity to draw a sword again.”

Maria laughed at him.

Sir Andrew did not know why she laughed. He asked, “Do you think that you have fools at hand?”

Maria replied, “Sir, I am not holding your hand.”

“But you will,” Sir Andrew said, and he grabbed and held her hand.

Maria thought, And now I have a fool at hand. She noticed that Sir Andrew’s hand was dry like the hand of an old and sexually impotent man.

She said to Sir Andrew, “Whenever a man asks me if he is a fool, I say, ‘Thought is free.’ But I also think that you should do something to make your hand wet. Bring your hand to the buttery bar and let it drink.”

She brought Sir Andrew’s hand to just in front of his crotch and thought, If you smear butter on your hand, it will not be dry.Masturbation ought to make your hand wet and your bar buttery.

“Why, sweetheart? I don’t understand,” Sir Andrew said.

“Your hand is dry, sir.”

“Yes, it is,” Sir Andrew said. “I am not such an ass that I cannot keep my hand dry. Are you making a joke?”

“If I am, it is a dry joke. I have a dry sense of humor.”

“Are you full of jokes?”

“I have a joke at the ends of my fingers,” Maria said.

She let go of Sir Andrew’s hand and said, “Now that I am no longer holding your hand, I no longer have a joke at the ends of my fingers.”

She left the room.

Sir Toby said to Sir Andrew, “You need a drink. I have never seen a man so badly defeated by a woman. She really put you down. Have you ever been so put down before?”

“Only when I am put down by too much wine and take up residence under a table,” Sir Andrew said. “Sometimes I think that I have no more wit than a Christian or an ordinary man has, but I eat a lot of beef and I think that the fat clogs my brain.”

“No doubt about it,” Sir Toby sympathized.

“If I believed that, I’d avoid red meat,” Sir Andrew replied.

He added, “I am going to leave here tomorrow and go back to my home.”

Pourquoi, my dear knight?”

Pourquoi?means “Why?” in French, but Sir Andrew did not know that.

“What does pourquoi mean? To leave or not to leave? I wish that I had spent more time learning languages instead of fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting — I love to see savage dogs torment bears! I should have sought an education! I should have been able to curl my tongue around more languages!”

Sir Toby thought, When I said that Sir Andrew knows three or four languages, I exaggerated. No, I didn’t exaggerate — I lied.

Sir Toby said to Sir Andrew, “If you had learned additional languages, then you would now have an excellent head of hair.”

“How would learning more languages improve my hair?”

“A curling-tong would curl it. You can see that your hair is straight.”

“My hair is attractive enough as it is, isn’t it?”

“Your hair is excellent,” Sir Toby said. “It looks like flax being spun straight by a housewife. If the housewife wanted to, she could spin your hair away and then you would be bald. And if the housewife were also a prostitute, she could give you syphilis and then your hair would fall out.”

“Ugh,” Sir Andrew said. “I am going home tomorrow, Sir Toby. I am here to court your niece, but she will not allow me to see her. Even if I could see her, the odds are four to one against her marrying me; after all, the Duke of Illyria himself wants to marry her.”

“Olivia does not want to marry Orsino,” Sir Toby said, “She will not marry anyone above her in wealth, age, or intelligence. I have heard her swear it. Don’t worry. You still have a chance to marry her. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

“I will stay a month longer,” Sir Andrew decided. “I can change my mind very quickly. I delight in masquerades with music and dancing and I delight in partying — sometimes all at the same time.”

“Are you good at dancing?”

“I am as good as any man in Illyria, whoever he is, as long as his social standing is not above mine. Still, it is true that I am not as good as an old man who is experienced at dancing.”

“Can you dance a lively five-stepped dance?”

“I can cut a caper.”

“And I can cut the mutton to go with your caper,” Sir Andrew said, thinking of the little peppery berries — capers — that are often served with mutton.

“I can also dance backwards.”

“Why are you hiding these talents of yours?” Sir Toby asked. “It is like you have put curtains in front of them to keep the dust off the way we put curtains in front of paintings to protect them. Why don’t you dance on your way to church, and after church is over dance a different dance on your way back home? If I were you, I would dance instead of walk. I would dance even while going to a bathroom. I would dance a sink-a-pace — oops, I mean the French dance called cinquepace— up to a sink and then I would pee in it. What do you mean by hiding your talent for dancing? Is this the kind of world you ought to hide virtues in? When I saw your legs, I immediately knew that you were born to dance.”

“Yes, my legs are strong,” Sir Andrew said, “and they look good in stockings. Shall we do some reveling?”

“What else?” Sir Toby said. “Weren’t both of us born under the astrological sign of Taurus?”

“Doesn’t Taurus rule the sides and heart?”

“No, sir, it rules the legs and thighs,” Sir Toby said.

Actually, Taurus is supposed to rule the neck and throat. Sir Andrew got it wrong through ignorance. Sir Toby got it wrong so he could laugh at Sir Andrew.

Sir Toby said, “Let me see you dance a caper.”

Sir Andrew began dancing.

“That’s it! Move your knees higher! Higher!”

— 1.4 —

Viola had put her plan in action. She had dressed in male clothing and was now working for Duke Orsino. However, she had abandoned the idea of being a eunuch and instead simply called herself a youth — a youth by the name of Cesario. Now she was in Duke Orsino’s palace talking with one of his assistants: Valentine.

Valentine said, “If the Duke continues to show favor to you, Cesario, you are likely to advance far and quickly. He has known you only three days, and already he treats you as a favorite and not as a stranger.”

Viola, who was dressed in male clothing, said, “You say ‘if.’ You must either fear that Orsino will change his mind about me or that I will neglect my duties and so he may no longer show favor to me. Does he quickly change his opinion about people?”

“No, he does not,” Valentine said. “You have my word on that.”

“Thank you. I see him coming now.”

Duke Orsino, his attendant Curio, and others entered the room.

“Has anyone seen Cesario?” Orsino asked.

“Here I am, and at your service,” Viola said.

Orsino said to Valentine, Curio, and the others, “Stand at a distance for a while. I want to speak to Cesario privately.”

He then said to Viola, “You know no less than everything about me. I have even told you my secrets. You know whom I love: Olivia. Therefore, go to her. Do not allow yourself to be denied to see her. Stand at her door, and tell the servants at her doors that your feet are fixed there and you will not leave until you have seen and talked to Olivia.”

“My noble lord,” Viola said, “if Olivia is much in sorrow and in grieving for her dead brother, as I have heard, it is likely that she will not allow me to see her.”

“Insist on it. Act like a jerk if you have to, but be sure to see her before you return to my palace.”

“Suppose I am able to speak to her, sir. What do you want me to tell her?”

“Tell her about my passionate love for her,” Orsino said. “Overwhelm her with stories about me that will capture her heart. You are the proper messenger for this. She will pay more attention to you, a youth, than she would to an older messenger.”

“I doubt that, sir,” Viola said.

“Youth, believe it,” Orsino replied. “Anyone who calls you a man is mistaken. You are not yet old enough to be a man. Your lips are as smooth and as ruby-red as the lips of the virgin goddess Diana. Your boyish voice is like the voice of a maiden, high and unbroken. Everything about you is feminine. I know that you are the right messenger and have the right personality for this affair.”

Orsino said to his attendants, “Four or five of you go with Cesario on his errand — no, all of you go with him. I like it best when I am alone.”

He said to Viola, “If you perform this errand well, you will prosper. You shall live as well as I do with all of my resources.”

Viola replied, “I’ll do my best to woo the lady and make her yours.”

But she thought, This is a disagreeable errand. I will be wooing a woman for Orsino to make his wife, but I have fallen in love with him and I want the woman he marries to be me!

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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