David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 5

— 1.5 —

Maria, who had recently used her wits to reveal the foolishness of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, was in Olivia’s house talking to a person of wit and intelligence. This person was Feste, a jester who made his living by making other people laugh. Some people called him a clown, and some people called him a fool. He was funny like so many clowns are, and he was wise like so many fools are. He served Olivia and occasionally picked up tips at other people’s houses, and he had been away from Olivia’s house for a long time.

Maria said to Feste, “Either tell me where you have been for so long, or I will not utter a word in your defense. You have been away for so long that Olivia is likely to have you hanged.”

Both Maria and Feste knew that this was an exaggeration. But if Olivia really would be angry enough to want to have Feste hanged, her face would be an angry red.

Feste replied, “Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world need fear no colors.”

Maria smiled. She knew that “well hanged” meant “well hung.”

She said, “Explain what you mean by ‘fear no colors.’”

“A hung man is a dead man, and he will see no colors.”

“That is a good Lenten answer, Feste. Lent is a time of fasting, and your answer lacks substance. You have made a lame joke with no meat on it.”

She added, “I can tell you where the saying ‘I fear no colors’ comes from.”

“From where, Mistress Mary?” Feste asked.

“From the wars,” Maria said. “Soldiers wear colored uniforms, and they march under a colored flag. Someone who fears no colors is not afraid of the enemy. When you face Olivia, who will be angry because of your long absence, you will be facing the enemy, and you better hope that you fear no colors.”

“Well, may God give more wisdom to those who already have it. As for those who are fools, let them use whatever talents they have.”

“As I said, you will be hanged because you have been absent for so long,” Maria said, “or you will be fired and lack employment. Won’t that be the same as a hanging to you?”

Feste said, “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.”

Maria smiled. She knew the proverb “Better be half hanged than ill married.” She also thought that a man’s being well hung might be advantageous in keeping a wife happy.

Feste added, “As for being fired, it is summer and that will make unemployment bearable.”

“You are resolute not to tell me where you have been?”

“Not necessarily,” Feste said, “but I am braced to make two points.”

“Those two points are the places where your braces — your suspenders — are attached to buttons so they can keep your pants up. If only one point suffers a mishap and the button comes off, the other point will keep your pants up. But if you lose both buttons, you will also lose your pants.”

“Well jested,” Feste said. “Go about your business now, but let me say that if Sir Toby would stop drinking, he would realize that you are as witty as any daughter of Eve in Illyria. He might even realize that just as Eve became Adam’s wife, you could be a clever wife for him.”

Maria replied, “Hold your tongue. I don’t want to hear any more of that. Look. Here comes Olivia. You had better come up with a good way to explain to her why you have been absent for so long.”

Maria left the room as Olivia and Malvolio, Olivia’s dignified and dutiful steward, entered it. Malvolio was not the type of person to take a long authorized leave of absence the way that Feste had. A few other male servants also entered the room.

Feste thought to himself, I need to be witty so that Olivia will cease her anger at me for being away for so long. If I can make her laugh, I won’t get fired.

He said to himself, being sure that he spoke loud enough for Olivia to overhear him, “Wit, if it be thy will, make me funny. Just as ancient epic poets invoked the Muses and asked them for help in telling their tales, I am invoking Wit and asking it for inspiration. Many wits who think that they are witty very often prove to be fools. I am sure that I lack wit, and since I am aware of what I lack, I may pass for a wise man, just as Socrates did. What does the great philosopher Kungfooey say? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit!’”

He looked at Olivia and said, “God bless thee, lady!”

She was not happy with him. She said, “Take the fool away.”

Feste said, “Didn’t you hear her, fellows? Take away the lady.”

“Go away,” Olivia said. “I want nothing more to do with you. For one thing, you have grown unreliable. A major part of success is simply showing up, and you have not been doing that recently. Apparently, your wit has dried up. You, Feste, are a dry fool.”

“You have mentioned two faults, lady, that drink and good advice can mend,” Feste replied. “Give a dry fool a drink, and he will no longer be dry. Bid a man with chronic absence to mend himself, and if he does mend himself, he is no longer chronically absent, but if he does not mend himself, let a tailor mend him. Anything that’s mended is patched. If a virtuous man is mended, he is patched with sin. If a sinful man is mended, he is patched with virtue. If this simple argument is valid, well and good. If it is not valid, what would be the remedy? Olivia, the only true cuckold is calamity. People are wedded to fortune, and when fortune turns bad and is unfaithful to them, they become the equivalents of cuckolds. So, Olivia, turn away from calamity — turn away from excessive mourning for your late brother. The living must return to living. Know that beauty is a flower. It will not last. Enjoy the flower of your beauty, Olivia, and marry before your flower fades. Carpe diem, for all of us must one day die. Olivia has been behaving like a fool; therefore, I say again, take her away.”

Olivia replied, “Sir, I bade them to take away you.”

“Then you have made an error of the very worst kind,” Feste said. “You have called me a fool, and it is true that I am wearing motley, which is the costume of a fool, but I do not wear motley in my brain. Good lady, give me permission to prove to you that you are a fool.”

“Can you do it?”

“With ease, good lady,” Feste replied.

“Prove it.”

“I will do so with a catechism. I will ask you questions, and you will answer them honestly.”

“Well, sir, for lack of a better entertainment, I will do so.”

“Good lady, why do you mourn?”

“Good fool, I mourn because of my brother’s death.”

“I think his soul is in Hell, good lady.”

“I know his soul is in Heaven, fool.”

“Then you must be a fool, good lady, to mourn because your brother’s soul is in Heaven.”

Feste turned to the male servants and said, “Take away the fool, gentlemen.”

Pleased with Feste, Olivia said, “What do you think of this fool, Malvolio? Hasn’t he mended himself?”

“Yes, he does mend, and he shall continue to mend until the pangs of death shake him,” Malvolio, who did not like Feste’s long absence and dereliction of duty, said. “Infirmity, that decays the wise, does ever make the better fool. Senility makes fools of even the wisest.”

“God send you, sir, a speedy infirmity, for the betterment of your folly!” Feste, who was fighting — very well — for his job and did not want Olivia to hear Malvolio’s criticisms of him, replied. “Sir Toby is willing to swear that I am not a sly and cunning and dangerous fox, but he will not bet even two pennies that you are not a fool.”

“What do you say to that, Malvolio?” Olivia asked.

“I marvel that your ladyship takes delight in such an uninspired rascal as Feste,” Malvolio replied. “I saw him defeated in a battle of wits the other day by an ordinary fool who has no more brains than a stone. Look at him now. He has shrugged his shoulders and turned away. Unless you laugh and thereby encourage him to make jokes, he is gagged and unable to say anything. I swear that I regard so-called wise men, who crow with laughter at these professional fools, as being no better than the fools’ sidekicks.”

“Oh, you are sick with self-love and pride, Malvolio, and you taste with a sick appetite,” Olivia said. “You are unable to appreciate what a jester does. You ought to be generous and liberal-minded, guiltless, and good-natured. You ought to regard as blunted arrows all those things that you now regard as cannonballs. A professional fool such as Feste commits no slander, even when he says nothing but abuse and criticism. A good jester will speak truth to power — and make that truth funny, too. A good fool can give good advice while making bad — and sometimes good — puns. That is a part of his job. And a man such as yourself who is known for his sound judgment is not a ranting lunatic even when he criticizes and complains. That is a part of your job. You have sound judgment, and that sound judgment can result in sound criticism.”

Feste said to Olivia, “May Mercury, the god of deception, give you the gift of lying well because you have spoken so kindly of fools. If you are going to talk well about fools, you need to be able to lie well.”

Maria entered the room and said to Olivia, “Madam, there is at the gate a young gentleman who much desires to speak with you.”

“Count Orsino sent him, didn’t he?”

“I don’t know, madam. He is a handsome young man, and he has some other men with him.”

“Who is talking to him now and keeping him from entering this house?”

“Sir Toby, madam, your uncle.”

“Keep Sir Toby away from the young man, please. Sir Toby — darn him! — speaks as if he were a madman.”

Maria left to talk to Sir Toby.

Olivia said, “Take care of this, Malvolio. If Orsino sent this young man, get rid of him. Tell him that I am sick or not at home. Say whatever you have to — just get rid of him.”

Malvolio left the room to talk to the young man.

Olivia said to Feste, “You can see that some people think that your fooling has grown stale, and they dislike it.”

Feste replied, “You have spoken up in favor of fools, madam, just as if your oldest son, if you had one, wanted to be a fool and you were defending him. May Jove — the god Jupiter — stuff the head of your oldest son — when you have one — with brains. He may need the extra help because one of your relatives has a very weak brain — look! Here he comes!”

Sir Toby Belch entered the room.

Olivia said to Feste, “I swear that he is already half-drunk.”

She asked Sir Toby, “Who was at the gate?”

“A gentleman.”

“I know that. Which gentleman?”

“He is a gentleman —”

Sir Toby belched and then said, “Darn these pickled herrings!”

He saw Feste and said, “How are you, fool?”

“I am well, good Sir Toby.”

Olivia said, “Sir Toby, you are practically in a drunken stupor. It’s still early in the day. Why are you so early in a state of lethargy?”

Sir Toby misheard her, or pretended to: “Lechery! I defy lechery!”

Then he added, “There is someone at the gate.”

“Who is he?” Olivia asked.

“He can be the Devil, if he wants,” Sir Toby replied. “I don’t care. Give me faith, and that will protect me from the Devil. Well, it doesn’t matter.”

Sir Toby left the room.

Olivia asked Feste, “What is a drunken man like, fool?”

“A drunken man is like a fool, a madman, and a drowned man. One drink too many makes him a fool. Two drinks too many make him a madman. Three drinks too many drown him.”

“Go and find a coroner, and let him hold an inquest on Sir Toby because Sir Toby has had three drinks too many — he has drowned. Go, and look after Sir Toby.”

“Sir Toby is only a madman right now,” Feste said. “The fool shall look after the madman.”

Feste left to keep an eye on Sir Toby. Feste knew that his job was now secure.

Malvolio entered the room and said to Olivia, “The young fellow outside swears that he will not leave until he speaks to you. I told him that you were sick. He said that he knew that and that was why he needed to speak to you. I told him that you were asleep. He said that he knew that and that was why he needed to speak to you. What can I say to him, lady? Whatever I say to him, he has an answer, and he will not leave.”

“Tell him that he cannot speak to me.”

“I have told him that, and he says that he will stand at your door as if he were one of the columns holding up the porch roof or as if he were one of the legs of a bench outdoors. He says that he will not leave until after he has spoken to you.”

“What kind of man is he?”

“Just an ordinary man.”

“What manner of man?”

“He is an ill-mannered man. He says that he will speak to you whether you want him to or not.”

“What is his appearance, and how old is he?”

“He is not yet a man and no longer a boy. He is like a peapod or an apple just before it ripens. He stands between being a man and being a boy. He is good-looking, and he speaks very sharply. He speaks as if he were an ill-tempered young child who has just been forced to stop drinking his mother’s milk.”

“Let him come in and talk to me. Call in Maria to be with me and be a chaperone.”

Malvolio called, “Maria, Olivia wants you to come here.”

Maria walked into the room.

Olivia said, “Give me my veil. Throw it over my face. Once again, I will listen to one of Orsino’s ambassadors.”

Maria also put on a veil. This made it difficult for Viola to tell who was the lady of the house and who was the servant.

Viola came into the room, accompanied by a few attendants.

She asked, “Who is the lady of the house?”

Olivia replied, “Speak to me; I shall answer for her. What do you want?”

Viola began to recite a speech that she had written: “Most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty.”

She stopped and then said to Maria, “Please, tell me if this woman is the lady of the house because I have never seen the lady of the house. I would hate to recite my speech to the wrong person because it is a very good speech and I have taken great pains to memorize it.”

Viola said to both Olivia and Maria, “Good beauties, do not mock me. I am very sensitive, and I feel even the smallest unkindness.”

“From where have you come, sir?” Olivia asked.

“I am here to recite my speech,” Viola said. “The answer to your question is not part of my speech.”

She added, “Gentle lady, please tell me whether you are the lady of the house, so that if you are I can proceed with my speech.”

“Are you an actor?” Olivia asked.

“No, my wise little sweetheart, I am not a professional actor,” Viola said.

She thought, And yet, in the teeth of ill fate, I swear that I am not the person whose part I play.

Then she asked again, “Are you the lady of the house?”

“If I do not usurp myself, I am,” Olivia replied.

“If you are the lady of the house, then you usurp herself,” Viola said. “You wrongfully possess your own person. What is yours to give is not yours to keep. You ought to give yourself to a husband. But I ought to be reciting my speech, and I am not doing that. I will continue with my praise of you in my speech, and then I will tell you the heart — the important part — of the message.”

“Just tell me the important part,” Olivia said. “You may skip the praise.”

“But, lady,” Viola objected. “I worked hard to memorize the praise, and it is poetic.”

“The more poetic it is, the more likely it is to be fake,” Olivia said. “Please keep the praise to yourself. I heard that you were rude when you were at my gate. I allowed you to see me because I wanted to marvel at such a rude person — not because I wanted to hear what you have to say. If you are insane, go away; if you have reason, be brief. I am not so lunatic that I want to be a part of an insane conversation.”

Maria said to Viola, “Will you hoist sail, sir? Here lies your way.”

She pointed to the door.

“No, good swabber of decks. I intend to cast anchor here for a while longer,” Viola said to Maria.

Viola said to Olivia about Maria, who was a very short woman, “Please pacify your threatening giant, sweet lady.”

She added, “Are you willing to hear my message?”

Olivia said, “You must have some hideous message to deliver, since you are ill mannered. Tell me what you have to say.”

“It alone concerns your ear,” Viola said. “I bring no declaration of war, no demand for tribute: I hold the olive branch in my hand; my words are as full of peace as they are full of content.”

“Yet you have behaved rudely. Who are you? What do you want?”

“The rudeness that has been apparent in me I have learned from the way I have been treated here. Who I am, and what I want, are as secret as virginity. My message is for your ears only. To you, my message is divine. To others, my message is profane.”

Olivia said to the other people in the room, “Let this young man and me be alone. I will hear his divine message to me.”

Maria and the others left the room.

Olivia said, “You said that you have something divine to tell me. What is your text? What is the gospel passage that you will preach about?”

Viola began, “Most sweet lady —”

Olivia interrupted, “That is a comfortable doctrine — it brings comfort to me. Much may be said in favor of your text. Next question: Where lies your text?”

“In the chest of Orsino.”

“In his chest!” Olivia said. “That’s an interesting place for a text. In what chapter of his chest?”

“To continue your use of biblical exegesis, it lies in the foremost place in his heart.”

“I have read that text,” Olivia said. “It is heresy. Have you anything more to say?”

“Good madam, let me see your face.”

“Has Orsino told you to negotiate with my face? You are now departing from your text — that is, straying from your theme — but I will draw the curtain and show you the picture you want to see.”

She took off her veil, and then she said, “Look at my face now. This is the way I look at the present time. Think of my face as a portrait. Don’t you think that it is well done?”

Viola replied, “It is excellently done, if God did all that I see and you have had no help from cosmetics.”

“Everything you see is natural. Cosmetics wash off, but my face will endure wind and weather.”

“Then your beauty has a truly beautiful blending of colors: the red of your lips and cheeks and the white of your face. Nature has painted your face with paint that is not artificial. Lady, you are the cruelest woman alive if you will take your beauty to the grave and leave the world no copy.”

“Sir, I will not be so hard-hearted. I will give the world more than one copy. I will give several lists of my beauty — it shall be inventoried, and every item and every part will be added as a codicil to my will. Item: two lips, red. Item: two grey eyes, with lids. Item: one neck. Item: one chin. And so forth.”

“I meant that you should leave behind you a copy in the form of a child.”

“Were you sent here just to praise my beauty?”

“I can see that you are too proud, but even if you were as proud as the Devil, you are beautiful. Orsino, my master, loves you. Such love would receive no more than its due even if you were crowned with the title of the unequalled Queen of Beauty!”

“How does he love me?”

“He loves you with adorations, abundant tears, with groans that thunder love, and with sighs of fiery heat.”

“Orsino knows what I think about him. I cannot love him. Yet I suppose him to be virtuous, and I know that he is noble. He is wealthy, and he is a fresh and stainless youth. He is well spoken of and has a good reputation. He is generous, and he is well educated and courageous. Physically, he is a graceful and attractive person. Nevertheless, I do not love him. He should know that; he has certainly heard it for a long time.”

“If I loved you the way that Orsino — a martyr to love —loves you, and if I suffered the way that he suffers because of his love for you, I would not be able to understand why you refuse to return his love. I would find no sense in such a refusal.”

“And what would you do if you were Orsino?” Olivia asked.

“Willows are the emblems of unrequited love. I would make for myself a willow cabin at your gate, and I would call upon my soul — that is, you — within your house. I would write songs about a faithful love that is not returned, and I would sing them loudly even in the middle of night. I would shout your name to the echoing hills and make the air call your name: ‘Olivia!’ The nymph Echo would continually be at my service and help me make the air sound your name. No matter where you would go, you would pity me.”

Olivia thought, I would like that — a lot. I want to know this young man better — much better.

She said, “Doing such things might get you somewhere. Who are your parents?”

“My parents’ social rank was above that of my present social rank, yet I am doing well. I am a gentleman.”

“Return to Orsino and tell him that I cannot love him. Tell him to send no more messengers to me, unless, perhaps, you come to me again to tell me how Orsino takes my message. Fare you well. I thank you for your pains: Spend this for me.”

She held out money for Viola to take, but Viola declined to take it.

She said, “I am no messenger who needs a tip, lady; keep your money. It is Orsino, not myself, who lacks recompense. He gets no return for the love he has spent. May you fall in love with someone who has a heart of flint, and may that someone regard with contempt your love, the way you regard with contempt Orsino’s love. Farewell, fair cruelty.”

Viola left the room to return to Orsino.

Olivia said to herself, “I asked him about his parents, and he said that their social rank was above that of his present social rank and that he is a gentleman. I can well believe that he is a gentleman. His manner of speaking, face, limbs, actions, and spirit provide five proofs that he is a gentleman. But, Olivia, slow down! You could go fast if this young man were Orsino and Orsino were the servant. What is happening to me? Can I be falling in love so quickly? This young man has perfections that invisibly and stealthily are creeping into my mind. Well, I am in love. So be it.”

She took a ring off her finger and called, “Malvolio!”

Malvolio entered the room and said, “Here I am, madam, at your service.”

“Run after that stubborn messenger, Orsino’s servant. He left this ring behind him, with no regard to whether or not I wanted it. Tell him that I don’t want it. Tell him not to flatter Orsino that I may love him — tell him not to give Orsino any hope that I may love him. I do not love Orsino. If that young messenger will come tomorrow, he can tell me how Orsino takes my rejection of his love for me. Hurry, Malvolio, and catch up to the young messenger.”

“Madam, I will,” Malvolio said, and he left the room.

“I am not sure what I am doing,” Olivia said to herself. “I am afraid that I am falling in love with this young man’s good looks and that I am not using my mind. Fate, you are in control — we do not control ourselves. Whatever will be, will be.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved




Free davidbrucehaiku #13 eBook (pdf)

Free davidbrucehaiku #12 eBook (pdf)

Free davidbrucehaiku #11 eBook (pdf)

David Bruce’s Lulu Bookstore (Paperbacks)

David Bruce’s Amazon Author Bookstore

David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore

David Bruce’s Apple Bookstore

David Bruce’s Barnes and Noble Books

David Bruce’s Kobo Books

davidbruceblog #1

davidbruceblog #2

davidbruceblog #3

This entry was posted in Shakespeare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s