David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 1-2

— 2.1 —

Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, had survived the shipwreck. Now he was on the coast, talking with the person who had saved his life and who had given him food and shelter: Antonio.

Antonio asked, “Won’t you stay longer here? And if you must go, will you allow me to go with you?”

Sebastian replied, “I am sorry, but I must leave, and I must not allow you to go with me. My astrological stars shine darkly over me, and my fate is malignant. If you go with me, my bad luck may affect you; therefore, I must ask you to allow me to travel alone. I would repay your kindness badly if I were to share my bad fortune with you.”

“At least let me know where you are bound.”

“My plan is to simply wander here and there. I do not know where I will end up. I see, however, that you have good manners, and they prevent you from asking questions about myself because you are afraid that you will ask about something that I do not want to talk about. Etiquette demands that I tell you about myself. You ought to know that my real name is Sebastian. Out of caution, I have been using the alias Roderigo. My father was Sebastian of Messaline, a man I know you have heard of. When he died, he left behind him my sister and me. We were twins; we were both born in the same hour — I wish to God that we had both died in the same hour! But you, sir, prevented that. You rescued me from the sea that drowned my sister.”

“I am sorry that she drowned.”

“Although she was said to resemble me, many people thought that she was beautiful. That may have been generous praise, but I can say without reservation to anybody and everybody that her mind was so good and intelligent that even an envious person would have to admit that that is true. My sister drowned in the salt water of the sea, and my salty tears drown her memory each time I think of her.”

“Pardon me, sir, for not giving you better hospitality.”

“Forgive me, Antonio, for the trouble I have given to you.”

Antonio deeply loved Sebastian as a friend.

Antonio said, “Unless you want me to die out of grief because you are leaving me, allow me to be your servant and go with you.”

“Don’t ask that. It would kill me — thereby undoing your heroic act of saving my life — if you were to suffer from my bad fortune by going with me. I am filled with tenderness toward you, and I am enough like my mother that I too easily cry and show my feelings. But now I will set out on the first part of my wanderings. I am going to the court of Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. Goodbye.”

Sebastian departed, and Antonio said to himself, “May the gods protect you! I have many enemies in the court of Duke Orsino; otherwise, I would go there and see you. But, come what may, I do adore you so, that danger shall seem to be like entertainment, and I will go. So, off I will go to Court Orsino’s town, where I intend to see you.”

— 2.2 —

Viola walked on a street, and Malvolio, walking more quickly than she, caught up with her.

Malvolio said to Viola, “Are you the young man who was just now talking with the Countess Olivia?”

“Yes, I was, sir. I have been walking and have just now arrived here.”

“Olivia returns this ring to you, sir. You would have saved me the trouble of walking after you, if you had taken it away yourself. She adds, moreover, that you should tell Orsino very clearly that she wants nothing to do with him. One more thing: Olivia does not want you to deliver any more declarations of love from Orsino, although she will allow you to report to her how Orsino takes her rejection of his love for her. Now, take back this ring.”

Viola knew that she had left no ring for Olivia; therefore, this must be Olivia’s ring; however, Viola did not want to reveal that information to Malvolio.

Viola said, “Olivia took the ring. I want nothing to do with it.”

Malvolio replied, “Come, sir, you peevishly threw it to her; and she wants to return it to you.”

He dropped the ring on the ground and said, “There the ring lies. If it is worth stooping for, pick it up. If you don’t want to pick it up, let it become the property of whoever finds it.”

Malvolio departed.

Viola picked up the ring and said, “I left no ring with Olivia. What does she mean by this? God forbid that she has fallen in love with me. My disguise has fooled her! She certainly stared at me when we were alone together. Indeed, she stared so much that she became distracted and spoke in starts and did not finish her sentences. Sometimes, she lost the power of speech. She is in love with me, and she is crafty enough to send this churlish messenger to me to make an invitation to visit her again. She says that she does not want the ring of Orsino — why, he did not give her a ring! I am the ‘man’ she loves! If this is true, and it is, then I feel pity for Olivia. She would be better off if she loved a dream. Disguise, I see, is wicked, and the Devil uses it to make mischief. How easy is it for handsome and deceitful men to imprint themselves on the hearts of women just like a seal imprints itself on wax! It’s a pity, but the frailty of us women is the cause of our susceptibility to fall in love — we ourselves are not the cause! We are made this way, and neither Olivia nor I can help falling in love. How will this turn out? Orsino has fallen in love with Olivia, I — a woman dressed in men’s clothing — have fallen in love with Orsino, and poor Olivia, who thinks that I am a man, seems to have fallen in love with me. What will become of this? I am a monster: part man and part woman. Since I am disguised as a man, I cannot gain the love of Orsino. Since I really am a woman, Olivia cannot gain my love. She shall sigh hopelessly out of unrequited love. Time, you must untangle this, not I; it is too hard a knot for me to untie!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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