David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

In Olivia’s house, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek were partying. As usual, they had drunk too much.

Sir Toby said, “Come here, Sir Andrew. We are not in bed although it is after midnight, and therefore we are up early. And, of course, deliculo surgere saluberrimum est— to rise early is very healthy. I am sure that you know that.”

“No, I do not know that. Latin is another language I do not know. But I do know this: To be up late is to be up late.”

“That is a false conclusion. I hate it the way I hate an empty tankard. To be up after midnight is to be up early — it is in the early hours of the morning. Therefore, to go to bed after midnight is to go to bed early. So say the ancient scholars. Do not the ancient scholars also say that our life consists of the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth?”

“Yes, they say that, but I think that life consists of eating and drinking.”

“I prefer your scholarship to that of the ancient scholars,” Sir Toby said.

He called, “Maria! Bring us a jug of wine!”

Feste entered the room and said, “How are you, my friends! Have you ever seen the picture of ‘We Three’?”

The picture Feste referred to showed two fools or asses — the third fool or ass was the person looking at the picture.

Sir Toby replied, “Welcome, ass. Now let’s have a song.”

Feste’s talents included playing musical instruments and singing and dancing.

Sir Andrew said, “Truly, the fool has an excellent singing voice. I would give a large amount of money to be able to play and sing and dance as well as this fool can.”

He said to Feste, “Truly, last night you were very funny. You spoke wonderful nonsense about Pigrogromitus and the Vapians passing the equator of Queubus. That tale was very good entertainment. I sent you sixpence to spend on your girlfriend — did you get it?”

Sir Andrew had praised Feste’s nonsense, so Feste replied with nonsense to thank him: “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.”

“Excellent!” Sir Andrew said. “Why, this is the best fooling, and the best entertainment, when all is said and done. Now, let’s hear a song!”

“Good idea,” Sir Toby said, handing Feste some money. “There is sixpence for you. Let’s have a song.”

“Here is sixpence from me, too,” Sir Andrew said. “If one knight gives a sixpence, the second knight ought to, too.”

Feste asked, “Do you prefer a love song or a song of the good and simple life in the countryside?”

“A love song, a love song,” Sir Toby said.

“I agree,” Sir Andrew said. “I don’t care for a good and simple life.”

Feste sang, “Oh, mistress mine, where are you roaming?

Oh, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,

Who can sing both high and low.

Trip no further, pretty sweeting;

Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man’s son does know.”

Feste thought, Wise men — and wise women — seek love.

Sir Andrew said, “Excellent.”

Sir Toby added, “Good, good.”

Feste sang, “What is love? ’tis not hereafter;

Present mirth has 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 that will not endure.”

Feste thought, Seize the day.Carpe diem. Youth is fleeting, so enjoy it. Neither Orsino nor Olivia is now doing that.

Sir Andrew was full of praise for Feste’s singing: “He has a mellifluous voice — this I swear as a true knight.”

Sir Toby said, “He sang a catchy tune — it is contagious.”

Sir Andrew said, “It is sweet and contagious.”

Sir Toby said, “If we could hear the tune with our nose, we would enjoy catching a cold.”

He added, “What shall we do now? Shall we drink until the sky spins in circles? Shall we sing and keep the night owl up late — and early? Love songs are supposed to draw souls out of the body because of the songs’ wickedness, so I’m not sure why weavers sing psalms — love songs to God — as they work. Shall we sing a three-singer song that will draw our souls out of our bodies? Shall we do that?”

“Please, let’s do it,” Sir Andrew said. “I am as expert at singing catchy songs as a dog is at whatever a dog does.”

Feste said, “Like you, a dog is an expert when it comes to a catch.”

“That is true,” Sir Andrew said, “Let our catchy three-singer song be ‘Hold Your Peace, Knave, and I Beg that You Hold Your Peace.’”

“Hold Your Peace” was a riotous party song.

“In this song, each of the singers takes turns singing,” Feste said, “and each of the singers calls the other singers ‘knave.’ Is it all right if I call you a knave, knight?”

“It won’t be the first time that I have been called a knave,” Sir Andrew said. “You start the song, fool. It goes, ‘Hold your peace.’”

“If I hold my peace, I will have to remain silent,” Feste said. “I will never be able to get started singing.”

“That funny!” Sir Andrew said. “But, now, begin.”

The three partiers sang, and in their song two drunks and one fool called each other names and told each other to shut up.

Maria walked into the room and said to Sir Toby, “What a caterwauling you are making! Olivia must be awakening her steward, Malvolio, and ordering him to kick you out of her house. If she isn’t, never again believe anything I say.”

Sir Toby replied drunkenly, “Olivia is from China, we are politicians, and Malvolio has his nose to the grindstone. Olivia is a Confucian and concerned about order, we are cunning schemers who want preferential treatment, and Malvolio’s nose bleeds.”

He sang, “Three merry men be we.”

He then asked Maria, “Aren’t I related to Olivia? Aren’t she and I niece and uncle? Fiddle-faddle. I don’t need to worry about Olivia.”

He sang, “There dwelt a man in Babylon, lady, lady!”

“Heaven help me,” Feste said to Sir Andrew. “Sir Toby makes an excellent clown.”

“Yes, he does it well enough when he is in the mood,” Sir Andrew said. “So do I. He acts the clown with a good deal of style. I do it more naturally.”

Yes, Feste thought. You act the clown as if you were a born idiot.

Sir Toby sang, “Oh, the twelfth day of December.”

Maria said, “For the love of God, be quiet!”

Malvolio entered the room and said, “My masters, are you mad? If not, what are you? Have youno wit, manners, or decency that would stop you from gabbling likefoul-mouthed, drunken tinkers at this time of night? Do you think Olivia’s house is analehouse where you can squeak out your cobblers’ songs at the top of your voices?Is there no respect of place, persons, ortime — it is past midnight — in you?”

Sir Toby replied, “We do respect time — we did keep time, sir, in our songs. We have good rhythm. Go hang yourself!”

Malvolio replied, “Sir Toby, I must be blunt with you. My lady told me to tell you, that, though she has given you a place to stay because you are her uncle, she dislikes your disorders. If you can separate yourself from your misdemeanors, you are welcome to stay in her house; if not, and if it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to tell you goodbye.”

Sir Toby sang, “Farewell, dear heart, since I must needs be gone.”

“No, good Sir Toby,” Maria said. “Don’t sing.”

Feste sang the next line of the song: “His eyes do show his days are almost done.”

“Must you continue to sing?” Malvolio asked.

Sir Toby sang, “But I will never die.”

Feste made up an additional lyric: “Sir Toby, there you lie.”

Malvolio said sarcastically, “Your behavior does you credit.”

Sir Toby sang, “Shall I tell him to go?

Feste sang, “What happens if you do?

Shall I tell him to go and not mince my words?” Sir Toby sang.

Oh, no, no, no, no, you dare not,” Feste sang.

Sir Toby said to Malvolio, “Are we singing out of time? Not with our rhythm! You lied! You are nothing more than an employee — a steward!”

He added, “Do you think, because you are virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

For Sir Toby, it was always time for cakes and ale and parties. For Olivia and for Malvolio, it was not time for cakes and ale and parties when Olivia was trying to sleep.

Feste said, “Very definitely, sometime is the right time for cakes and ale. Hot ale spiced with ginger warms the mouth. Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, knew the importance of wine. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine so that a wedding could be properly celebrated.”

Sir Toby said to Feste, “You are right.”

Feste favored Sir Toby over Malvolio — Sir Toby gave him tips.

Feste had been drinking — a lot — and as Sir Toby continued to argue with Malvolio, Feste began to nod and then to sleep.

Sir Toby said to Malvolio, “Go and rub your steward’s chain with crumbs to polish it. You are only a servant.”

He said to Maria, “Bring us a jug of wine, Maria.”

Maria got a jug of wine for Sir Toby, whom she liked.

Malvolio said to Maria, “If you prized Olivia’s wishes and did not have contempt for them, Mistress Mary, you would not bring more wine out to encourage this uncivil behavior. I shall tell Olivia what you have done.”

Malvolio departed.

After Malvolio had gone, Maria said in the direction of the door he had exited through, “You have donkey ears. Go and shake them.”

Sir Andrew said, “I think that it would be an excellent idea to challenge a man to a duel and then not show up and so make a fool of him. I would like to make a fool of Malvolio.”

“Do it,” Sir Toby said, thinking that Sir Andrew fighting would be a funny sight. “You are a knight, after all. I will write your challenge to Malvolio for you, or if you prefer, I will deliver your challenge orally.”

Maria said, “Sweet Sir Toby, be calm, quiet, and patient for tonight. Since Duke Orsino’s young man talked with your niece Olivia, she has been much disturbed and distracted. As for Monsieur Malvolio, leave him to me. If I do not trick him, do not think that I am intelligent enough to lie straight in my bed. I intend to make the name ‘Malvolio’ a synonym for ‘laughingstock.’ I know that I can do it.”

“Tell us something about Malvolio,” Sir Toby said. “What characteristics of his can you use to trick him?”

“Sir, sometimes he is a kind of Puritan. He affects a puritanical demeanor. He is morally narrow-minded and thinks that everyone else ought to be, too.”

Sir Andrew said, “If I thought that, I would beat him like a dog.”

“What, for being a Puritan?” Sir Toby said. “What is your ingenious reason for wanting to beat him?”

“I have no ingenious reason, but I have reason good enough.”

Maria said, “Malvolio is not a Puritan; he is a kind of Puritan. Sometimes, he acts like a Puritan. Sometimes, he does not. He is a time-server — he changes his views to suit the prevailing circumstances or fashion. He is nothing consistently except for being an affected ass who learns rules by heart and quotes them at great length. He has the highest opinion of himself, and he thinks that he is so crammed with excellent qualities that he believes with all his heart that all those who see him like him.”

An impartial observer might think, Malvolio knows very well that Sir Toby does not like or respect him, but Maria is angry that Malvolio is going to tell Olivia that she served the late-night-partier Sir Toby a jug of wine, and so she exaggerates when she says that Malvolio “thinks that he is so crammed with excellent qualities that he believes with all his heart that all those who see him like him.” If she is exaggerating about that, she may also be exaggerating about other things concerning Malvolio.

Maria added, “I will exploit Malvolio’s failings and make a fool of him.”

Sir Toby asked, “What will you do?”

“I will drop where he will find it an ambiguous love letter that he will think is written to him because it will describe the color of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expression of his eye, his forehead, and his complexion. Malvolio shall read the letter and think that he is fully described in it. My handwriting is very similar to that of Olivia, your niece. When we find an old note that we have forgotten about, she and I can hardly decide which of us wrote it.”

“Excellent! I smell an excellent practical joke,” Sir Toby said

“I have it in my nose, too,” Sir Andrew said.

“You will write a love letter and Malvolio shall find it,” Sir Toby said. “He shall think that my niece wrote the letter and that she is in love with him.”

“Yes,” Maria said. “My idea is a horse of that color. If you had thought differently, that would be a horse of a different color.”

Sir Andrew said, “Your horse of the same color is to make him an ass.”

“You better believe it,” Maria said.

“This is an admirable plan!” Sir Andrew said.

“It will be fun fit for a King,” Maria said. “I know that my plan will work. He will get the medicine that is coming to him. You two and the fool will be placed where you can see Malvolio find and read the letter. You shall see how he interprets the letter and thinks that Olivia loves him. But right now, it is time to go to bed and dream about our joke and our revenge. Good night.”

Maria exited.

Sir Toby said, “Good night, Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons.” This was another mild joke about Maria’s short stature.

“I swear that she is a good woman,” Sir Andrew said.

“She is a beagle — a small hound,” Sir Toby said. “She adores me. What do you think about that?”

“I was adored once, too,” Sir Andrew replied.

Men — and women — seek love. Using love as the bait for a trap was likely to work. And if Sir Andrew could be adored, why not Malvolio?

Sir Toby said, “It’s time for bed, Sir Andrew. But remember to send for more money for us to spend.”

“If I don’t marry Olivia, your niece, I will be grievously out of pocket.”

“Send for money, Sir Andrew. If you don’t marry Olivia, then you have my permission to call me a eunuch.”

“I do think that I will marry Olivia. If I don’t, never again believe anything I say.”

“Come with me,” Sir Toby said. “I’ll heat up some wine. It is too late to go to bed now. Come, Sir Andrew.”

A drunk Sir Andrew was more likely to send away for more money.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved




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