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three pairs of lovers with space

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Chapter Four.  Twelfth Night or What You Will          


In this chapter I will further attempt to reveal the essential nature of double-shifted androgyny as it has already appeared in As You Like It.  Differences between the earlier play and Twelfth Night will appear, yet threads of unity will later join both plays with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when ultimately that play is reached in Chapter Five.

Valentine’s speech to Orsino at the beginning of the play introduces a facet of cultural expectation that defines one of the main roles of women in a patriarchal system.  The young countess, Olivia, will constantly mourn for her brother in a state of absolute self-denial for a period of seven years.  If the brother she mourns had survived and Olivia had died, the brother might well also have mourned for a time, but he would have been expected to get on with a useful life.  In contrast, it is implied that the Olivia will be disabled by grief and will be seen as acting virtuously in cutting herself off from the world.  This, in such a manner that:

                        The element itself, till seven years’ heat,
                        Shall not behold her face at ample view;
                        But like a cloistress she will veilèd walk,
                        And water once a day her chamber round
                        With eye-offending brine; all this to season
                        A brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh
                        And lasting, in her sad remembrance.

This situation is made to appear as Olivia’s own desire and in itself creates a clear picture of a nun-like existence for a young woman in the perpetuation of the Christian ideal of the expected fate of women-bereaved.  In this case it is not her marital partner, but her sibling loss is still seen as serious enough to end any sense of a normal life for herself for a period of seven years.

The title page of Twelfth Night, from the 1623 First Folio

The fact that this situation is created in the parallel world of comedy—in the full awareness of all concerned in those first performances—results in an almost jarringly comic effect for us.  It is perfectly clear there are lexical associations in the use of “brine” and “season” and “keep fresh” in the above speech.  All of these may be taken as referring to the then common practice of preserving meat with salt.  Can we see the audience begin to smile at this point?  Essentially, this passage also addresses the principle that we of the modern age may sometimes miss in Shakespeare’s texts.  As A.P. Riemer so well argues in his Antic Fables: Patterns of Evasion in Shakespeare’s Comedies, we have scant access to the kind of “solemn levity and jesting seriousness” that the Elizabethans found so enjoyable.[2]  In laying out the terms-of-reference for his particular study, Riemer argues that the cultural heritage of the last two hundred years, particularly, has engendered views on “the value and significance of literature” that cannot accommodate the Elizabethan sense teasing-irony in their enjoyment of the comedies.[3]  The gap created by four centuries reduces our educated surmise to that which this work has stated before—we must sometimes use simple guesswork—about the codes that we may now often fail to decipher correctly, no matter how hard we try.  In this parallel world, though, Olivia will come down off this plane of grief and, as those in the audience then knew, it will be soon.  Outright comedy will break through the opening grimness, as always in Shakespeare’s lighter plays.

As a partial explanation for this mystery of dislocation in perception, and with the above example uppermost in our minds, I offer that the stark dangers in the everyday lives of Shakespeare’s audiences must have given them a very different view of the darker elements in even the lightest of the plays that they went to see.  Pointed out in Chapter One, the boy actors of St Paul’s had to compete for the attention of a potential audience, hungry for diversion, drawn away from their play to horrors such as a public execution at the other end of Paul’s Yard.  Many of the most cultured and normally gentle people in the crowd dearly loved seeing the fear and the blood of ritualized death on the public gibbet.  Even—or perhaps especially—in its extreme version—that is to say, the ghastly process of drawing and quartering.[4]  In such a cultural envelope, a way of dealing with such a commonplace as mere bereavement was the ability to laugh, or at least wryly to smile at a moment where utter solemnity might be expected by we of the modern era.  They had, after all, journeyed through the dark and dirty streets and paid their money to be entertained.  It is perfectly clear that they had their own, very marked version, of black humour.[5]  I suggest that this defines one of the major differences between the life of then and the life of now, is that laughing in the grimmer moments was for them as natural as breathing, while for us it is an uneasy, nervous reaction.

Addressing the play’s origins, we find that they are traceable through Barnaby Rich’s 1581 romance, Farewell to Militarie Profession.  This play was contained in a series of plays which included “Apolonius and Silla”, which in turn may be traced to Matteo Bandello’s 1531  Gl’Ingannati (The Deceived).  As M.M. Mahood rather baldly states: “Twelfth Night is a play composed of deceptions — inganni” and this will be seen as basic to the textual truth that we may deduce in placing the work in its overall context.[6]  In Twelfth Night, the deceptions begin with the apparently simple decision of Viola to disguise herself as “an eunuch” in order to delay being “delivered to the world” as a young woman after the shipwreck.  This, until she knows what is in store for her in Illyria, at least.[7]  Clearly, this is for her maidenly safety, thus echoing Rosalind on the road to Arden in As You Like It.  She asks the captain to help maintain her disguise as a boy:

                                                            I’ll serve this duke.
                        Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him —
                        It may be worth thy pains — for I can sing,
                        And speak to him in many sorts of music[8]

The captain is intelligent and pragmatic and he has a sense of humour: so now without a ship to sail, he must attach himself to someone else’s ability to stay alive on dry land.  Most importantly, his reply reveals his immediate willingness faithfully to serve Viola:

                        Be you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be;
                        When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.

Quite beyond mere rhetoric, this couplet demonstrates Shakespeare’s skill in revealing Viola in the mirror of a grown man’s eyes as someone quite exceptional.  There is no need for any character to reveal this by direct reference to her beauty, her personality, or any other human attribute.  In a simple couplet of blank verse, we are told that this captain—a leader among men of his own class—is willing to be blinded if he fails to maintain the secrecy of Viola’s identity and most importantly, her gender.  It is perhaps no coincidence that the mirror in the captain’s eyes is that which is at the greatest hazard of being destroyed by the mirror’s devoted owner being willingly blinded.  As a representation of a woman as worthy of both following and serving, this brief passage is starkly simple and very intense at the same time.  It also establishes Viola as a person of striking qualities and echoes the way in which the author establishes a character as one worth following unto death; as Adam had done in his commitment to Orlando in the beginning of As You Like It.  Established in the first act, then, this creates a parallel between Viola and Orlando as heroes and constitutes a striking statement of faithful service that is not dependent upon the gender of the one being served.  Both characters are, in this way being proposed as paradigms of worthiness, objects of near-idolatry by those who follow them.

Having seen Olivia as a woman-bereaved, then Viola as a woman-disguised and faithfully followed, the beginning of the next scene reveals Maria as the ideal woman in her caring role, but with smiling grace-notes added.  Maria, whose place in life is her employment as Olivia’s gentlewoman, chides Sir Toby Belch about his drunkenness and late nights.[9]  Sir Andrew Aguecheek enters and she is wittily dismissive of him, too, receiving and handing out sexual innuendo, but all in the cause of the miscreants’ redemption.  As a general note, there is much talk of degree, or rank; of betters and equals.  Though comic in nature, these references prepare us for Malvolio’s hubris in his later attempt at wooing Olivia, an act that is seen as a blatant disruption of accepted class-barriers.

In the next scene we discover that, as with Rosalind/Ganymede in As You Like It, the disguised Viola is given a disguised-name: Cesario.  This is used by the other characters in referring to him, but consistently she is named as Viola in the stage-directions and character prompt-tags to create a clearly-accepted duality for we, the readers, while this is hidden from the viewers.  This creates yet another kind of duality; that which exists in this sense, between those who read the play and those who view it in a theatre.  The actors, in the first place, are readers, but they then become the link between the text and the viewers and, at the same time, a partly-obscurant veil in the creation of a named-androgyny between the boy actor and the heroic female character.

Valentine sets the scene in Act 1, scene 4, by telling Viola that, as Cesario, he has already gained great trust in the Duke Orsino’s eyes.  Having achieved this status in only three days, her further position as an exceptional character is confirmed when he sends her off to the Countess Olivia to relay his passionate love for her.  Significantly, his clear reason for sending Cesario, rather than one of his older attendants is stated as:

                        She will attend it better in thy youth
                        Than in a nuncio’s of more grave aspect.
                                                                                                (1. 4. 26-27)

I am sure that within this lies the affection with which the playwright held his young androgyne creations.  They must surely have had an air of the sweet gamin/gamine in their appearance, their carriage and their sprightly youthfulness, and were surely seen as the true harbingers of an essentially youthful love as much as the objects or the instruments of that love.  Who could resist such people?  It is almost as though this principle triggers a chuckle in the author, because the next speech of Orsino’s is loaded with sexual innuendo.  From the point-of-view of female representation, it is one of the most important passages in the play, or, for that matter, in any of the plays of Shakespeare from the stand-point of the female character.  When Viola/Cesario doubts that she will be able effectively to press Orsino’s suit, he says:

                        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
                        Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,
                        And all is semblative a woman’s part.

On the surface of this speech lies a perfectly straight meaning.  The young actor who could have played Viola convincingly must have appeared as at least relatively small among the other actors and would always have exhibited an unbroken voice.  There is some wistfulness about the “happy years”; the golden age that is fading for Orsino, yet still visibly present in Viola/Cesario.  There is talk of the soprano quality of a boy’s voice, and the part that he can play because of it.  Elizabeth Story Donno gives a pointed construction on “a woman’s part” as being both the “nature” and the “role” of the boy-disguised, yet many recent feminist scholars have seen much bawdry within this brief speech.  A signal example exists in Grace Tiffany’s Erotic Beasts and Social Monsters.  Tiffany is clear that “the ambiguous bawdiness evoked by Orsino’s reference to Cesario’s ‘small pipe’ ” may be taken to be “(throat, or immature penis), which ‘Is as the maiden’s organ’ ” in 1.4.31-32.[10]  Even so, this relationship may be seen as standing quite apart from the obviously bawdy association between “part” and genitalia—either male or female—and this is the particular impression that Donno offers.  Thus, the ephemeral aggregate, Viola/Cesario, is created as an appropriate “surrogate wooer” of Olivia, but as “a halting amateur”—purely for effect—as Katherine Kelly supplies.

Among a number of other readings for the entire situation, Kelly insists, the “boy actress’s femininity” may be seen in terms of “a diminutive masculinity” and must appear to be slightly awkward and self-conscious so that “the amateur and ingenuous quality of the young boy’s performance” as a boy disguised as young woman then disguised as a boy![11]

Even if a straight view that sets aside all double-meanings is maintained, the enacted situation is even more complex than that.  As a boy or a girl, love’s very youthful messenger is himself no threat to the Duke’s status as the suitor because the messenger is in fact the equivalent of a eunuch—a beardless boy in this play’s sense—and therefore no competition to the protagonist.[12]  He is also of similar status to a woman, being visibly boy-like.[13]  The trouble is that the passionate, inflammatory language of love, being seen as likely to inspire love in Olivia, will later actually misdirect her love in a way that is most definitely not desired by Orsino.  The faithful messenger begins to woo Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, but Olivia will fall in love with the messenger himself, making her obdurate rejection of the young nobleman, Orsino, even stronger than it had been before.  For the moment, though, this passage merely hints at this unwanted complication, and it stands out as yet another example of how the author prepares the way for later misdirections for those quick-witted enough to see ahead, or have had enough experience of this author’s other plays.

Addressing Orsino’s speech, above—after a study of Partridge’s Shakespeare’s Bawdy—one can readily see that almost every major item of information in the speech is subject to interpretation as the strongest of sexual innuendo.  Cesario is love’s messenger and, as Cupid, he is no saintly cherub in Elizabethan eyes.  This is, after all, a comedy, yet on a much darker note, Dympna Callaghan argues that the fact of “the extra-diegetic reality of the boy-actress’s sexual equipment” and the reference to the “maiden’s organ” as both “voice and genital femininity” itself, removes this piece to another sphere of meaning.  The episode is nothing less than “an elaborate, fanciful act of patriarchal ventriloquism” according to Callaghan.[14]  Useful background information upon this striking view is provided by Professor R.S. White’s editorial summary of Callaghan’s main thrust.  This makes clear that:

contemporary ideas about transvesticism and sexuality ... deals with “body politics”.  This emphasises not only the centrality of the body and dramatic presence, but also sees the body as a site for ideological discourse.[15]

In a broader aspect, Callaghan herself claims that the “disruptive qualities of the female genitals in the phallocentric order” are pivotal and at the same time, variable.  Finally, she argues that these features being “ambivalent as they are”, they also “incite” Viola to a “discourse” that centres on “the endless complications of signifying women on the Renaissance stage”.[16]

I find that a note of caution must be added to this body-discourse.  In much of the above, the value of the text itself seems almost to vanish.  While giving high praise to Callaghan’s thinking, I must also refer to Clare Everett, who writes that in Renaissance England: “Gender is inextricably linked to social ideology”.  It is “a constructed category of sexual difference”.  This being constructed by the text as much as anything.[17]  Everett cites Joan Scott in defining the very word, gender, primarily as  meaning:  “ ‘knowledge about sexual difference’ ” which may be seen to exist before any reading or hearing.[18]  Another dimension may be seen as added by Everett’s opinion that in this context any cross-dressing in the representation of women is seen to be highly disruptive of the status quo for Elizabethan men.  The boys representing the women, therefore, pose no threat to the Elizabethan man’s own sexuality and sense of self-esteem.  Though the lack of real women upon the stage might very well be seen as turning the principle upon its head, the double-shifting of apparent-gender—that is to say, male-to-female-to-male-to female, then back to male again as the play ends—might thus even have been viewed as doubling the sinfulness of Twelfth Night and As You Like It in the eyes of the religious reactionaries of the time.  Yet this single idea most interestingly may cause a parallel pejorative in proposing that this old tradition, which excluded the physical presence of women, is an even more serious affront to feminist viewers than the modern version where women do mount the stage and there is no double-reversal.

Perhaps essentially for Callaghan, the boy’s body beneath the female robes may be referred to in the double-meaning-bawdry, but its male-reality must always be seen as secondary to the woman that it represents, and that the woman is almost always denigrated in both word and deed.  Callaghan’s insistent highlighting of the abuse that lies within the representation of the woman’s body might therefore seem to be contradictory, unless you accept that momentary “incisions”—textually, by word and with gestures—deliberately are made in the womanly façade, as in the “all is semblative a woman’s part” speech, above.  These moments, perhaps, simply were meant to give those in the audience—those who were particularly susceptible to such humour, at least—a brief burst of laughter before moving on.  It is agreed, though, that the woman’s body thus held up for ridicule, is clear in this.

Of vital importance in Callaghan’s research, though, is the nature of the body itself as the first building-block of female representation.  Her thrust then appears as much more direct in seeing the body in Renaissance theatre as primarily political and as “a site for the operation of power and the exercise of meaning”.  The period of change, she says, that saw feudalism become capitalism, that is to say, the late 16th and early 17th centuries, saw a complete change in the way the body was seen and understood.  These conclusions are copiously referenced in the emerging work of Norbert Elias, Andrew Gurr, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Francis Barker.[19]

On her own account, though, Callaghan is clear that this view of the body, emerging in the period which closely she studies, owes a great deal to “historically situated developments in poststructuralist theory”.[20]  She avers that Lucy Gent’s and Nigel Llewellyn’s observation of “the body’s ‘sheer physicality’ ”, which itself makes “the mute facticity of its materiality, educe the material to the elemental”, as fundamentally correct and worthy of close attention.  Further, she avers that Gent’s and Llewellyn’s view is “a classically humanist definition of the material as the density of things that you can touch”, with which principle, I strongly agree.[21]

Callaghan, after Donald Morton, sees the body as:

substantive, ontologically grounded raw material devoid of any agenda for social transformation.  Alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) in its textualist rendition, the material is defined as discourse, as the material part of the sign, to which the body contributes, as Barthes has proposed, through the phatic dimension of speech.[22]

As a definition of the essential unit of existence, and despite the extreme nature of some of the language, this feels like safe ground and begins to produce a rounded picture between extremes of the body as a purely physical entity and the sociopolitical metaphysics of that age in which the bodies of women were owned, used and abused, by men.  A cursory glance at the history of women as the notionally rightful possessions of men will confirm this emerging thesis as an almost eternal element of our culture until very recent times.[23]   What follows from this is a deeply cultural, social, political and textual reality; but importantly, Callaghan then go on to defuse what could appear from her beginning to be a rather prescriptive set of arguments by stating that:

In what follows, I want to use a more politically effective understanding of materialism than the one current in cultural criticism of the body in order to focus on the absence-presence of female genitals in Twelfth Night.[24]

Her analysis will be seen to study “representations of the female body” that are “within global rather than local structures”—resisting “the characteristic poststructuralist notion that undecidability is liberating”.[25]

Before returning to the play-text itself, it is important to see that Valerie Traub, with input from Stephen Orgel, contributes the argument that a very large threat, for Shakespeare’s contemporaries, was implicit within a representation of actual “female heterosexuality”.  This may very well have been “ ‘disarmed by [the fact of] men playing women’ ”.[26]  As a strongly variant view from that which has gone before, this speaks for itself, but Callaghan rightly picks up on inconsistencies, here, in stating that many members of the paying audiences—therefore, also willing participants—were women.  This establishes the picture as extremely complex, but the representation of women by boy actors was no less misogynistic because women were in the audience, Callaghan insists.  It is agreed that the discourse was, and is, no less overtly patriarchal for this factor because this was then the generally accepted, deliberate aesthetic; which may now be seen as combining an equally deliberate political imperative for keeping women in their rightful, subservient places.

As a fairly-stated overview, Jardine and Orgel had separately concluded that “homosexuality was the dominant form of eroticism in Renaissance culture”.[27]  Which rather seems to put the lid on Callaghan, but this will later be seen as an over-simplification.  For the moment let it stand as a reinforcement of the idea that, if the stage did not actually contain women, then this fact could be seen to displace the idea and the act of misogyny, and its representations.  Callaghan retorts:

the exclusion of women from the stage and their simultaneous inclusion as customers — the fundamental characteristic (contradiction) of the institution of theatre in early modern England — does not exculpate the theatre from charges of misogyny.[28]

Further, in scotching the idea that a notional progress might seem to have been made, when, in the Restoration, women were allowed to mount the stage, Callaghan also observes that long before this, in European countries where women had been actors, they had been “no less oppressed” in those societies than in England.  For Callaghan, this discourse constitutes as evidence of “the systematic and structural oppression of women”, rather than Catherine Belsey’s rather variant view of drama, as at least containing the idea of “transvesticism as inherently subversive; it becomes undecidable and therefore, ‘for us to decide’ ”.[29]

At this point the whole discussion is brought back to the simple lack of choice that Shakespeare had about using boys in the parts of women.  The discourse must also be seen to focus on his success, or lack of it, in the pursuit of an attempt at the representation of women, as Ann Blake has so cogently argued, despite the strictures under which he had to work.[30]  It must also acknowledge that theatre, then strived to represent the qualities of human nature, above all—in all of its many changeling forms, sounds and colours—but with artifice ascendant, with author, players and audience together in this undertaking.[31]

Even though he operates within a sphere of laughter, Orsino’s parting statement cements the idea of his obsessive drive to have Olivia as his wife:

                                                            Prosper well in this,
                        And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord
                        To call his fortunes thine.

We already know that Orsino is an honourable, consistent man.  Valentine’s exchange with Viola in 1.4.5-7 tells us this with the purpose of making us feel that we may trust him as much as we trust Viola.  We will remember, too, that it would be a womanly emotion to be more nervous of a male overlord’s trustworthiness than a manly concern in the reverse, so here the representation of a woman-disguised evokes subtleties of values between male and female to make, in turn, subtleties of inference that greatly add to this overall picture.  In this dependant situation, and within a system of vassalage that would instantly be recognized by the Elizabethan audience; a boy would be nervous, too, and this adds force to the previously-stated idea that boys could represent women so well as—obviously they did—not only because of their phonic and morphic qualities, but because of their then accepted status below men.  In that, the power that men held ensured that in their possible betrayals, women and boys would most be harmed.  A man might lose his honour, but a woman or a boy might lose their essential protection; the place of their domicile; the means of their sheer survival in a much more savage world than ours.

Eddie Redmayne, 20, as Viola in his professional stage debut, 2002

The fact that Viola has added another complication in the narrative by having fallen in love with Orsino is evident in the closing line: “Whoe’r I woo, myself would be his wife” (1.4.41).  The overall element of love deliberately directed while actually being seen as apparently misdirected is therefore clearly stated.  Orsino’s trust in Olivia’s personal and persuasive qualities may be seen as an attraction as yet unrealized, but the members of the audience who had seen other examples of this playwright’s works already, will have expectations of a final resolution which will completely blow apart the original intentions of the pairs of lovers in their obviously exterior forms.  Two levels of understanding therefore always exist: that which the players are allowed to see; and those factors which allows the audiences to leap far ahead of the action in their expectations.  Knowing eyes twinkle.  This ability to anticipate the future pairings of the lovers increases the pleasure, ten-fold, not least because the playgoer can feel wise and all-knowing and the author knows this.

In Act 1, scene 5, the sprightly Maria is being both caring, protective and bossy again.[32]  Feste re-appears after a long absence and Maria states a grim reality for Elizabethans when she chides the clown:

Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent — or to be turned away: is not that as good as a hanging to you?

Which refers to, and strengthens my above reference to vassalage in their very hard world, and though in this context, the threat to be “hanged” is jokingly excessive in an age when hanging was common enough; yet the threat of being “turned away” most direfully refers to a fate truly to be feared by a servant of those times.  The fact that a very small female person is vigorously chiding a grown man adds irresistible humour to the scene, but the underlying idea that Feste might lose his position in Olivia’s household still remains.  Despite this grim undertone, the addition of a gently admonitory ear-cuffing at this point would strengthen the very funny juxtaposition—the visual paradox of the small person having such obvious physical and moral power over the larger male person—would certainly have created an extremely comical effect in its original form.

This, and the following passage, when Olivia enters, shows the power of social-status over apparent gender.  Maria is a gentlewoman and Olivia a countess.  Both out-rank a clown by a very wide margin and they speak accordingly, yet the clown, in this play, is allowed to say things for which any other servant would be flogged.  The low-status man is able to chip the edifice of power because of his special status as a jester: a seemingly constant factor that exists in Shakespeare’s plays— and indeed, in the culture of earlier times.  Of great interest in this respect, and in cementing the previously observed tendency for lowly beings to elicit high learning, it is in 1.5.45-46 that Feste produces his startling: “cucullus not facit monachum ... I wear not motley in my brain”.[33]  This proverb in its Medieval Latin form appears in a speech by the clown using cucullus (a hood, or cowl) as a passive object that effects deception by its physical nature, and by the associations that the object creates in our minds when we view it, or hear of it.  When he says “Lady, cucullus non facit monachum: that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain” (1.5.45-46), he creates a speech-act in the use of the proverb’s English translation, “hood”  There has always been a sexual connotations in the word hood in the private discourse of the male person speaking mainstream English in England.  Heavy bawdry lies in the private construct that the proverb allows a parallel meaning> that the male prepuce does not the monk make.  In my own boyhood experience of the Warwickshire argot of the 1950s, the image of the upright monk with his hood constituted a code for a standing penis with its prepuce.  The other obvious construct that follows is that the cross-dressed young male to whom Feste protests, is just one of those cross-dressed players—the owner of just such a hood—and that he is most definitely not what he seems to be.  The retort becomes a quick, defiant parry to Maria's invective in this form.  The proverb appears in at least three of Shakespeare’s plays in variant forms and contexts.  Artifice in the creation of both deception and half-revelation, or in the denial of a person’s—in this case Feste’s—actual appearance and function, when contrasted with his hidden intelligence and learning, may be seen here as a tool of the poets that Shakespeare learned well, and used often.  He was, after all, just another poet and a great borrower, too.

If the cowl does not the monk make, is there a limit to artifice in the use of metaphor, simile, the use of clothing, or deceptive action?  No, but here the borderline between deception and artifice is seen as ill-defined and this creates the atmosphere in which the same indefinite categories, or classifications of states, may be seen to fog every attempt to be clear in describing the representation of women, particularly, in the overall picture of Renaissance comedy.  A constant factor is the willingness of the audience to accept that some character, disguised, is known to them as the original character, but is not recognized by the other players.  It forms a part of the essential joke and, in this play perhaps more than any other, it creates the complexities of perceptions, of misdirected love, of altered states and mysteries that, eventually, will be resolved.  Feste, in some degree of pique, protests that he is not the fool that he appears to be, yet the entire episode actually reinforces the principles of deception and artifice; the strongly gender-based deception in the cross-dressing lies beside the ideational angle, in this case at least.

What appears most specifically and strongly from Feste’s acute observation is that the basis of everyone’s being at the theatre for that particular performance in the first place was their global and co-operative delight—the boys, therefore the girls included—in the smoke and mirrors of fun-filled artifice in speech, movement and identity.  In this vein, and of special note in this act, is what follows when the disguised Viola turns up at Countess Olivia’s gate.  Malvolio goes, on Olivia’s instruction, to turn him away.  He returns to say that Cesario will not leave, and when asked to describe him, he says that the interloper is:

Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy: as a squash is before ‘tis a peascod, or a codling when ‘tis almost an apple.  ‘Tis with him in standing water, between boy and man.  He is very well-favoured and he speaks very shrewishly.  One would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him.

Allowing for the heavy irony that a servant might use in scorn for yet another wearisome suitor to his lady—and reflecting his lady’s own feelings, after all—this is a clarion description of the youthful but stubborn figure of Viola/Cesario.  The juxtaposition of the relatively diminutive size of a character, as it had, earlier with Maria, and the large persona which inhabits the cross-dressed person’s physical smallness, continues.  Viola is given lines to speak that are both humorously personal and metatheatrical at the same time; but more importantly, they insist on her claims to her space upon the stage.  When actually addressing the Lady Olivia, she prepares for a burst of love-heraldry in asking whether she is actually addressing the target of Orsino’s passion, or not.  If she were to address the wrong person:

I would be loath to cast away my speech: for besides that it is excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to con it.  Good beauties let me sustain no scorn; I am very comptible, even to the least sinister usage.

A few belly laughs here and some lines later, she slips into the kind of joking comment with which Shakespeare salted Rosalind’s speeches in As You Like It: “I am not that I am”, in 1.5.153.  This, in an echo of Rosalind’s counterfeited manhood in her scene with Oliver, in 4.3.154-155.  What is of greater interest still is the array of tensions between the character, Viola: the gender-shifted character, Cesario; and the youthful male actor whom everyone in the original practice, the audience and all of the other characters, knew him to be.  I propose that this therefore stands as an accepted convention among those who know Shakespeare’s disguised characters in the comedies, that they always playfully half-betray their true identities in their speeches, if not in their actions.  There is also in the words: “excellently well penned” a thrust from the smiling Shakespeare himself for the crowd to enjoy, and which also has sexual undertones for those who wish to see them.

In the case of Viola as love’s messenger, an actor walks out onto the stage to relay a message of love, but first says “I would be loath to cast away my speech” if the veiled person is not that person to whom he/she is supposed to direct the speech.  When she/he later says “I am not that I am”, the basic structure of the comedies is revealed with no real intention of concealment, or skilful sleight-of-hand.  Everyone associated with the play at that moment in Act 1, scene 5, knows that the actor is being teasingly sportive in a space that dances somewhere between truth and willingly suspended disbelief; between actual knowledge of the mechanism of drama itself, and the play-conventions that everyone accepted in order to make it work.

Yet in the modern version, it is also claimed that the teasing sportiveness is scarcely less delightful to see and hear, or to imagine in its display.  Viola is still not that person whom she purports in outward appearance to be.  She is still a character bursting with a passionate message that, duty-bound, she will release once only.  She is still the character who is trying, selflessly, to forge a bond between Orsino and Olivia, while she herself has already realized her love for the man involved.  She is still keen to get on with her duty, “out of my part”, as she says in 1.5.148, but significantly in this latter fragment, it may also be seen that she refers not necessarily to being someone else, but to playing a part that she really does not want to play.  When Viola/Cesario insists on a direct answer from the veiled figure of Olivia, “Are you the lady of the house?”: the lady thus questioned says, “If I do not usurp myself, I am”, in 1.5.153-154.  This may be taken as both an oblique reference to the youthful male who is playing “the lady of the house”, yet it may also be taken straight, as a rather moody admission from someone irritated by the entire confrontation, this being merely the latest of many intrusions for the same vain purpose.

All of the above in 1.5 involves the crucial network of representations and misrepresentations upon which this thesis rests.  In a vehicle that contains humour above all, and love ascendant, there are disguises, half-admissions and half-denials, but at no time may the female characters be seen as truly denigrated.  Here, the characters may as well be puppets, rather than real people speaking their parts.  This, because the message of love and laughter is far more important than the slightest chance of the representation itself being an attack upon women.  In a colloquy that I wish to create: for a moment I refer Act 5, scene 5 of Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair.  Here, the playwright, through Puppet Dionysius, rails against the puritan’s “old stale argument against the players” (5.5.95-96).  Then he makes Zeal-of-the-Land Busy a laughing-stock by flipping his skirt to show his utterly sexless, jointed, wooden parts beneath.[34]  In Act 1, scene 5 of Twelfth Night there exists the quicksilver equivocation:

What I am, and what I would, are as secret as maidenhead: to your ears divinity; to any other’s, profanation.

This, though seeming quite contrary in nature is like a glimpse into the mind, the very existence of a young person bravely fighting for privacy.  If we had been in that audience, we may be forced to save the glimpse until later, more fully to enjoy it because we are rushed on to the moment when, finally, Maria and the other players leave the stage.  Then we find yet more word-play that might as well be sword-play.  On later reflection we will see the sexual connotations and the antagonism in these two lines, and this will appear just as powerfully physical as the puppet’s scornful jibe in Bartholomew Fair.

We know that the two women are on opposite sides of the equation: Olivia is spurning Orsino’s love, Viola is desperately wanting it.  Both dissemble, yet neither knows what the other thinks, or intends.  The words are pungent and couched in sometimes heavy irony.  Passages of blank-verse are inserted to show the seriousness of what is to come.  This, in which Olivia asks: “How does he love me?” and Viola replies “With adoration, fertile tears,/ With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire” (1.5.209-211).  The preposterous quality of Viola’s speech seems here strongly to hark back to Olivia’s dismissive “O I have read it. It is heresy” in 1.5.187, but it is the kind of pronouncement from which there is no going back.  Yet talk of “groans”, “thunder”, “sighs” and “fire” simply must cause derisive smiles—if not cat-calls—from some in the crowd.  This over-cooked style stands in stark contrast to the statements of love that will later be contained in the language of love when the dénouement finally arrives.  Here it is used in excess for its comic effect and is another indicator of Viola’s selfless determination to perform her sworn duty for her master.  Later, much simpler and more direct language will express a notionally truer and more lasting love.

Here, I wish to make the point that the very youthful disguised male figure who trumpeted the earlier love-message would much more easily be seen as ridiculous than the much more mature figure of even the youngest female actor, now.  This, then, is only another aspect of the representation of women, but it is, above all, a study of the complexities of the changeling girl/boy who is intelligent, passionate, determined, yet faintly ridiculous all at the same time.  In fact, he truly is the “moonish youth” of As You Like It, given to both excess and uncertainty, striving to be heard, yet still unfinished in form and nature: not yet attaining the Renaissance man’s self-image of perfection.

At this point, Olivia presages further complications:

                        Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections
                        With an invisible and subtle stealth
                        To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.
                        What ho, Malvolio!

A few lines later, she sends Malvolio to give the departing youth a reason to return in the form of a ring that she claims Cesario had left with her.  This is merely a ruse, we know, but when she says, “Well, let it be”, we recognize an example of an attempt to push away a bothersome thought, but above all we see that Shakespearian women are seen as capable of acting upon their feelings of sudden love, rather than their being the passive objects of the men involved.  The “fresh and stainless youth” (1.5.214) whom Olivia has heard Orsino is, may very well now be seen as Cesario as well, and a truly appropriate object for her love.  Yet within the unfeigned solemnity of the dismissive: “Well, let it be”, lies that “solemn levity” which A.P. Riemer, above, describes as inseparable in the comedies, and this principle now re-emerges in force.[36]  Was it Shakespeare who discovered the use of the tongue-in-cheek speech?  Perhaps not, but he did explore its outer envelope, so to speak.

As we look ahead through this play, even in the most obvious passages of the bawdry, no-one seriously expects the path of Olivia’s love to lead anywhere.  Olivia and Viola, both ideally played by boys with unbroken voices, both representing the characters of women, cannot be a couple at the end, even in Shakespeare.

There follows a farewell scene between Sebastian and Antonio which constitutes another example of the balance with which Shakespeare imbues the vision of his major female characters.  In describing his “sister drowned”, Sebastian describes her as:

A lady, though it was said she much resembled me, was yet of many accounted beautiful; but though I could not with such estimable wonder overfar believe that, yet thus far I will boldly publish her; she bore a mind that envy could not but call fair.

In this, Sebastian gracefully, yet chaotically self-deprecates.  Shakespeare is saying that the speaker is beautiful, too, and probably of “fair” mind, but this tangled speech, overall, establishes Viola as being both intelligent and beautiful.  Sebastian’s friend, Antonio, then expresses his feelings for Sebastian himself, as “If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant” (2.1.26).  The theme of love and self-sacrifice returns.  In this case, though, unlike Adam with Orlando in As You Like It and the captain with Viola, earlier in Twelfth Night; it is a social equal who offers to serve the one he loves.  Sebastian distractedly but kindly rejects Antonio’s offer, fearful that he will weep for the other’s generosity, expressing this in the tender words: “mine eyes will tell tales of me” in 2.1.30-31.  He says goodbye and leaves.  Alone on the stage, Antonio makes an extremely interesting shift from the formal mode of address, “you” which has consistently been used by both friends throughout the farewell scene, above.  In solitude, he is able to express his love much more directly:

                        The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!
                        I have many enemies in Orsino’s court,
                        Else I would very shortly see thee there.
                        But come what may, I do adore thee so
                        That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.

The shift to the familiar, “thee” in the above would have struck deep with Shakespeare’s audience.  Throughout the scene in which the two young men speak together, the formal “you” had been exchanged consistently, but now Antonio may speak with a lack of restraint that might well have offended Sebastian to his face.[37]   The difference in their positions is hereby delicately drawn.  Sebastian is affectionate, but above all, polite to Antonio and almost tearfully grateful for his friend’s offer of service; but he is much distracted by his grief at the loss of his sister and speaks of a doomful restlessness that prevents him from fully reciprocating what can only be seen in Antonio as the deepest kind of love that can exist for a friend of the same sex.  Hinted, here, is the elemental strength of the grief that twins feel upon the loss of one half of the dyad and this is balanced in the most wonderful way by the strange beauty of Sebastian’s “disordered sequence” in the “rhetorical figure hysteron proteron”, as Elizabeth Donno labels it.[38]  With no apparent logic in its sequence of words it is still a lovely device in which Sebastian side-steps stating the fact of his own beauty as an identical twin to Viola, yet emphasizes his love for her—though her very qualities are mirrored in himself.  Specifically, the words, “I could not with such estimable wonder overfar believe that, yet thus far I will boldly publish her” (2.1.19-21), holds a turbulently overflowing quality of trying to disassociate the speaker from what could appear as a conceited statement, but being unable to do other than imply his own combination of brain and beauty in his determination to “publish” his beloved twin-sister, he is in a fine quandary.  Admiration for and love of beauty takes many forms in Shakespeare, but this example contains the non-physical love of a brother for a sister; a balance between commenting upon the beauty and the brain of the subject; and in this case the mysterious chemistry that we still so often observe as existing between identical twins, even though we of the modern world know that brother-sister twins are always fraternal in nature, rather than identical.[39]

Specifically, Antonio’s expressions of love for Sebastian reaffirms the general theory that there is a multiplicity of interpretations available in the three plays that are examined in this thesis.  The point here is, that even allowing for lexical and semantic shifts as well as the changing times and manners that four centuries impose upon the meaning of the love of one young man for another, Antonio’s outpouring is still highly remarkable.  Further, if this farewell may be seen as the manner in which men then expressed their feelings for each other, how may the expressions of the love of men and women for each other now be seen?  If it were to be decided that there was no difference in the nature or the force of the love expressed—man-to-man, or man-to-woman—it is certain that subjective gay-theorists might gather strength in at least hoping that these expressions were seen, then, as open statements of homosexual love.  This, rather than those expressions that scholars might simply describe as the emotionally high-flown, or perhaps quasi-poetical words of affection that it was then the style openly to express, but which, at the same time had no concrete sexual connotations.[40]   Yet a highly subjective gay-theorist, by extension, might also claim that the expressions of love between the male and female characters must also be seen as an open expressions of exclusively homosexual love simply because the women on the stage, then, were really boys.  It is evident that many people feel uneasy in the face of naked expressions of love, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  A strong need to spurn such sentiments as being embarrassingly fulsome becomes easier when such uneasiness, that which also exists in the same people&s view of poetry itself, is used to fortify the analogy.

There may very well be some grains of truth in these ideas, but having already strongly claimed that the viewer/hearer of Shakespeare’s plays was actively encouraged by the text, by the style of acting, by the culture of the times, to react in any way that he or she wished, it must also be said that this touching scene exists within the overall discourse of the almost inexpressible love that individuals of either sex may only strive to express, and often did upon Shakespeare’s stage.

If we return to the perception of heterosexual love, though, the outwardly male and female characters are seen to meet, fall in love and make expressions of that love.  These expressions, where they appear to the receiver as verging on homosexual love—seen from our cultural view-point as such—should rather be seen as mere moments of the playfulness that the playwright makes possible in the creation of the cross-dressed characters who later revert to their true gender.  These, having run the gamut of half-revelations of their true identities, caused much laughter in the audience with bawdy comments about changeling states and the sexual elements that involve, in modern terms, both the sexuality, or the gender, of both the character and the actor.  The point that was made earlier about Rosalind rising to the stage for Ganymede must be recalled, here; together with the point that though the bawdry that directly refers to the youth beneath the finery exists on the level of humour, the serious passages about emotional love always take the cross-dressed youth to be Rosalind, rather than Ganymede: to be Viola, rather than Cesario.  After all of the jokes are told, boy does meets girl, they fall in love, and, of course, they marry in the end.  In this the obvious comedy gives way to the expected, highly moral ending that will at least partly nullify any of the offence that the sometimes obvious bawdry in the earlier parts of the play may possibly have caused.

Finally, Antonio’s expressions of love for Sebastian do have one element that sets them apart from the love that is stated between the cross-dressed characters.  Both members of the dyad are clearly and unmistakably young men.  Both have the voice, the shape and the carriage of young men.  They are social equals.  There is no confusion between changelings, here, and the force with which the writer underlines Antonio’s love is made all the more powerful by Antonio changing to the familiar pronoun, “thee” after Sebastian has left to go on his mission, which serves the double-purpose of establishing the fact that they had not known each other long.  Friends of long-standing and equal social-status would naturally have slipped into the familiar manner with each other, after a time.  An example of this is the familiar usage between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.  Neither would dream of using “you” to the other, unless in irony, or to indicate pique, or outright anger.  In fact, they use “thee” and “thou” consistently.  To reiterate what has already been extensively studied in this thesis, the author, above all, knew his audience and Antonio’s switch to the familiar “thee” would have hushed the crowd most marvellously in its strength as a statement of love that would be lost to many in a modern audience with no knowledge of the basic difference between the formal and familiar pronouns of address in both their subtlety and in sheer power of their usage in Shakespeare’s day.

After the welter of emotion in that parting scene, there then exists a neat statement of the quandary that Viola begins to face following her departure from Olivia’s court.  She refuses to receive the returned ring, sent by Olivia by the hand of the cold, arrogant Malvolio.  Viola knows that she had not left the ring with Olivia, but quick-wittedly she covers Olivia’s lie: it being unthinkable to expose such a dishonourable thing as a lie in the presence of an underling.  She realizes that it is a lover’s token.  More importantly, she realizes that the token is not meant for Orsino, but for herself.  She then remembers that the lady’s “eyes had lost her tongue” and that Olivia “did speak in starts distractedly” in 2.2.17-18.  The quick conclusion is that “She loves me sure”, in 2.2.19, and, “I am the man”, in 2.2.22.  There is an opportunity, here, for a side-long glance at the crowd as she utters the words, “I am the man (emphasis mine)”.  The glance could contain a wealth of subtle inference in a skilful actor and cause a wave of delighted laughter.

Yet the above could be seen as a moderately straight reading of the process of love-at-first-sight.  A woman (Olivia) sees a beautiful young person (Cesario) and falls in love.  Everyone watching could almost predict that Viola is in a triple-quandary:

                        How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
                        And I (poor monster) fond as much on him
                        And she (mistaken) seems to dote on me.

What she had said only a moment earlier:

                        Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
                        Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,
                        Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
                        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.

“Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness” exists as a cutting mockery for Phillip Stubbes and his ilk if they had been present, but overall, this is the true perspective of the problem of the lovers in their expected false-starts which are caused by the deceptions created by outward appearance.[43]  It is underlined as a problem that the theatre causes within its strictures against the use of real women, and those acceptances of the convention that, if real women may not be used, then the theatre must make the most of it, and bathe in the laughter, enjoy the excellence—or otherwise—of the representation that everyone knows will later be resolved into the true selves of the actors.  Yet the above may also, like most other statements in Shakespeare, be taken as a simple comment on women’s “frailty is the cause ... such as we are made of, such we be”.  This, in 2.2.28-29, yet even that may be turned around from a denigratory slur on the accepted mental softness of “women’s waxen hearts”; or their physical weakness compared with men; by the fact that it is the demonstrably brave Viola who utters the words in an exasperated air that may be seen as brought on by the extremely awkward situation in which she is coiled.  The element of exasperation may possibly be seen as ascendant in this.  This, equally as much as any real conviction that women truly are weak, or easy-to-dupe; or too quick to fall in love. 

Viola had taken a man’s disguise, but only for safety until she knew how the land lay in Illyria.  The question as to whether she could have been seen by an Elizabethan audience as safe on her journey, being both beautiful and unprotected, is debatable, but it may very well be seen that the need to disguise the vulnerability of a mere slip-of-a-girl on the road, displaces the word “frailty” in line 28, above.  Here, then, the playtext treats of things that Elizabethan viewers, who knew very well the dangers on their roads, wars with a play-convention that excluded women from the stage and caused all sorts of opportunities for misunderstandings and the double-meanings in the bawdry, yet despite all of the above, the spirit of the brave, intelligent, decisive young woman emerges.

A London play in the reign of the first Elizabeth

The strength of the Elizabethan theatrical convention, even when couched in deliberately humorous situations, is carried to great lengths.  Given that half the fun, at least, is caused by the cross-dressing as a trans-sexual shift, and the disguises that cover real identity, the joke is stretched to its elastic limit in Twelfth Night in the fact that when Sebastian meets Viola in Act 5, Scene 1, he does not recognize her.  She must call on the Captain and her “maiden weeds” to convince him.  Thus, even in the expected resolution of the confusion of who is really whom, and what is really what, the theatrical convention of disguise is maintained.  Totally, for the characters alone, while the audience chuckles away in the background.  Yet the entire discourse of the play may allow characters to hint at discovering the truth, as we recall Duke Senior’s musing in 5.4 of As You Like It:

                        I do remember in this shepherd boy
                        Some lively touches of my daughter’s favour.

Orlando had responded:

                        My lord, the first time that I ever saw him,
                        Methought he was a brother to your daughter.

In passing, a neat piece of metatheatre lies in Feste’s “Present mirth hath present laughter; / What’s to come is still unsure” (2.3.42-43).  These are lines from a love song, but they might serve to encapsulate the entire principle of delayed exposition in all theatre.

A bossy Maria enters in 2.3.63 and this small figure lays about her, scolding Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste for their noise and for their generally profligate lives.  The power of the scene lies in paradox and incongruity as, later, the joyously-scheming Maria is affectionately bade: “Good night, Penthesilea” (2.3.149) by Sir Toby as the plotters break up.  Donno consolidates the focus on Maria’s smallness in repeated references throughout the play.  She translates Penthesilea as:

Queen of the Amazons.  Another of  Sir Toby’s playful sobriquets for Maria ... as at 1.5.167-8, 2.3.151, 2.5.11 and 3.2.52.[44]

This is not, then, simply another sign of Sir Toby’s affection for Maria.  It is repeatedly made clear that the affectionate diminutives, in this case contrasting Maria’s smallness with a semi-mythical figure of great power, truly establishes Maria as ideally being a much smaller person than those who surround her on the stage.  This relates directly to such characters as Portia in the court scene of The Merchant of Venice.  A young male person able convincingly to play the part of a young woman, must surely have been relatively small among the surrounding adult males of the troupe.[45]  Upon this, a great deal of the humour depended, and in Portia’s case in The Merchant of Venice, a great deal of the sheer power of those scenes was in this juxtaposition, the paradox between actual power and physical smallness.  Again, this refers to the theories of many other scholars that Queen Elizabeth might have appeared as deeply praised by this and other enactments of womanly strength—often, against the greatest difficulties that one can imagine—and this alone may be seen to set the piece in its correct historical context.[46]  I have no trouble at all in imagining the jewel-like existence of the sovereign in the minds of the men who were her subjects and I also have no trouble in imagining the acute intelligence of the sovereign and her intelligencers.[47]

My last word on the relative size of the boy actor lies in the opinions of other, august scholars.  The previously remarked soprano voice and—before the advent of easy-to-use shaving devices—the beardless face of “womanly countenance”, and, as Peter Thomson essentially insists: “Something is lost if Maria is not vividly the smallest member of the cast”.  The essence of the scenes in which, in particular, Maria appears, depend for a large part of their impact on “the original boy’s chirpy precocity”. Thomson also offers the almost certain truth that Shakespeare fitted the characters to the players that he had available to him in the Chamberlain’s Men at that time, and this reinforces a great deal that has already been said about this expedience, above.  This is particularly clear in the cases of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.  “You cannot reverse such roles”, Thomson argues.  “Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are prototypes of Laurel and Hardy, the thin nitwit and the fat, bungling blusterer”.  Further, “Marston relies” on this juxtaposition “in his treatment of ‘the treble minikin’ who created Catzo[48] for the Boys of St Paul’s in Antonio and Mellida 1599/1600”.  “Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night in the confidence that his company had three strong boys, one of them decidedly smaller than the others”.

The scene that follows in 2.3.75-105 is also full of role-reversal, but now of a different kind.  Malvolio, full of pompous authority is actually the mere instrument of the Countess Olivia’s authority.  He is mocked by Maria in her words, “Go shake your ears” (2.3.106) and he departs in a huff.  Everyone dislikes Malvolio and it is here that the plot to gull him is hatched.  An extremely interesting note, here, is struck by Angela Hurworth’s reference to the “underworld literature” of the times in which deception: “known as cony-catching, cozenage or gulling receives its fullest treatment”.[49]  This, in the familiar knowledge of the audience.  From this, it may be said that these deceptions formed the most obvious trickery in Twelfth Night.  The subtleties of the play, though, lie in the sexual sleights-of-hand, as we shall see, but for me this episode forms further subtleties between the expected behaviour of the gentlewoman whom Maria is supposed to be, and the undeniably lively behaviour that she is allowed to exhibit when she speaks to Malvolio in such words as “Go shake your ears”.  Most importantly, she is seen as a person able openly to break out of the mould of her gentility without losing either the affection or the respect of the men surrounding her.  Existing within this is the common-knowledge created by Dekker’s principle that—as Angela Hurworth argues—“plotting” was “one of the activities which occupied a gallant’s leisure hours”.[50]  This acts to fortify the idea that the deliberately-created persona: both in terms of her indeterminate gender as well as her freedom to exhibit unladylike behaviour, creates the impression of a hidden-boyishness.  Specifically, her speech and movement could easily, in those original stagings, have created the fleeting glimpse of the breeches beneath the kirtle.  A further subtlety yet lies in the reference to the “ears” which Malvolio must shake.  As Hurworth argues, conies, horses, donkeys and sheep existed in the audience’s immediate cultural-awareness as mind-pictures of equally fit subjects for gulling as the pompous steward himself.[51]  It is no coincidence that all of these fit subjects for gulling have prominent ears.

As Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew scheme, Maria is the brain and the determination of the elaborate trick that will be played.  A note will be written and Malvolio will be made to think that Olivia is in love with him.  Malvolio’s cold treatment of Viola/Cesario in the scene where he catches up to return Olivia’s ring has prepared the ground for this later scene because it is easily understood that Malvolio, despite his unpleasant personality, really does work hard to protect Olivia, and is truly jealous of the advances of other men; even the mere messengers of other men.  He, Olivia’s steward, sees himself as much more than a mere servant to start with.  What follows defines the disruption of the normally-accepted social bounds of Elizabethan England.  Dympna Callaghan, particularly, gives a clear view to the seriousness of what is about to befall Malvolio from the social and political point-of view.  As always, deeply analytical, she argues that the antitheatrical obsessions of Philip Stubbes and others, produce the idea that:

the mimicking of social superiors by wearing their clothes was as much a violation of the natural order as the assumption of a sexual identity other than that dictated by one’s anatomical destiny.[52]

This looks at class-shifting as an actor’s wicked escape from the “veritie of his own kinde”, as Stubbes himself elsewhere expresses that particular sinful pretence.[53]  It was yet another cause for anger among the moral-reactionaries of that time and it strongly echoed the anger of the barons that was aimed at Piers Gaveston in Edward II’s court.  Base-born, it was his aping of his betters’ fine clothes and his aspiring to their offices rather than his bedding with the young king that was, arguably, the main problem for the barons.  Here, though, the focus of the polemics’ anger is on the apparel rather than on the body beneath the clothes.  This would impact on Stubbes, William Perkins and the pamphleteers of the 1620 Hic Mulier, Haec Vir alike.[54]  In this sense, cross-dressing constituted the essential evil, but there is a great deal more in this vein, with the extremely useful textual reference to Malvolio’s cross-gartering, particularly, because it was taken by convention to be:

attire that might be suitable if worn by a young gentleman suitor to Olivia, but incongruous and ridiculous when worn by a servant who sees himself [as] fit to be her husband.[55]

The forgery in the letter and the clothing, and its convergence with the edges of notional madness within the representation of a character is very revealing as to the Elizabethan view of such behaviour. This is not merely madness-as-fun.  Yet “Malvolio has committed no crime”, as Angela Hurworth argues.  Not only does Olivia appreciates him “for the quality of his stewardship”.  It follows from this that his later treatment is harsh and not even justified by his being “the pious Puritan” turned “abominable hypocrite and libidinous arriviste” in his pursuit of the lady Olivia.[56]  Hurworth, particularly, sees Malvolio’s later harsh treatment as entering the discourse of the “sport” that the socially-established people in the play are not only permitted, but also expected to enjoy.


It was suspected before, but now seems certain, that when pining lovers take themselves very seriously, the witty playwright simply cannot resist poking fun at them.[57]  Orsino speaks of high-flown love as:

                        For such as I am, all true lovers are,
                        Unstaid and skittish in all motions else,
                        Save in the constant image of the creature
                        That is beloved.

More casually, he finishes line 18 by asking Viola-disguised: “How dost thou like this tune?”.  The quicksilver change of mood from puffed-up lover to an apparently simple enquiry about music draws an easy smile.  When Viola replies, “It gives a very echo to the seat/ Where love is throned” (2.4.18-19), the play’s subtitle, Or What You Will springs instantly to mind in this chancy passage![58]  When Orsino then replies, “Thou dost speak masterly”, the heavily-hinted bawdry is made plain.  Seen as a whole:

                                                            Thou dost speak masterly.
                        My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye
                        Hath stayed upon some favour that it loves;          
                        Hath it not, boy?

This may not now be seen merely as one of those exercises in double-meaning bawdry, but it must also be seen as the re-entry of the accepted tradition that one, or even both, characters in an exchange of this kind is half-revealing his or her identity, or sexual preference.  The elaborate playfulness of this scene may appeal to the audience on at least three levels: it may be read straight; it may be read primarily as the beginning of the revelation of Viola’s secret love for Orsino; or, it may be read as sheer bawdry, with the hinting about, either Cesario’s true or disguised-gender thrown in to make the joke even more worthy of laughter. 

It should also be noted that this exchange between Orsino and Viola/Cesario is markedly different from that to which attention was drawn in 2.1.  Here, Orsino consistently uses the familiar “thee” when addressing Cesario; Cesario consistently uses “you” in reply.  The carefully-graded status of the two: Orsino as an aristocrat, on the one hand, and Cesario as a gentleman in his household, on the other, is carefully maintained.  There are probably more constructions to be made, but moving on, a lighter note is struck in the laughter when Orsino asks “What kind of woman” is it that the disguised Viola loves?  She replies: “Of your complexion”, in 2.4.23-24, and he laughingly protests that such a woman would be: “Too old, by heaven! Let still the woman take/ An elder than herself”.  Here, the stuffy convention that men should marry women younger than themselves wars sweetly with Orsino’s praise of women’s greater steadiness in their love as he had stated the principle in 2.4.30-33.

The delightful complexity of this scene in which the “stainless youth”, Orsino, counsels a younger youth, Cesario, on the way that love actually is, proposes the crux of one of the principles on which this thesis rests.  If Viola/Cesario really is a young woman, as in the modern custom, there is still delight, but the modern, single-layered exposition lacks a complete layer of subtlety.  The bawdry in Viola’s reference to “the seat/ Where love is throned” (2.4.18-19) still works, and the homosexual undertones that exist where she says “Of your complexion”, still may be seen as a girl disguised as boy who hints at “his” love for a young man, but these two situations are displaced by at least one set of double-meanings.  In the modern version, the apparent-youth who represents Viola may still cause a smile in covertly avowing love for Orsino, but in the original, the outward gender-shift is doubled, and the possibility for bawdry may even be seen as trebled.  More and more, Or What You Will seems like a very good subtitle for this play, but in passing, there is a reference to the pastoral, the idyll, the eclogue, when Orsino calls upon Feste to sing “the song we had last night” (2.4.40), which “dallies with the innocence of love/ Like the old age” (2.4.45-46).  In a following sequence, when Orsino and Viola are alone, Viola tries to persuade Orsino that Olivia might not be made to love him (2.4.75-88), but Orsino is obdurate.  No woman has the staying-power to resist such a love as his.  Womanly weakness and their basic difference to men is cited as the reason that:

                        As love doth give my heart;   
                        So big, to hold so much. They lack retention.
                        Alas, their love may be called appetite

This wars strongly with his previous statement about women’s greater constancy and certainty in love, stated when he exhorted Viola/Cesario to marry a younger woman than himself.  The transference of emotion with identity that Viola then neatly serves Orsino is a straightforward rebuttal in a protestation of her own hidden love for Orsino himself.  She finds herself rattling away and then, hastily blurts: “Sir, shall I to this lady?”, in 2.4.188.  Here, a good actor would raise a smile, at the very least, by portraying the heat of Viola’s feelings for the duke; these, so intense as to be overwhelming; thus necessitating a swift, flustered withdrawal.

In the beginning of Act 2, scene 5, Sir Toby sees Maria approaching: “Here comes the little villain” he smiles, in 2.5.11.  Again, the affection that he feels for the youngster is clarion within these words.  His feelings are so obvious in fact, that the spirited young actor who first played the part of Maria, would very strongly have been liked by the crowd in Shakespeare’s time.  This, not solely as a reflection of the knight’s emotions, but in a kind of third-person textual reference.  The views of earlier scholars that this is exactly how the author gives value to his cross-dressed boys, however, does not exclusively exist in this.  This kind of reference may be seen to describe and give value to all of Shakespeare’s dramatic creations at one time or another.

The gulling of Malvolio begins with Maria dropping the letter.  Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian watch, concealed, as Malvolio talks himself into being Olivia’s suitor.  This would have had the crowd rolling about in its absurdity as the man’s personal conceit almost overcomes the affront he proposes to create by thinking that he may cross class-boundaries in wooing and winning Olivia.[59]  Donno takes a straight reading of “I frown a while, and perchance wind up my watch, or play with my — some rich jewel” (2.5.50-51).  She says that he has forgotten that as a suitor he will not be wearing his steward’s chain, then suddenly remembers, and changes what he is about to say.  Yet there is clear, strongly bawdry, here.  To be specific, Malvolio might have been seen to hint, with a leer at the crowd, that he might play with some part of his own anatomy.  Of course this depends entirely upon the actor, and the style of the production within which the episode is to be presented.  What immediately follows may actually define what would happen in the previous episode.  That is to say, there is now the famous piece where Malvolio sees the dropped letter:

By my life, this is my lady’s hand: 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, her hand.

Setting aside the outrageous bawdry available in this brief passage for the moment, we must remind ourselves of the earlier part of the play in which Sir Toby uses the expression “if thou hast her not i’th’end, call me ‘cut’ ” in 2.3.156-157.  In that former scene, a straight-faced reading might allow that “cut” refers to a gelded horse and the associations with stupidity with which such an animal was then held.[60]  I feel bound to advance the theory that there is outright bawdry in both instances of the expression.  Not only does the later fragment from 2.5 draw an irresistible image of “her great P’s” as the lady’s style of urination, but the play on “c”, “u” and “t” illuminates irresistible elements that Malvolio recognises in the forgery of Olivia’s handwriting, as well as the word-picture that this will draw in the eyes of the viewers.  It is here strongly-held that both occurrences of “cut” imply the existence of a printer’s typographical device that was in common use throughout the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.  In order neatly to justify pages of printed text, wherever possible or necessary, words with a central vowel followed by a consonant such as “n”, or “m”, were truncated by the use of a horizontal diacritic that elided the consonant in its typography but not in its pronunciation.  Commonly in English script, the final “n”—in this case.  This practice not only saved space and ink but it allowed the edges of the text to be parallel and therefore of very neat appearance.  Justified, in the rather odd usage of compositors, in fact.

For the moment, though, Dympna Callaghan does not draw back from the possibly grotesque representation of the mainly androcentric vision of Elizabethan times, in which “cut” was a word-image for the external appearance of the female genital.  Thus, man’s worst vision of himself is this radical Other.  Interestingly, it is the use of the bawdy words themselves, says Callaghan, that prevent “the attempt of hegemonic, twentieth century criticism” from finding “the play good clean fun of a benign (verging on the beneficent) comedy romance”.[61]  Here, we can almost hear a faint, bitter cheer from Thomas Bowdler.  Callaghan conducts a thorough enquiry into whether Malvolio actually spells out C-U-N-T in 2.5.72-73.  A build-up to a great wave of laughter such as this, or the passage as a whole, forms a clear and highly misogynistic denigration of all things female, especially their sexual and urinary existences. 

The First Folio uses upper-case letters in the example, above, and Callaghan follows that usage, as do the editors of the Arden Edition.

The above focus on typography reveals the strong possibility that Shakespeare was writing for an audience with several levels of understanding.  The quick-witted would have seen the super-script, horizontal stroke in their minds’ eyes, and simply have read cunt, rather than cut, as it is actually written in both of the stated examples, above.[62]         

The idea that the author allowed for several different views of a spoken text is given weight by the fact of the existing bawdry of recent times.  It is offered that there was common use of the word, “cut” in graphic description of the external female genital’s appearance in persisted in 1940s and 1950s Warwickshire in my own boyhood experience.  Shakespeare takes the idea of figurative bawdry to new heights, or depths, depending on one’s point-of-view, and provides several different keys on varying levels of understanding to create laughter.[63]  Those who wish to take the notionally worst construction from the  words may do so, and here, again, it is perfectly obvious that a consideration of the manner of speech, the tone and the gestures that the actor may have been used to convey the bawdry.  In the example of “cut”, this re-addresses the above reasoning that a great deal of the meaning in Shakespeare’s plays is irrecoverable simply because of the incomprehension of these subtleties by most modern viewers.  Finally, this whole discourse also brings back the previously-mentioned conviction that Shakespeare’s characters often speak with a richness of content and agility of mind that is scarcely human.  Left open in conjecture, therefore, is the question as to how much of the quicksilver-speech of this poet’s characters was truly understood at one sitting, even by audiences utterly familiar with every nuance then available?  Truthfully, this question cannot fully be answered.

The action continues with Fabian, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew hiding to watch the preposterous Malvolio read the letter that Maria had forged in Olivia’s handwriting.  In this we see that the—ideally—smallest character is most definitely the leader of the plotters.  She is also female, but there is a deeper element in this.  Not only does Shakespeare imbue his women with a sense of uproarious fun, but gives her quick intelligence and great subtlety.  Even so, Maria’s part is such that it would fit a boy actor very well.

This very neatly brings the discourse of cross-dressing back to idea that the female who now takes the part of Maria is still a “sexual ventriloquist”, as Dympna Callaghan expresses it.  The real female character now, in this view, is still trapped by immutable elements of the text which present a persona who is still just as much a female-impersonator as the original boy who played the part of Maria as she dashes about the stage and gleefully plots the gulling.  It is offered that the picture is more complex, even, than this.  Maria’s quick-silver adaptability to the changing scenes seems paramount, though.  She creates a picture of a mature scold and a wicked prankster with equal ease.  Her sprightliness is both a quality of boy and girl.  Her ideally diminutive size simply underlines her expected sense of fun.  This alone foregrounds a major element that may be lost when an obviously adult woman takes Maria’s part.  The sheer lightness of Maria’s Puck-like self would be extremely difficult to re-create in the modern version as it had existed in the play’s original stagings.  Where Rosalind-disguised had been the tom-boy in As You Like It, Maria takes this role in Twelfth Night.  The only essential difference is that the Maria-boy embodies the representation of a girl from beginning to end without swapping outward gender.

Quicksilver wit is not the sole province of Maria.  Olivia—one of the notionally serious characters in the play—standing upon equal ground in argument with Viola/Cesario, high-lights an exercise in half-meaning, as much as double-meaning for them both.  This occurs in the passage, 3.1.6-20.  Earlier, noble thoughts and regret for hastily sending the ring after Viola inhabit Olivia’s blank-verse in 3.1.96-107.  However, when Viola/Cesario prepares to leave:

OLIVIA         Stay!
                           I prithee tell me what you think’st of me.
VIOLA                       That you do 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?

These rapid, almost tidal-surges in speech encapsulate the enacted pain that those characters, who, while in passionate love with another character, are not privy to the real identity of that character.  The intensity of what they may feel is exemplified in the high level of lexical tension in the above as an expression of the stress that mistaken love, in particular, and deceptions in general, engender.  Nothing states the case better than this brief exchange in which an icy politeness is maintained and in which both characters use the formal “you”.  This, even though Olivia, as the social superior in the dyad is entitled to address Viola in the familiar form, “thou” and “thee”.  The sense of tension is heightened in this choice of personal pronouns because it was so often, then, seen as imposing an ironical, mocking politeness, at the very least.  This, in addressing a person who was accepted as being lower on the social scale with the inappropriate pronoun.[64]  Either as a truly polite, or as a sarcastic usage, the passage most marvellously creates a picture, in both women, of incisive wit and tenacity.  The socially superior Olivia, however, conveys the stress that she feels, most specifically, by saying “you” to the beautiful youth whom she so strongly desires yet with whom, simply, she must retain her dignity.  This element belongs to the same discourse in which Viola covered up Olivia’s lie about the ring in that earlier scene with Malvolio: the impugning of a countess’s truthfulness being reflexively rejected by Viola.  Now, Olivia cannot beg, and that is another cross to bear.  On the other hand, in using the same formal pronoun in the interchange, above, Viola is being both cool and polite, thus delineating subtleties of emotion that many modern people will entirely miss; where the Renaissance listener would have caught all of the delicate inflections.

Additionally, the very structure of the episode forms a classical stichomythia for those in the audience familiar with the figurative device so often used in classical drama.  In this case, repeated patterns embody the rhythmic qualities of blank verse in alternate lines to create a strong sense of tension between antagonists.  As much as anything else, this makes clear that Olivia and Viola truly are antagonists—or at least, they see themselves as such—in this moment of high drama.  There are also subtle flares of insight to the quandary that Viola must endure: that the Lady Olivia is scorning the love of Orsino, the very man that she, Viola, so passionately herself loves.  The fact that Orsino cannot love a girl disguised as a youth, creates another dilemma for Viola.  Orsino’s problem is simpler, like Olivia’s; it is the result of a single layer of deception.   Olivia, aside, says:

                        O what a deal of scorn looks beautiful
                        In the contempt and anger of his lip!

This comment maintains the deception, not only in terms of Viola’s real identity and her real gender, but maintains her—Olivia’s—misunderstanding of the cause of the youngster’s coldness.  In this case, there is no muddying of the water in bawdry or half-revelations for the sake of smiles and laughter.  Here is real pain, and it is pain shared by two women in impossible situations.  If it can be said that Shakespeare plays anything truly straight in this play, then this is it.  No laughter lies in the words as Olivia continues:

                        A murd’rous guilt shows not itself more soon,
                        Than love that would seem hid. Love’s light is noon.
                        Cesario, by the roses of the spring,
                        By maidenhood, honour, truth, and everything,
                        I love thee so that, maugre all thy pride,
                        Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.

One can imagine absolute silence in the crowd.  I believe it may be taken that the author leaves the disguised male actors of his own day open in clear metatheatrical reference.  This may also be read as, much more simply, the case of Olivia, mistaken in her love for a youth who is actually a girl; and Viola wearing a disguise that is causing the problem, but which she may not yet take off to reveal her true self.[65]  In this entire passage, a notionally high, honourable level of love is portrayed, and though much embattled, it is strong and straight and virtuous.  Joking completely aside—if only for a brief space—the Elizabethan audience could not imagine a more elemental statement of all that Olivia stands for, when she stakes her “maidenhood, honour, truth, and everything” in 3.1.135. 

Schiller’s opinion that Shakespeare, with Homer and Geothe, created dramatic personæ from an instinctive sense of nature as it is, is seen as supported in this.[66]  Artifice and disguises aside, we may see these two women as people that the poet had known, had heard in argument; and of whom and in whom, he flashed a moment of notional truth into the theatrical space that contained so much artifice and make-believe.  As a radical comparison between the sometimes smutty giggles and gestures, the principle that “Love’s light is noon”, is signal.  In moments like these, it matters not one jot that the boys of the author’s time were playing women, or that the young women of now actually are women.  In this scene, women stand stark and clear as real people with interesting personalities that contain all of the human foibles and all of the estimable qualities to which any human being may aspire.

Away from the level in which the process of love is played out in particular terms, skulduggery re-appears as an indirect access to the same discourse when Sir Andrew becomes jealous of Olivia’s obvious attentions to Cesario.  A written challenge is issued, and the use of “thou” as a mark of contemptuous over-familiarity occurs in Sir Toby’s advice: “If thou ‘thou’st’ him some thrice, it shall not be amiss” in 3.2.35.  This, as a recommendation for an insult dire enough to cause a duel.[67]  Maria arrives and the plot bubbles along.  Again, the signal use of affectionate-diminutives is extended as Sir Toby says “Look where the youngest wren of mine comes” in 3.2.52., as the “little villain” of 2.5.11 continues her devilry in gulling Malvolio.  This whole episode is certainly an example of what Angela Hurworth labels “a release of comic energy” in its simplest form.  In this case the ever-present bubbling laughter and the sheer visual and linguistic interest that such a passage will cause in an attentive audience, is quite obvious.[68]

Re-entering the notionally higher level of love, in Act 3, scene 3: the love that Antonio feels for Sebastian is plangent with a striking manner and tone.  Antonio declaims: “My desire,/ More sharpened than filéd steel ... My willing love” makes a poignant scene in 3.3.4-5 and 11.  This proposes a style of friendship—were it not sexual—that could scarcely be stated in any situation between two men, now.  The gender and the sexuality of either the speaker or the hearer appears to be irrelevant in this system of communication.  From this, the notion that, on the level of a high and honourable love, Shakespeare, at least, saw women as the equals of men, or the other way around.

At the end of Scene 3 Antonio gives Sebastian his purse and tells him that “In the south suburbs at the Elephant/ Is best to lodge”, in 3.3.39.  They will meet, there, he says.[69]  Sebastian asks “Why I the purse?” and is told:

                        Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
                        You have desire to purchase; and your store,
                        I think, is not for idle markets, sir.

Again, the theatre-poet’s undying urge to cause smiles and even rude laughter in a serious moment, or at a moment when one character gives mere directions to another, is uppermost.  Combined with a generous act, there might to the modern audience appear nothing remarkable in the entire passage, but as Elizabeth Donno helpfully points out, there is pointed reference to the world just outside the theatre, if the performance were to be at The Globe in Shakespeare’s own age.  Everyone in the theatre would have known what Antonio meant and more than a few would have had intimate dealings with the denizens of the Elephant.   A famous bawdy-house of that name, in the continuous row of such establishments, had existed for many centuries before Shakespeare’s time.  Bankside, Southwark,  appears as the central focus for E.J. Burford’s Bawds and Lodgings.  In this Burford gives a detailed study of the stews, the bear and the bull-baiting pits, and traces the history of the area as being that primarily for the nefarious amusement of the citizens of London since at least AD 100, since—in historical fact—the Roman conquest of that area.[70]  The references to “some toy” that Sebastian might “desire to purchase”, teasingly sets aside in “your store,/ I think, is not for idle markets”, 3.3.44-46, may definitely be seen as hinting that Sebastian should not choose the sexual toys at the Elephant, of which there would have been a plethora.[71]  Of course, both “desire” and “toy” have non-sexual and sexual meanings, but a slight change of stance, tone,  or facial expression in Antonio at this point, would certainly have been enough to cause laughter in the production of a clearly bawdy meaning.[72]  Even though Southwark might seem to be encroaching the theatre in this reference, I do believe that the audience of Shakespeare’s time was able to create the world-of-comedy as a special space within which special things were allowed to happen.  This creates, then maintains, the parallel worlds which have been mentioned, above.

You will see here, that I am utterly at odds with scholars who try so hard to equate the lives of first Elizabethans with us, the second Elizabethans.  In historical fact, their lives—and in some respects the people within themselves—could scarcely have been more different.

Returning to the play, it is possible to say with some certainty that there would be no point in Antonio making this inference in a modern performance because the modern audience, simply, would miss the point altogether.  Additionally, the use of “toy” in Feste’s song at the end of the play would act as a reminder of the original audience’s understanding of the bawdy usage, in this case as an almost throw-away, gratuitous piece for the final amusement of the crowd, and Robert Armin’s highly-prized comedic and musical skills acting as a final gift with which to send the people happily home.

Enriching the sheer variety of emotions that love is understood to cause, Olivia, still in the toils of love with Cesario, gives an insight to the opposites of feelings that, by long tradition, we all feel while in love.  When told that Malvolio, gulled, dressed in yellow stockings and with crossed-garters, is smiling excessively and behaving strangely, she remarks:

                                                      I am as mad as he
                        If sad and merry madness equal be.

The continuing dilemma posed by Olivia’s love for Viola/Cesario is made even more intense when Olivia gives Cesario a “jewel” containing “my picture”, in 3.4.175.

Viola (2nd left) in Scene IV of Act III of Twelfth Night, by Francis Wheatley 1771

When the duel with Sir Andrew seems unavoidable, Viola/Cesario, aside, cries: “Pray God defend me! A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man.” (3.4.255-256).  The author’s urge to joke about something in a dire moment emerges yet again.  This is a comedy, after all, and the patriarchal pride in man’s sexual equipment and its associations with valour is simply irresistible.

Antonio enters and thinks that Viola-disguised is Sebastian.  The now-accepted fact that boy-girl-twins cannot be identical is not an issue of great importance in this.  If the audience and the players undertake to accept that girls-disguised may be accepted as youths, and close friends, and even members of a character’s immediate family will then fail to recognise them, then this may be taken as acceptable within the system of information for a play of that period.  In the overall compact between author and audience, the agreement in which all concerned accept the theatrical conventions that takes place, the previous usages—which are legion—provide both the precedent and the justification.[73] 

Bewildering conflict and misunderstanding abounds in the remaining parts of Act 3: things which pale any consideration of modern science about twins into insignificance.  Antonio thinking that Viola/Cesario is actually Sebastian and this is one of the main element in what follows.  This is extended and made more complex as Feste finds Sebastian and thinks he is Viola/Cesario.  Olivia enters as a duel is about to take place between Sebastian and Sir Andrew.  Her presence and her authority quell the fight, instantly.  She is in command.  She persuades Sebastian, whom she also thinks is Viola/Cesario, to go home with her.  Sebastian is smitten, and though deeply confused, he is delighted by the suddenness of his love for Olivia, whom he has only just met.  The element of his surprise, though, is heightened by “I am mad,/ Or else the lady’s mad”, in 4.3.15-16, and this acts as a direct echo of the Lady Olivia’s own words in the confusion of her mistaken love for Viola/Cesario.  There, she had first used Malvolio’s silliness as a reference-point of madness, but then turned it inwards to make clear her own deeply-thought and very personal feeling: “I am as mad as he/ If sad and merry madness equal be”, in 3.3.14-15.  This provides both lexical and ideational cohesion between the lovers who, in the first pairing, cannot marry and this second pairing, where the lovers not only may but will marry; and that with indecent haste on the part of the man, at least.  In this scene, though, Olivia is able to take decisive action.  She wants the person whom she thought was Cesario in her bed.  So, to church, and then to bed.  Well, that was the idea, at least, but the theme of a Shakespearian woman being utterly in command, returns.  She is totally certain of her feelings, and acts accordingly.  No “moonish youth” or any trace of an hesitant female, here.

The final act is also the final scene, and the captured Antonio acts as the agent of both confusion and clarity in mistaking Viola/Cesario for her twin, Sebastian.  He has been together with Sebastian for three months since rescuing him from the sea; Viola has been with Orsino for three months having survived the same sea, then disguising herself as Cesario.  Still, the collective penny does not drop!  This, despite the fact that, in all logic, it should.

When Orsino finally confronts Olivia and realizes that her lack of love is obdurate, he leaves the scene, in 5.1.120.  Viola, still disguised as Cesario, is about to follow when Olivia calls “Where goes Cesario?”.  The youth Cesario, whom Olivia sees and truly thinks Viola is, replies:                                                                        After him I love
                        More than I love these eyes, more than my life,
                        More, by all mores, than e’er I shall love wife.

The many-layered deception continues.  Olivia thinks that Cesario is the youth, who, as Sebastian, had instantly fallen in love with her, and whom she has already married.  The audience knows that the youth called Cesario is actually Viola, but this changeling creature is able to burn the cheeks of the susceptible by saying—as the youth Cesario—that he, Cesario, loves Orsino: “More than I love these eyes, more than my life”, 5.1.124.  This is a statement of passionate, yet high-flown love, but the irrepressible element of “jesting seriousness” that so invades this, and the  other comedies will not be denied, as he also says “More, by all mores, than e’er I shall love wife”, in 5.1.125.[74]   Much anger and distress hangs upon the mistaken identity of the changeling who does not know that her twin-brother has survived.  The dénouement is relentlessly pushed further back in a flurry of confusion and conflict.  The crowd, though they already know the answer to the riddle, is still on the edge of its collective seat.  The only thing that they do not know is when Sebastian will meet Viola-as-herself, but this looms as a delightful inevitability to be saved for later.

The fact that Olivia is addressing Viola as Cesario reveals that, in the strange half-light of the stage and the spaces behind where off-stage marriages take place, very odd things happen.  Olivia has married Sebastian without actually discovering his real name.  She thinks she has married Cesario.  The crowd’s disbelief hyper-suspended, the priest is called to witness and indulges in some jesting seriousness and a touch of bawdry for those who wish to see it.  Even when Sir Andrew arrives, wounded by Sebastian, the penny stays suspended.  “We took him for a coward”, he says, 5.1.168-169: an extremely interesting statement as a reversal of an apparent slur on Viola, a woman in reality, who had said “I am no fighter” in an earlier scene.  It, like so many other aspects of this play, may be taken several ways, the generous one being that some young men are not fighters as themselves, therefore a young woman dressed as a youth is by definition not a fighter, certainly not trained as one, being female in truth, if not in body.

At last, Sebastian enters when Viola is also on the stage.  He apologises for wounding Olivia’s cousin and Sir Andrew.  Orsino sees them and declares:

                        One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons —
                        A natural perspective, that is and is not!

The one voice in the above couplet seems finally to define the idea that a beardless youth, able convincingly to impersonate a young woman may also have the still high-set voice of a boy.  Both, in this case, must have unbroken voices to make this scene work if it were seriously to be done.  The boy who originally played Viola was as young as the boy who played Sebastian, after all.[75]  It is well known that in  early adolescence a boy’s breaking voice rushes up and down the scale with a most treacherous uncertainty.  It can be seen that two distinct levels of reality are created in the original convention because everyone knew that both of these actors were young apprentices in the company.  After all, the penny not dropping about the identity of twins in this play, and Rosalind’s identity as Ganymede being maintained right into the final scene in As You Like It, may exist without causing a ripple.  After all, the Lady Olivia has married a man whose real name she doesn’t even know, who, having been mad keen to bed the youth that she thought was Cesario, she delays bedding (or does she?) the identical Sebastian, preferring to take part in the final scene first.

These closing scenes adds a roundness and certainty to Jonathan Bate’s argument: “A natural perspective, that is, and is not — a phrase that perfectly describes the relationship of theatre to life”.  The argument, if nothing else, gives the laughing-falsity its logic.[76]   It is also an amazingly brave summary, considering the complexity of the discourse, but let it stand.

Of course, all of this evasion is absurd because Viola and Sebastian still do not recognize each other when Sebastian enters at 5.1.193.  As well, when Antonio sees the two together, only half-believing what he sees:

                        How have you made division of yourself?
                        An apple cleft in two is not more twin
                        Than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian?

The conundrum extends itself across four hundred years in the character-morph of the young woman who plays Viola now.  Unless fraternal twins play the dyad, Viola-Sebastian, the suspension of our modern disbelief must contain an even greater mismatch than that containing two boy in the original dyad.  The fact is that there are so many variables in this that we swim in a morass of undefined indicators in both sight and sound.

Of great interest is the fact that the radical protestants’ victories in closing the theatres; their military success in the Civil War; their moral and administrative strictures during the republic, were not victories for, or on behalf of female representation, or their status as actors, in any sense.  For the Restoration woman who took the Viola/Cesario part, the text of Twelfth Night had not changed appreciably when gladly she took it up in her dramatic emancipation.  Occasionally remnant within the text were still those things that had been so obvious for Elizabethans and Jacobeans, and had inspired so much laughter.  Denigratory sniggers had been clear in the bawdry: metatheatrical comments about the sheer physical absence of women within the drama were, and still are, there.  All of these things, though, became progressively more and more obscure from the Restoration onwards.  Men must still have their fun, whether it is women they now gaze lasciviously upon, rather than the earlier representation of women by boys.  In this sense, as Dympna Callaghan comments, “the revolution failed”.[77]  The proof of this is in the continuing use of male-language about women’s body-parts, as in Warwickshire in my own experience in the 1940s and 1950s, as now.  These remain as denigrations, but now they exist in such lexical and semantic obscurity, hidden by a veil that has been formed by the absence of those rather grubby boys, rather than the presence of the modern female actor, that have in any case become scarcely discernible for all but the most highly-informed playgoers of these times.

Those Puritans who so strongly railed against cross-dressing achieved no victory in eventually banning the male-only companies.  For them, the display of women upon the stage was almost equally as distasteful, even if those women did not swap-gender during the action.  Crossing social barriers and in any way adopting finery would be enough to inspire the anger of these radicals.  If the women actually cross-dressed and swapped-gender, though—in such plays as Twelfth Night and As You Like It—the process was just as wicked as the original custom, and probably constituted the ultimate evil in the overall discourse of stage-plays, as far as the radicals were concerned.  The fact that the cross-dressing was, after the Restoration, merely a single-shifted display—in these two plays, at least—this would not have mattered one jot to them.

Lastly, what can never be defined is the sheer multiplicity of views and perceptions that existed within the Renaissance audience.  Sitting side-by-side in the Middle Temple on the 2nd of February 1602, there could possibly have been two people whose radically different feelings about Viola/Cesario’s place in the world—as represented by her/his place upon the stage—would not bear comparison as being resultant from viewing the same play.  Even their reasons for being there would take a lifetime’s study to reveal.  That is to say, if we could possibly find a way of knowing these lost facts.  Samuel Pepys’s Diaries note many impressions of the vital period of the transition from boys to women in female representation, but rarely do we find much more than these brief notes in anything that is now left to us.  What then have we to choose from?  The polemical protestants at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of seventeenth centuries were so biased against stage-plays that they may almost be set aside as worthy, or even truthful commentators.  Those other few commentators of the same period whom we may access are mostly so fair-minded about the cross-dressed display, in particular, that—paradoxically—it may be possible to set their views aside as well.  Dympna Callaghan’s central concern that undecidability is not liberating remains utterly valid in this context, at least.

The text of this play is translatable, though, despite the frequent obscurities in the lexis, the semantic, the time-shifted meaning of its story.  Yet setting the text in its known historical context brings to life an undecidable quality in the play’s discourse that is essential in its effect simply because of its smoke-and-mirrors, its deliberate deceptions.  Those sweet, laughter-filled evasive manoeuvres may be seen as well-described by Ben Jonson in The Alchemist.   Surly’s view of alchemy as: “a pretty kind of game,/ Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards” which “cheat a man/ With charming” may be seen as no accidental association-of-ideas.[78]

The tricks, the evasions, the sleights-of-hand are meant to be there, whether they involve indeterminate sexuality, in either appearance or nature; or in the rough mockery of Malvolio.  They are what Shakespeare intended them to be and they create their own kind of alchemy for those in the crowd who were sensitive to, and are knowledgeable about, such arcane things.

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will remains what you would want it to be.  In all of this, though, the representations of the female characters may also be seen to shake off many of the shades of denigration in the notionally highest moments in the drama where the boy Viola, the boy Olivia and the boy Maria shine like beacons within the large, relatively dark mass of the adult male-players surrounding them.

These young people, most of the time, appear as people decked in power and light and above all, laughter.  They have simply endured the jibes with good humour and in the end, Twelfth Night may be seen to revolve around these three main characters: Viola, Maria and Olivia.

Continue to Chapter 5


[1]In this chapter the line-references derive from The New Cambridge Shakespeare, unless otherwise clearly indicated.

[2]A.P. Riemer, Antic Fables> Patterns of Evasion in Shakespeare’s Comedies (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1980), pp. vii-viii.

[3]Matthew Arnold’s 1880 essay on poetic criticism is signal in this sentiment.  He argues that Chaucer’s work lacks an essential element that prevents him from placing it in “the glorious class of the best”.  This is because, despite its other extensive virtues, it does not have “the spoudaiotés, the high and most excellent seriousness, which Aristotle assigns as one of the grand virtues of poetry”.  Among only a very few authors aspiring to this notionally elevated sentiment in Arnold’s eyes: “Homer’s criticism of life has it, Dante’s has it, Shakespeare’s has it.”.  See Matthew Arnold, “The Study of Poetry” in D.J. Enright and Ernst de Chickera eds, English Critical Texts: 16th Century to 20th Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1962 [Arnold’s essay was first published in T.H. Ward, ed, The English Poets, 1880; then in Essays in Criticism, Second Series, 1888]), pp. 274-275.  Despite Arnold’s focus on poetry rather than drama, in this rather didactic statement, he later includes Shakespeare’s play-texts in the canon of his judgement.

[4]“Elizabeth I was no stranger to Bankside.  She visited the bear-gardens frequently” reports E.J. Burford, Bawds and Lodgings: A History of the London Bankside Brothels c. 100-1675 (London: Peter Owen, 1976), p. 147.  It is extremely hard, now, to imagine how anyone could enjoy seeing ^””bears, chained to a post, baited by dogs ubears, chained to a post and attacked by dogs until bear or dogs were torn to pieces.”  Though compared to a public hanging, though, this must have been thought of as light-entertainment.

[5]As we have ours.  A recent episode of the television comedy, One Foot in the Grave has the protagonist discovering that an invoice for Dulux paint had been written on the back of a suicide note!

[6]M.M. Mahood, ed., William Shakespeare, Four Comedies: Twelfth Night (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1994 [New Penguin Shakespeare, 1968]), p. 524.  Interestingly, Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (London: Picador, 1997), p. 30, observes that John Manningham’s 1602 diary records that it was “noteworthy, not deplorable, that a Shakespearian comedy should resemble an ancient Roman play or a modern Italian one”.  The fact is that characters borrowed from others became unforgettable in Shakespeare’s hands: Malvolio, “that cross-gartered gull” being signal among many who now stand as unique. 

[7]This proposes textual evidence of castration as a continental practice, known about in England, when Viola decides upon this deception. See Dympna Callaghan, “The Castrator’s Song: Female Impersonation on the Early Modern Stage” in Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 26, 1996b.

[8]It is highly probable that “many sorts of music” then had sexual connotations and this throw-away phrase was meant to draw a knowing smile, if not outright laughter from the audience.  See Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy (London> Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968 [1947]), p. 183.  Pointed reference to [sing], and make [notes] exist as terms of open feminine allurement in Troilus and Cressida, 1.2.9-12.  Both instances may be linked to Homer’s Odyssey as a classical source, and siren-like behaviour in a general sense.  Partridge also notes the later slang words “strum” and “twang” as being a part of the colloquy of bawdry as it comes down to our age.

[9]Elizabeth Story Donno, ed., The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Twelfth Night or What You Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. xiv, 44.  Established by the Dramatis Personæ, but with a foot-note that this description first appeared in Nicholas Rowe, the Douai MS. 7.87.  See G. Blakemore Evans, “The Douai Manuscript: six Shakespearian transcripts (1694-95)” in PQ 41, 1962, pp. 158-172.  The First Folio simply says “enter Maria”.

[10]Grace Tiffany, Erotic Beasts and Social Monsters: Shakespeare, Jonson and Comic Androgyny (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1995), p. 95.

[11]Katherine Kelly, “The Queen’s Two Bodies: Shakespeare’s Boy Actress in Breeches” in Theatre Journal 42, 1990, p. 90.

[12]See Callaghan, 1996b.

[13]This “equivalence” having been clearly established as a cultural of the Renaissance from ancient origins in my own Chapters One and Three.

[14]Dympna Callaghan, “ ‘And all is semblative a woman’s part’: body politics and Twelfth Night” in R.S. White, ed. Twelfth Night (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996a [Textual Practice 7, 1993: 428-452]), p. 148.

[15]Professor R.S. White in a note attached to the MS before the Macmillan book appeared.

[16]Callaghan, p. 148.  Of great interest to me is that Callaghan uses both the words and the stances of the modern literary-theory and the film-theory critic.  In this discourse Seymour Chatman makes the meaning of these terms quite clear in the statement: “Following such French Structuralists as Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, and Gérard Genette, I posit a what and a way. The what of narrative I call its “story”; the way I call its “discourse”.  This is inescapably Aristotelian in its origins, and relates directly and respectively to the ideas of “story” and “plot”—the so-called fabula and éuzhet of the Russian Formalist critics.  See also David Bordwell for a very good description of this in Narration in the Fiction Film (London: Routledge, 1988 [Methuen, 1985]), pp. 49-50. Wayne Booth also demonstrates a clear view of the dichotomy in his “Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification” in The Theory of the Novel (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 87-107. It is very revealing of Callaghan that she uses the term “extra-diegetic” in the above.  Commonly an expression meaning “that which stands outside the narrative” in film-criticism, the word, diegesis is also a binary-opposite of mimesis.  This brings out an intimation of how Callaghan “sees” the interplay of “boy-actress” as, both the principle of representation, and in the corporeal reality of the boy or the youth who played the part.  Mimesis being, crudely expressed, the “showing” and diegesis being, equally crudely, the “telling” of a story; the reference to “extra-diegetic” forms a very strong association with the background-music and sound-effects that are used in modern film and television productions, and being that, specifically, which lies outside the “telling” and placed there to enhance the mood of the audience or create the nature of the drama itself.  

[17]Clare Everett, “Venus in drag: Female transvesticism and the construction of sex difference in Renaissance England” in Andrew Lynch and Phillipa Maddern, eds., Venus and Mars: Engendering Love and War In Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Nedlands: The University of Western Australia Press, 1995), pp. 192-193.

[18]Everett, p.193, after Joan Scott, Gender and the politics of history (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 2.

[19]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 129, after Norbert Elias, The Civilising Process, Vols I and II (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982 [1939]); Francis Barker, The Tremulous Private Body: Essays on Subjection (London and New York, Methuen, 1984), p. 13; Carroll Rosenberg-Smith, “The body politic” in Elizabeth Weed, ed., Coming To Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), p. 103; Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 38.

[20]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 129.

[21]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 132, after Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn eds., Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture c.1540-1660 (London, 1990), pp. 1-10. Callaghan’s view that Michel Foucault proposes “a naïve notion that social transformation can be articulated at the local level of the corporeal” is unfair.  Extensive study reveals that where Foucault refers to the female body it is mainly to rail against its treatment in the past, while quite properly leaving the discourse open for the future.  See Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984 [La Volonte; de savoir, Paris> Éditions Gallimard, 1976]), pp. 3, 104, 121, 146-147.

[22]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 131, after Donald Morton, “Texts of limits, the limits of texts, and the containment of politics in contemporary critical theory” in Diacritics 20, 1990, pp. 57-75. This allows the reader to see an emerging generosity in Callaghan’s work at this point.  It has to be said that it otherwise canes Barthes, and others, for what Callaghan calls “ludic postmodernism”.

[23]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 132, views the bodies of women — particularly servants in the Renaissance — as reflecting “sexual terrain to be possessed, violated and commodified”.  The discourse of Renaissance drama, in its very nature “constitutes physical, social and cultural aspects of rape as opposed to purely physical or ‘textual’ ones”.  This, after Nazife Bashar, “Rape in England between 1550 and 1700” in London Feminist History Group, ed., The Sexual Dynamics of History (London: Pluto Press, 1983), pp. 28-46.  This, in striking a truly plangent chord at the outer edge of the discourse.

[24]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 133.  Her 1996b paper also avers that “it is not the perfect similitude of woman that was the goal” of the early modern dramatists, but “the production of an aesthetic of representation that depicts sexual difference defined as the presence or lack of male genital sexual equipment”. This, partly attributed to Laura Levine, Men in Women’s Clothing: Anti-theatricality and Effeminization, 1579-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

[25]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 133, after Sheila Fisher and Janet Halley, eds., Seeking Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989). Despite the ending of that sentence, the nitty-gritty of what is to follow is made clear in the principle that the female body, “while not literally present on the Renaissance stage, was constantly and often scabrously constructed in masculine discourses in ways that reinforced larger patriarchal institutions and practices”. This, in clear opposition to the views of Lisa Jardine and Stephen Orgel in their ideas that so closely—in part, at least—follow what has gone before in the observations of many other scholars: that is to say, that the cross-dressed boy in Shakespeare’s comedies was a deliberately-created figure of uncertain gender, offered in a state of, perhaps, uncertain sexuality, for the largely male audience to enjoy for its own sake alone.

[26]Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of sexuality in Shakespearian drama (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 120-121, after Stephen Orgel, “Nobody’s Perfect: Or why did the English stage take boys for women?” in South Atlantic Quarterly 88, 1989, pp. 7-29.

[27]Callaghan, 1996a, pp. 133-134 and n. 21, p. 152, distils the views of Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1983), pp. 29, 31; and Stephen Orgel, 1989. Included in this overall view is Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1984), pp. 154, 327. 

[28]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 134.  This idea has been brought to the fore in Chapter Three, since I believe it to be highly apposite to As You Like It as well.

[29]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 134, after Catherine Belsey, “Disrupting sexual difference: Meaning and gender in the comedies” in John Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London and New York: Methuen, 1985), p. 190,

[30]See Ann Blake, “Boy Actors in Women’s Roles” in R.S. White, Charles Edelman and Christopher Wortham, eds., Shakespeare: Readers, Audiences, Players (Nedlands, Western Australia: The University of Western Australia Press, 1998 ªfrom a paper presented at the ANZSA conference, February, 1994º), p. 121.

[31]Please see Elaine Aston and George Savona, Theatre as Sign-System: A semiotics of text and performance (Routledge: London and New York, 1991), p. 160.

[32]Donno, p. 9, gives an  excellent survey of the likely ages of Maria and the twins, Sebastian and Viola.  She offers the cross-references to Coriolanus, 3.2.114 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.1.48.  This is indicated in the use of the many affectionate diminutives, among other things.

[33]Appearing in the Middle English of Ancrene Wisse, or Ancrene Riwle of 1200$, 1250$, as “Her in is religiun, nawt i the wide hod ne i the blake cape”.  The proverb resurfaces in Chaucer as “For habit maketh no monk; ne weringe of gilte spurres maketh no knight”.  Shakespeare’s familiarity with the proverb appears in Henry VIII as “They should be good men, their affairs are righteous; But all hoods make not monks” and in Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night in it’s Medieval Latin form, “Cucullus non facit monachum”, for which, see above.  See also Ian Ousby, The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993 [1988]), p. 24, and John Simpson, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988 [1982]), p. 44.

[34]Michael Jamieson, ed., Three Comedies of Ben Jonson: Volpone, The Alchemist, Bartholomew Fair (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966), p. 455.

[35]Donno, p. 68, n. 253, points to “The standard doctrine was that love entered through the eyes.  Prospero comments on the instant enamourment of Miranda and Ferdinand: ‘At the first sight; They have chang’d eyes’ (Temp. 1.2.441-2)”.

[36]Riemer, pp. vii-viii.

[37]Except once, where Sebastian uses “ye’, a pronoun of address that was already largely obsolete in Shakespeare’s time, though it did linger on in sparse usage until the mid-seventeenth century.  See Charles Barber, “The Later History of English” in W.F. Bolton and David Crystal, eds., The English Language (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993 [Sphere, 1975]), pp. 264-265.

[38]Donno, p. 70.  From the Greek, hysteron proteron, “the latter before”.  OED gives the example of John Jewel (1522-1571) stating that “In these woordes ... ‘Take ye: Eate ye: This is my Bodie’, They have found a Figure called Hysteron Proteron”.

[39]Fraternal twins evolve from separate ova: identical twins from a single ovum.

[40]Both “quasi” and “poetical” may often be seen as pejoratives.  It is evident that many people feel uneasy in the face of naked expressions of love, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  A strong need to spurn such sentiments as being embarrassingly fulsome becomes easier when such uneasiness — that which also exists in the same people’s view of poetry itself — is used to fortify the analogy.

[41]Donno, ed., p.72, gives “fond” as “dote”, a far stronger level of attraction than our rather mild, modern version of the word.  The use of the word “monster” was as much a pejorative, then, as it is now: see C.T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1992 [1986]), p. 173.

[42]Donno, p. 72, argues that “the proper-false” means “good looking but deceitful (men)”.

[43]Metatheatrical comment of the most pungent kind enters the argument in the form, “Disguise, thou art a wickedness”, in 2.2.24, and “I (poor monster)”: the audience knowing very well about the fulminations of the puritanical polemics in the background.

[44]Donno, pp. 9, 80.  Callaghan, 1996b, p. 322.

[45]See Thomson&s, Shakespeare’s Theatre 2nd edn. (London and New York: Routledge, 1992 [Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983]), p. 102.

[46]Peter Thomson, pp. 102-103, after T.W. Baldwin, The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearian Company (Princeton, 1927), pp. 228-229. An actor who could well have performed the part of Maria, was an apprentice called Samuel Crosse.

[47]As the Elizabethan equivalent of the Secret Service were then known.

[48] Catzo was one of the many Elizabethan euphemisms for penis.

[49]Please see Angela Hurworth, “Gulls, Cony-Catchers and Cozeners: Twelfth Night and the Elizabethan Underworld” in Shakespeare Survey 52, 1999, p. 121.  Among a great many other associations that Hurworth, p. 124, convincingly creates in the popular consciousness, is that Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would instantly be recognized by the crowd as the raffish, rootless soldier-types who inhabited such works as Thomas Dekker’s The Gull’s Horn-Book.  Though published in 1609, Hurworth establishes that it had been written ten years earlier and that it existed side-by-side with a whole system of pamphlets that had a wide circulation in the law-abiding public, as well as the near-criminal and the overtly-criminal society of those days.  Dekker himself is known to have been imprisoned briefly, at least twice in this stormy period, and he would intimately have known these “dregs and draff”, these “idle bodies” in their various shades of infamy.  These, about whom he wrote so much in his plays and pamphlets, which themselves were so widely circulated and so popular in the period under discussion. For Hurworth, p. 127, this creates familiar associations between the gulling that is going on and the various animals that it is possible to trick.  See also Gamini Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld (Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1995), p. 24.

[50]Hurworth, p. 129.

[51]Hurworth, p. 127.

[52]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 135.

[53]Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (London, 1583), p. 38.

[54]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 135, after Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1981), p. 92; Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence, Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1991); J.W. Binns, “Women or transvestites on the Elizabethan stage?: An Oxford controversy” in The Sixteenth Century Journal V, 1974, pp. 95-120; Sandra Clark, “ ‘Hic Mulier, Haec Vir’ and the controversy over masculine women” Studies in Philology 82, 1985, pp. 157-183; Rudolf Dekker and Lotte van der Pol, The Tradition of Female Transvesticism in Early Modern Europe (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989); Laura Levine, “Men in women’s clothing: anti-theatricality and effeminization from 1579 to 1642” in Criticism, Spring 1986, pp. 121-143.

[55]Callaghan, 1996a, p. 136, after Christina Malcolmson, “ ‘What you will’. Social mobility and gender in Twelfth Night” in Valerie Wayne, ed. The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991[Also in R.S. White, ed., Twelfth Night (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996]), pp. 29-57.

[56]Hurworth, p. 131.  William Hazlitt concurs.  See his Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays in Horace Howard Furness, ed., A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare (Philadelphia and London, 1901 [1817]), pp. 378-379.

[57]See Robin Headlam Wells’s brave paper, “Neo-Petrarchan Kitsch in Romeo and Juliet” in The Modern Language Review 93, 1998, pp. 913-933.  Wells speaks of Shakespeare’s occasional journeys into linguistic excess and cliche;.  An example is Orlando’s posting letters to Rosalind in the Arden trees: “Rosalind’s mocking response, even though she loves him, is anti-kitsch” he says!  Seeing the entire argument from his own, highly modern view-point of “Petrarchanism”, one is left wondering how valid such a view is, but one thing is certain, that the above passage ripples with laughter.  A.P. Riemer’s “solemn levity and jesting seriousnesss” looms large again?  See Riemer, pp. vii-viii.

[58]Donno, p. 82 gives “seat” in this context as “the heart”.  Onions, pp. 242-243, gives “Throne ... Estate ... Situation”.  Partridge ignores it, but the OED supplies that “seat” was established as the “action of sitting” by 1420, and more usually referred to “one who has a good seat, a good horseman” by 1577.  Partridge is, however, helpful where the oblique implication of riding is concerned.  This was used in Henry V, 3.7.53-54, and Antony and Cleopatra, 4.8.15-17, in a distinct sense of “to mount sexually”.  Partridge adds that the Welsh “rhwydd, ‘a horse’ ” may well have come into Anglo Saxon at some earlier point, and then blurred into a more general meaning for “riding”.  That the young actor grinned wickedly at this point, is for me a strong possibility.

[59]See Christina Malcolmson, pp. 36 and 38-39.  She focuses particularly on the enormity of this, but from an extremely interesting angle from which it is possible to see that the real winners in this play are the women.

[60]Donno, p. 80, takes a straight reading of this as referring to horses and stupidity.  Onions, p. 66, predictably, agrees.  Partridge, surprisingly, make no mention of it.  J.M. Lothian and T.W. Craik, eds., The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night (London: Methuen, 1975 [1906]), p. 67, supply: “ ‘cut’ being the female genital organ (probably derived not from Lat. cunnus or Fr. con, but from Engl. ‘cut’ ... a narrow passage for water, a strait; cf. ‘water gap’, used with indecent innuendo in Angel Day’s English Secretorie 1586, quoted by J.G. McManaway in N & Q, 1951, p. 134”.

[61]Callaghan, 1996a, pp. 138-139.

[62]Angela Hurworth ably creates a picture of parallel worlds for both the pamphlets circulated in the demi-monde for raffish characters, mentioned above< and those pamphlets aimed at instruction, at cautionary tales and exhortations to a more moral and careful life that were circulated within the general populace in the same period.  She points out that Leah Scragg had identified the above passage in which Malvolio claims to recognize Olivia’s hand-writing as existing in the latter world of the cautionary-pamphlet.  Scragg claims that the letters begin to spell: “CUTP —, that is, cutpurse”.  Simply, this was “a meta-textual warning against pickpockets”.  This is not supported by the textual evidence.  The sequence exists for the purpose of both the open and obvious bawdry as well as the subtle undertones that have been described above.  However, please see Leah Scragg, “ ‘Her C, her Us and her Ts’ Why’s that? A New Reply” in Review of English Studies 42, 1991, pp.1-16.

[63]To stave off argument, here, it is here stated that the OED’s meaning being; “using figures or metaphors; metaphorical, not literal”; may also be seen as “the use of graphic figures ... pictorial or sculptural representation”.  This picture that Malvolio creates is therefore a clear-cut example of bawdry, in this case used in heightening the absurdity of his position as a would-be usurper of a socially-superior person’s love.

[64]This aptly cross-refers the action to the later episode where Sir Toby suggests to Sir Andrew that he will be able to draw Cesario into a duel “If thou ‘thou’st’ him some thrice, it shall not be amiss” (3.2.35-36).  The lexical device operates in the reverse in examples where the polite “you” is used in the ironic sense, specifically, where “thou” would be expected.

[65]Donno, p. 101, states that there are “Three layers of meaning” in this.  It is double-layered at best.

[66]Johann Christoph von Schiller, Über naïv und sentimentalische Dichtung (Berlin, 1795).  Schiller classified the naīve poets as a group radically at odds with the sentimental poets, which included himself, Wordsworth and Southey.  The latter tried to depict nature in a longed-for idealization and formalization of nature, rather than what it was, or is.  Schiller’s theory is strengthened by the apparent self-denigration in his thinking.  Thus, in the above, creating characters which purport to operate in the now, or may then be expected validly to project the future, in either a naïve or a sentimental way, may very well be seen as a distortion of the past in terms of Sigmund Freud’s theory of nachträglichkeit.  This idea of deferred action of the memory, or at least, memory-as-process, requires that the past is seen only in terms of the subject’s present rhetorical needs or desires, and in like manner of which, subsequently, the subject’s future will be anticipated. 

[67]Donno, p. 103, notes only a small part of this variable pronoun usage.  A close-study of its use in Hamlet indicates that, in the so-called fourth soliloquy, Hamlet and Ophelia are joined in what, on the modern surface, would seem to be a dialogue.  In Shakespeare’s day, on the other hand, this scene would have conjured a ghostly third person upon the stage to whom the half-mad Hamlet also speaks.  See M.J. Teare-Williams, A survey of the non-reciprocal power-semantic in the use of pronouns of address in Hamlet (Murdoch University, 1991), pp. 5-6.  See also Charles Barber, “The Later History of English” in W.F. Bolton and David Crystal, eds., The English Language (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993 [Sphere, 1975]), pp. 264-265.  Barber gives a brief but highly-detailed study of this phenomenon and his central example is this very exhortation-to-the-duel in Twelfth Night.

[68]Angela Hurworth, p. 130, defers to the possibility that Stephen Greenblatt’s feelings about

“ ‘circulations of social energy’ ” as appropriating “other kinds of discourse” and adapting them “for dramatic purposes” may well be true in this example.  Yet, in variance, Hurworth also offers that the “theatrical representation” of the “simple narrative of the pamphlet literature enact fictive deceptions” in which “comedy is often latent” and this seems to enrich the complex picture of “meta-textual” indicators.  See also Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearian Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 50-51. 

[69]The First Folio, 1623, gives the same spelling, “Elephant”, while documents of the time variously give “Oliphant” and “Oliphaunt”.  It was, as Donno, p. 107, tells us, “seventh from the left at the top of Goat Stairs”.  See also, E.J. Burford, p. 151, for an account of the very inn of which Shakespeare speaks in this scene.  The latter book, overall, gives an excellent survey of the very ancient associations of the Southwark Bankside with gaming, prostitution, cock-fighting, as well as bear and bull-baiting.  In the interests of strict accuracy and academic detachment, it must also be reported that, variously,  parents then “sold their children into prostitution from the age of eleven” and that at least one brothel offered “girls from seven to fourteen” (pp. 145, 175).  This, utterly to dispel any idea that children’s lives of then may closely be compared with the lives of children, now.  The fact that individual churches, aristocrats, high public officials and nunneries actually owned several of the brothels in Bankside adds another dimension to the overall discourse of what was then possible and what would now cause truly an international scandal among signatories of the various treaties on the human-rights of children were such things to be discovered now.

[70]Burford, pp. 142, 150-151. Donno, p. 107, refers to M.F. Monier-Williams, Records of the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers, 1897, pp. 113-113, and W.W. Braines, The Site of the Globe Playhouse, Southwark, 1921 [rev. edn., 1924], p. 80.

[71]Partridge, p. 203, gives various meanings for “toy” in both noun and verb form.  All of these have sexual connotations, but it must carefully also be pointed out that the OED avoids these sexual meanings.  Perhaps in this lies the actual key to publicly-accepted meanings of words and those meanings tacitly set aside for amusement in outright bawdry$  If the OED avoids the “private” meaning for such a word, then this gives power to, rather than taking power from, the accepted but unstated connection between a word as an innocent expression of, say, “play” or “plaything”, and the same word implied as holding a wealth of bawdy meaning.  Here, the tone, stance and gesture of the actor is surely the deciding factor in its possible place in any single performance.

[72]Partridge, pp. 92-93, 203.

[73]The work of Elaine Aston and George Savona, Theatre as Sign-System: A semiotics of text and performance (Routledge: London and New York, 1991), p. 160, gives an excellent rendering of this principle.

[74]See A.P. Riemer, pp. vii-viii.

[75]Lesley Ferris, p. 1, reports that in a 1992 production at the Goodman Theater in Chicago: “Viola and her twin brother Sebastian were played by two 16-year-old boys”.  Strangely, Neil Bartlett had insisted that “all the men, except the clown Feste”, were to be played by women because he did not want the alternative—an all-male production—to be seen as “the ‘gay’ Twelfth Night even before it had opened”.  Ferris directly cites Gerard Raymond, “Letter from Chicago: Neil Bartlett’s Twelfth Night” in Theatreweek (27th January to 2nd February, 1992), p. 34.

[76]Jonathan Bate, p. 140.

[77]Callaghan, 1996a, pp. 149-150.

[78]This, from Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (1612), 2.3.179-182.  As Angela Hurworth, p. 120, argues: “In Volpone and The Alchemist deception is treated as an art-form in itself”.  She continues that “this is gulling on a grand scale” in which “the theatricality of deceiving and the deception inherent in the theatrical illusion find their finest expression”.  Hurworth further goes on to make convincingly clear associations between Jonson’s plays, named above, and, particularly, Twelfth Night.  The theme of gulling rises to a central frisson of tension in the passages where, particularly, Malvolio is the gull and Maria “the noble gull-catcher”.  This acts as a complement to the sexual sleights-of-hand which also help to form the basis of this play.

Continue to Chapter 5




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