William Shakespeare – Twelfth NIght (ctd.)

Olivia asks Feste, commenting on Toby’s behaviour, what’s a drunken man like. Feste answers he is like a fool, a madman and a drowned man all in one – one drink too many makes him a fool, the second makes him mad and the third drowns him. Olivia picks up the joke and says Feste should fetch a coroner to do an inquest on Toby, since he is already a drowned man. Feste says he is still in the second stage, and the fool will attend to the madman. Enters Malvolio, saying that the young messenger won’t budge until he is heard by Olivia. On Olivia’s inquiries about the young man, he says he is just a good-looking but ordinary young person, in between childhood and adulthood. (“Teenagers” were invented in 1944, you see.) Olivia veils herself and tells Malvolio to let the young man in.

Cesario/Viola enters and engages in a very elaborate conversation with Olivia. First he asks who the lady of the house is (because Maria is also present). Olivia answers ambiguously “I will speak for her”, and Cesario asks her politely to tell him who the lady of the house is as he does not want to deliver his very well-crafted speech in vain. Olivia asks him where he is from, to which he responds evasively, but also gives hints of his real self, saying “I am not that I play”, Finally he gets Olivia to admit she is Olivia and gets ready to deliver his speech, which as he says is going to consist of two parts, Olivia’s praise and the message proper. Olivia tells him to cut the praise, saying “Tis not that time of moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue.”, which I swear I have thought for ages to be a rather shockingly frank reference to Olivia’s menstrual cycle, but apparently no, Olivia refers to the popular belief that certain phases of moon make people lunatic and simply means “I am not mad enough to waste time on listening to your nonsense.) Maria tells Cesario to hurry on, using a nautical metaphor “hoist your sail”, to which Cesario answers with another nautical metaphor “I am to hull a little longer”.  BTW, another example of the NAEL strange editorial policy here – they give you footnotes explaining what the olive branch means and don’t explain “swabber”, which is what Cesario calls Maria and I find it hard to believe that this word is more generally known than the fact that the olive branch is a sign of peace. Anyway, he asks Olivia to send her attendants away, since what he has to say is “to your ears, divinity; to any others’, profanation”. Olivia sends other people out of this room and seizing on the divinity joke, asks Cesario “What is your text?”, referring to preaching sermons, which are based on “the text”, meaning a particular verse from the Bible. Cesario says his text is “Most sweet lady”. Olivia comments it’s a “comfortable doctrine” and asks him where it lies. (If this question were addressed to a priest, it would mean “what book, chapter and verse”). Cesario continues the joke, saying “in Orsino’s breast”.

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