Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
If Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night as a vehicle for his Sonnet philosophy then
the logical elements that make up the Sonnet structure should predominate.
The primacy of Nature, the priority of female over male, the possibility of
increase, and the dynamic of truth and beauty should be evident from the
So when it is revealed in Act 1 scene 2 that at some time before Orsino’s
opening speech a ship was wrecked in a storm at sea, Shakespeare has Nature
initiate the comic drama. Shakespeare begins the philosophic examination
of the inconsistencies of the biblical mythology implicit in his title Twelfth
Night by first restoring Nature to its logical priority.
Then, to correct the male-God presumption in beliefs based on the
myths of old, Nature effects the separation of female and male. The
biological twins Viola and her brother Sebastian undergo a virtual sexual
division during the storm. In terms of the Sonnet logic, Viola and Sebastian
represent the division within Nature (the sovereign mistress) into female (the
28 Mistress sonnets) and the male (126 Master Mistress sonnets).
After Viola and Sebastian find their way ashore at different locations, they
remain separated until they are reunited in the final scenes of the play. But
before Viola sets off inland Shakespeare shifts her sexual persona into the
masculine. While Sebastian keeps his male identity, Viola forgoes her female
identity and assumes the guise of a male. By converting Viola to a virtual
male, Shakespeare is able to explore the consequences for natural logic when
female and male roles are prejudicially reversed, as they are in beliefs that take
literally the non-biological male/female priority in the Judeo/Christian
Shakespeare’s intent, then, is to show that the Judeo/Christian inversion
of the natural priority of female over male has drastic consequences for the
dynamic of truth and beauty, or the logical dynamic of the mind. The
inversion is given particular expression in the characters of Olivia and her
manservant Malvolio. Their self-absorption and injudicious behaviour is the
principal cause of distress and entertainment for the rest of the cast. The
play’s drama takes their alienation from the natural logic and exposes it to
the dynamic of truth and beauty Shakespeare articulates in the Sonnets.
The play’s title signals Shakespeare’s intention to demonstrate the illogicality
of biblical beliefs. The ‘Twelfth Night’ in the Christian calendar is
the Feast of the Epiphany, which ‘celebrates the manifestation of the divinity
of Christ to the Gentiles’(OED). Because Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is based
in Nature and sets out to examine the illogicalities of prioritising the male
over the female, it critiques the inconsistencies in traditional beliefs.
The or,What you will, which completes the title, points to the arbitrariness
of the claim to divinity. Shakespeare sets out to examine with appropriate
mock-seriousness the inconsistencies in the biblical claim, and its illogical
consequences for human understanding and well-being.
Shakespeare takes the theatergoer through a drama that deconstructs the
inconsistencies of biblical faith and shows how they can be resolved in natural
logic. He reveals the method by which he is able to take the logical elements
of any mythological expression and reformulate them correctly to create a
play of mythic depth based on a consistent philosophy.
Not surprisingly, Twelfth Night, more so than most other plays, exercises
a peculiar hold on the imaginations of commentators who on the one
hand admire its comic verve but then invariably quibble endlessly about the
deeds and fortunes of the characters. Because the Sonnet philosophy is not
understood it is no wonder that commentators such as Harold Bloom and
the critic he ‘worships’, Samuel Johnson, have misunderstood the play.
From the vantage of the Sonnet logic, it is possible to say that the critics’
fascination and criticism is driven by the play’s underlying challenge to the
inconsistency of belief in a male God. As the Sonnets are based in Nature and
not a system of arbitrary male-based belief, it is not surprising that Shakespeare
has Nature provide the overarching context for Twelfth Night.
Analysis of Twelfth Night
Duke Orsino’s opening lines in Twelfth Night locate his personality between
that of the mythic Poet and the idealising Master Mistress of the Sonnets.
Shakespeare, as he does with Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, grounds
his drama in a character who has some of the logical insights of the Poet
but is still susceptible to the psychological idealising of the Master Mistress.
Orsino’s first few lines recall the way the Poet characterises beauty and
music in the Mistress sequence. His comments reveal his appreciation of the
logic of music as a form of beauty or sensation. He understands that any
sensation taken to an extreme leads to its opposite. Orsino recognises that
his love for Olivia has been based in sensation, which sonnet 137 characterises
as capable of passing from ‘best’ to ‘worst’ from one moment to the
next without discrimination. And like the Poet in sonnet 130, Orsino appreciates
the equivalence of his current ambivalence toward love and music with
the primary sensations of taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight.
If Music be the food of Love, play on,
The introduction of music in the first line of the play recalls sonnets 8
and 128, the two sonnets dedicated to music. In sonnet 8, particularly,
Shakespeare is at pains to inculcate the youth into the logic of harmony or
‘concord’. Concord is achieved when the youth realises that the combination
of notes in music is analogous to the increase dynamic. The connection to
natural logic would enable him to achieve the insights into the love he
desires. But if music is played to excess its effect will ‘sicken and so die’ like
odours that lose their sweetness.
Give me the excess of it: that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again, it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear, like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of Violets;
Stealing, and giving Odour. Enough, no more,
’Tis not so sweet now, as it was before. (1.1.5-12)
By characterising Orsino as a male who desires to mature from a lovestruck
state, Shakespeare recalls the dilemma of the idealising Master
Mistress. And by giving Orsino insights into beauty and truth and music
that the Poet derives from the Mistress, Shakespeare introduces the logic of
the Mistress sequence in the first lines of the play.
The inability of editors to understand the logic of the Sonnets makes it
impossible for them to appreciate the significance of the opening lines of
the play. And their ignorance of Shakespeare’s philosophy is highlighted in
the second half of Orsino’s speech where he compares the ‘spirit of Love’
to the ‘Sea’. Revealingly the editors make a telling emendation to the
punctuation in the first few lines.
O spirit of Love, how quick and fresh art thou,
Under the influence of Rowe from 1709, the full-stop after ‘Sea’ in the
Folio has been altered to a comma, and the ‘Nought’ reduced to lower case.
The commentators have preferred to read the passage as an extended characterisation
of the ‘spirit of Love’. The emendation, though, kills the original
meaning that characterises the ‘Sea’ or Nature as the contextualising priority
for the play.
That notwithstanding thy capacity,
Receiveth as the Sea. Nought enters there,
Of what validity, and pitch so ere,
But falls into abatement, and low price
Even in a minute; so full of shapes is fancy,
That it alone, is high fantastical. (1.1.13-19)
In the Sonnet logic, Nature is prior to the separation of female and male,
and the logic of increase. Sonnet 9 in the increase group introduces love
into the set conditional upon the acceptance of the logical relation of Nature
and increase. Hence love is consequent upon Nature and all forms of love
derive from the human potential for increase.
With the Folio punctuation, the ‘spirit of Love’ is intentionally characterised
as having less ‘capacity’ than the Sea, despite ‘Love’s’ ability to appear
‘quick and fresh’. Then, according to the Folio punctuation, ‘Nought’ enters
the Sea of whatever validity or pitch but encounters the priority of Nature.
So, however ‘full of shapes’ is the ‘fancy’ that is love, the Sea or Nature ‘alone’
is ‘high fantastical’. This reading is both consistent with the original punctuation
and consistent with the role of the Sea as the initiating cause and
contextualising entity of the drama.
Rowe, and commentators since, have preferred to convert the passage
so that it conforms to Judeo/Christian prejudices. When they hear ‘spirit
of Love’ they alter the sense so that ‘spirit of Love’ seems ‘high fantastical’
or God-like. If, for them, love is divine, and they need a Shakespeare sympathetic
to Christianity, then their emendation right at the beginning of Twelfth
Night engineers the sought-for reading. Ironically, they then continue to
denigrate aspects of the play as has happened from the time of Samuel
Johnson to the quibbles of his ‘worshiper’ Harold Bloom.
And Shakespeare continues to introduce elements of his Sonnet
philosophy. When Curio asks Orsino if he ‘will go hunt’ for ‘the Hart’,
Orsino deliberately misinterprets the request as a question about the state of
his heart. His pun on ‘Hart’ directs attention to the relation of the heart to the
eyes in the Sonnets. Sonnet 14 identifies the ‘eyes’ as the source of truth and
beauty, which give access to the heart. But the ‘eye’ is also the sexual eye or
the eye through which desires are realised. So Shakespeare has Orsino
combine the logic of the sexual and the erotic in his punning response.
Why so I do, the Noblest that I have:
The use of ‘mine eyes’ at this early stage in the drama continues the
introduction of logical elements from the Sonnet philosophy. The association
of the ‘eyes’ in sonnet 14 (and many other sonnets) with the logic of
truth and beauty signals Shakespeare’s determination to examine the
dynamic of truth and beauty throughout the play. The added combination
of the sexual and the erotic in these first few lines establishes the mythic
basis on which the comic drama will unfold. So within the space of 20 or
so lines Shakespeare has introduced the logical elements that ensure his
play will have a mythic depth independent of traditional mythologies or
mythological entities, and free of the illogicalities associated with prioritising
the biblical male God.
O when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Me thought she purg’d the air of pestilence;
That instant was I turn’d into a Hart,
And my desires like fell and cruel hounds,
Ere since pursue me. (1.1.23-8)
But Shakespeare is not finished. When Valentine enters he reports that
he was not admitted to the presence of the ‘Cloistress’ Olivia. Olivia, after
her brother’s death, is determined to seclude herself from the forces of life.
The play’s opening recalls Measure for Measure where Lord Angelo is the
blind idealist ripe for a fall. But unlike Angelo, Orsino has been given some
of the insights of the Poet of the Sonnets. For her part, Olivia the cloistress
is like Isabella the novice nun whose worldly inexperience made it difficult
for her to anticipate Angelo’s lust.
So please my Lord, I might not be admitted,
Shakespeare casts Olivia as a cloistress to critique both the illogicality of
biblical belief, which prioritises the erotic over the sexual, and the illogical
attitude toward death in idealist cultures. He contrasts the difference between
Orsino, whose insights into the logic of myth are captured in his awareness
of the logic of ‘mine eyes’, with Olivia’s ‘eye-offending brine’, which represents
an inversion of the eye logic of the Sonnets. The psychological basis
of Bible-based religions is epitomised in the lachrymal function of the eyes.
But from her handmaid do return this answer:
The Element it self, till seven years heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view:
But like a Cloistress she will veiled 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. (1.1.30-8)
Compared with the ‘spirit of Love’, which is able to be ‘quick and fresh’,
Olivia’s ‘brother’s dead love’ can be kept ‘fresh and lasting’ only in her ‘sad
remembrance’. Not only do her eyes ‘offend’ natural logic, her morbid desire
to keep a brother’s ‘dead love’ alive is symptomatic of the divine love kept
alive by nuns in their cloisters. Shakespeare reiterates his understanding that
love derives from the priority of sexual increase over the erotic mind, and
not from the worship of an issueless resurrected male God. Commentators
claim that ‘brother’s dead love’ is a quibble for the mutual love of brother
and sister, but the wording is specific in its critique of unnatural love.
Orsino ends the scene with a condemnation of the cloistered love Olivia
wishes to offer her dead brother. He predicts that the consequence of such
‘love’ for a dead brother will be the death of ‘all affections’ that ‘live in her’.
O she that hath a heart of that fine frame
Like the idealising and immature Master Mistress, Olivia has become full
of self love, and because of the extent of her disease she will make her inner
self her ‘king’. And because Orsino is sufficiently tuned to the Sonnet logic
to not want such a fate for himself or for her, he turns to the fertility of
Nature in ‘sweet beds of flowers’ where ‘love-thought’s lie rich’. He appreciates
that only love based in Nature can give voice to thoughts that represent
unprejudiced and unselfish love.
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
Hath kill’d the flock of all affections else
That live in her. When Liver, Brain, and Heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and fill’d
Her sweet perfections with one self king:
Away before me, to sweet beds of Flowers,
Love-thoughts lie rich, when canopied with bowers. (1.1.39-48)
When in the second scene Viola, with the ship’s Captain and sailors,
makes landfall on the beach in Illyria, Shakespeare establishes that the
shipwreck and the separation of the twin brother and sister occurred before
scene 1. Viola, at first wonders somewhat facetiously if her brother is in
Elysium or heaven, if by chance he has not drowned. The Captain reminds
her that it is by chance she was saved, and she hopes that her brother might
also ‘perchance’ be saved. Shakespeare ties the element of chance to the
separation and possible survival of brother and sister.
Viola. And what should I do in Illyria?
Viola’s acceptance of chance in Nature contrasts with the description
of Olivia as a cloistered idealist, who desires to keep the idea of her dead
brother alive. Viola’s role in the play, as the agent who liberates Olivia from
her illogical state, and as the eventual sexual partner for Orsino, is
consistent with Shakespeare’s logical insight into life and death articulated
in the Sonnets.
My brother he is in Elysium,
Perchance he is not drowned: What think you sailors?
Captain. It is perchance that you your self were saved.
Viola. O my poor brother, and so perchance may he be.
Captain. True Madam, and to comfort you with chance,
Assure your self, after our ship did split,
When you, and those poor number saved with you,
Hung on our driving boat: I saw your brother
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
(Courage and hope both teaching him the practice)
To a strong Mast, that liv’d upon the sea: (1.2.54-64)
In the traditional commentaries on Twelfth Night, Orsino is frequently
represented as a melancholic lover, but when scene 1 is read in the light
of the Sonnet logic it can be seen that he is more insightful than melancholic.
So when Viola asks the Captain ‘who governs Illyria’, he responds
that Orsino is ‘a noble Duke in nature, as in name’. Viola recalls that her
father mentioned him and that he was a ‘Bachelor’. When the Captain
mentions that Orsino was courting Olivia, Viola retorts ‘What’s she?’ Her
quick retort indicates a prior interest in Orsino that will be fulfilled at the
The Captain describes Olivia as ‘virtuous maid’ who, because of the
deaths of her father and brother has ‘abjur’d the sight and company of men’.
So both Valentine and the Captain characterise Olivia as one who nun-like
removes herself from the intercourse of men. Viola’s Sonnet based desire to
alter Orsino’s bachelor status will also be applied to Olivia’s recalcitrance.
Despite Viola’s status as a noble’s daughter she will ‘serve that Lady’ vowing
that she ‘would not be delivered to the world’, or give birth to a child, until
she has corrected the illogicalities behind both Orsino’s bachelorhood and
While Orsino has some awareness of the logic of truth and beauty and
its relation to Nature as the Sea, Viola enters the play as Shakespeare’s agent
who will ensure the idealistic selfishness of the Master Mistress evident
particularly in Olivia is overturned. The increase argument of the first 14
sonnets enters the play through the agency of the canny Viola, and the final
scenes of the play confirm the nature of her mission.
But Shakespeare not only establishes Viola in the role of the Poet of the
Sonnets who argues for the logic of increase to the recalcitrant Master
Mistress. He also has Viola cross dress to parody the illogicality of the priority
of the male God in biblical beliefs whose doctrines, contrary to natural logic,
foster cloistering as a higher state of being. Significantly, Viola asks the
Captain to disguise her not just as a male, but as a ‘Eunuch’ in a possible
reference to the impotency of the neutered male God.
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid,
Viola’s contribution to the logic of the play is to critique the sexual
inversion in the idealised male God and restore the logic of Nature. The
Captain summarises the intentional deceit in a wonderful bit of Sonnet based
paradox. If Viola is to be the Duke’s Eunuch, to parody his attraction to a
cloistress, then the Captain will be Viola’s Muse to parody the lie they cannot
speak. He realises that, ironically, if his ‘tongue blabs’, he will abjure the logic
of truth and beauty that Viola will demonstrate through ‘mine eyes’.
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I’ll serve this Duke,
Thou shalt present me as an Eunuch to him,
I may be worth thy pains: for I can sing,
And speak to him in many sorts of Music,
That will allow me very worth his service.
What else may hap, to time I will commit,
Only shape thou thy silence to my wit. (1.2.105-13)
Be you his Eunuch, and your Muse I’ll be,
Scenes 1 and 2 of the first Act quite deliberately lay down the logical
foundations of Shakespeare’s Sonnet philosophy and announce his intent to
critique and restore the illogicalities associated with those who take biblical
mythology literarily, as did the Christian sects of Shakespeare’s day.
If there was any doubt that the two scenes establish the platform for the
rest of the drama, Toby’s comment at the beginning of scene 3 restates its
When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see. (1.2.114-5)
What a plague means my Niece to take the
Toby sardonically compares Olivia’s seclusion to a plague. As the plague
was seen either as a judgment of God or the work of the Devil, he suggests
her attitude to death is as good as God’s plague on life. Olivia’s Christian ‘care’
for the ‘dead love’ of her brother is an enemy of the logic of life. Shakespeare
casts his play in the key of life or Nature rather than in the God of death.
death of her brother thus? I am sure care’s an enemy to
As is Shakespeare’s practice in other plays, characters such as Toby express
aspects of the Sonnet philosophy not because they are articulate in its logic
but because the philosophy is the philosophy of life effervescently evident
in all aspects of life. When Maria questions Toby’s irregular behaviour, he
intuitively objects to her strictures because he knows that being drunk is far
less an offense than unnatural cloistering brought on by to an illogical belief
in death. He also parodies the calls for undue modesty and order that institutions
such as the Church insist on to bolster their disregard for the natural
energies of life.
Maria. By my troth sir Toby, you must come in earlier
When Toby claims that his friend Andrew Aguecheek has ‘all the good
gifts of Nature’ even if Maria considers him a ‘fool’, Shakespeare again argues
that those with everyday faults of ‘quarrelling’ and ‘cowardice’ can play the
fool to those who much more seriously deny the logic of life.
a nights: your Cousin, my Lady, takes great exceptions
to your ill hours.
Toby. Why let her except, before excepted.
Maria. Ay, but you must confine yourself within the
modest limits of order.
Toby. Confine? I’ll confine my self no finer than I am:
these clothes are good enough to drink in, and so be
these boots too: and they be not, let them hang themselves
in their own straps. (1.3.122-31)
In the by-play that ensues between Toby, Maria and Andrew, Shakespeare
demonstrates, at this early stage of the play, how everyday language is
irredeemably derived from the sexual dynamic in Nature. In a passage full
of witty sexual innuendo, Maria insists on being called ‘Mary’, Andrew uses
the somewhat profane oath ‘Marry’ (a contraction of ‘by the Virgin Mary’),
and Andrew is reduced in the battle of wits to thinking he has ‘no more
wit than a Christian’. Shakespeare is relentless in challenging the Church’s
sanctification of virginity, and the witlessness of believers who are foolish
enough to see virginity as a life enhancing state of grace.
Toby. Accost Sir Andrew, accost.
Commentators attempt to blunt the critique of Christianity by
suggesting that the reference to a ‘Christian’ is a descriptive term for
‘ordinary man’. To sustain their deceit they remove the Folio comma after
‘Christian’. The context of the comment, though, coming as it does after
Shakespeare has established the logic of his philosophy in the first two scenes,
and the erotic by-play of the previous lines, leaves no doubt that he thinks
Christians are witless, despite the pretence that their faith in a male God
elevates them above the ‘ordinary man’.
Andrew. What’s that?
Toby. My Niece’s Chamber-maid.
Andrew. Good Mistress accost, I desire better acquaintance.
Maria. My name is Mary sir.
Andrew. Good mistress Mary, accost.
Toby. You mistake knight: Accost, is front her, board
her,woe her, assail her.
Andrew. By my troth I would not undertake her in this
company. Is that the meaning of accost.
Maria. Fair you well Gentlemen.
Toby. And thou let part so Sir Andrew, would thou
mightst never draw sword again.
Andrew. And you part so mistress, I would I might never
draw sword again: Fair Lady, do you think you have
fools in hand?
Maria. Sir, I have not you by’th hand.
Andrew. Marry but you shall have, and here’s my hand.
Maria. Now sir, thought is free: I pray you bring your
hand to the Buttry bar, and let it drink.
Andrew. Wherefore (sweet-heart?) What’s your Metaphor?
Maria. It’s dry sir.
Andrew. Why I think so: I am not such an ass, but I
can keep my hand dry. But what’s your jest?
Maria. A dry jest Sir.
Andrew. Are you full of them?
Maria. Ay Sir, I have them at my fingers ends:marry now
I let go your hand, I am barren.
Toby. O knight, thou lack’st a cup of Canary: when did
I see thee so put down?
Andrew. Never in your life, I think, unless you see Canary
put me down: me think sometimes I have no
more wit than a Christian, or an ordinary man has: but I
a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm
to my wit. (1.3.165-200)
As the erotic repartee between Toby and Andrew continues, their double
entendre on ‘tongues’ and ‘hair’ is enriched when Toby hopes a housewife
will take Andrew between her legs. Again commentators unnecessarily
emend words to cast doubt on the authenticity of the text, and hence
deviously undermine the patent meaning. ‘Cool’ in line 210 and ‘we’ in line
211 make perfect sense. There is no reason to emend them to ‘curl’ and
‘me’. Toby’s nature is sexually hot, and Andrew allies himself to the desire,
even if he cannot rise to the occasion.
Andrew. I’ll ride
Toby convinces Andrew to remain a month longer to woo Olivia,
although Andrew has said he prefers the safety of ‘Masks and Revels’. In
contrast to Andrew’s circumlocutory style, Toby advocates a direct approach
to sexual matters. After a few more sexual innuendoes based on dance
movements he reiterates Shakespeare’s intent to lift the ‘curtain’ on false
‘virtues’. Again he criticises the ‘Church’ for suppressing the natural virtues
associated with ‘making water’ and the dancing sexual ‘leg’.
home to morrow sir Toby.
Toby. Pur-quoy my dear knight?
Andrew. What is purquoy? Do, or not do? I would I had
bestowed that time in the tongues, that I have in fencing,
dancing, and bear-baiting: O had I but followed the
Toby. Then had’st thou had an excellent head of hair.
Andrew. Why, would that have mended my hair.
Toby. Past question, for thou see’st it will not cool my nature.
Andrew. But it becomes we well enough, dost not?
Toby. Excellent, it hangs like flax on a distaff: and I hope
To see a housewife take thee between her legs, and spin it off. (1.3.202-14)
Wherefore are these things hid? Wherefore have
In scene 4 the mutual attraction between Orsino and Viola/Cesario
intensifies despite or because of Viola’s disguise. And Valentine, when
questioned, vows that Orsino is constant ‘in his favours’. Orsino is determined
to break down Olivia’s decision to remain cloistered and to discover
the nature of his ‘passion’ for her. Perceptively, then, he has Viola/Cesario
use her apparent female/male characteristics to gain entry to Olivia.
these gifts a Curtain before ‘em? Are they like to take
dust, like mistress Mal’s picture? Why dost thou not go
to Church in a Galliard, and come home in a Carranto?
My very walk should be a Jig: I would not so much
as make water but in a Sink-a-pace: What do’st thou
mean? Is it a world to hide virtues in? I did think by
the excellent constitution of thy leg, it was formed under
the star of a Galliard. (1.3.233-41)
Dear Lad, believe it;
It is as if the restoration of Olivia’s regard for natural logic can best be
achieved through a person of ambivalent sexuality. If the Poet, according
to the Sonnet logic, has restored his unity with Nature by combining the
personae of the Mistress and the Master Mistress, then Olivia will most likely
respond to an approach that acknowledges her feminine nature at the same
time as it recognises the logical role of the male.
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. (1.4.280-5)
While Viola is unsure about the Orsino’s motives for testing Olivia, she
is clear in her mind about her own feelings for him.
I’ll do my best
When Maria and Feste enter in scene 5, they continue the sexual
innuendo of the previous scenes. Shakespeare is persistent in locating the
logical basis of language in the sexual dynamic in Nature. Language gains
its content from the natural logic of humankind as sexual beings, who must
increase to persist. Shakespeare’s language is able to represent any circumstance
between characters and events because it does not deny the logical
basis of language in the sexual/erotic dynamic.
To woo your Lady: yet a barful strife,
Who ere I woo, my self would be his wife. (1.4.292-4)
So when Maria challenges Feste’s absenteeism, he begins a repartee that
relates being ‘well hung’ to his wittiness, the word wit itself being a pun on
the sexual organs. Because Shakespeare has Feste acknowledge the sexual
logic behind language (with his speech being figuratively well hung) then
his language readily conveys his meaning despite his continual puns and
ellipses. Maria’s observation that Feste’s ‘foolery’ is in his saying and not in
his deeds neatly expresses Shakespeare’s intent. Feste acknowledges her
insight by suggesting that as a ‘witty a piece of Eve’s flesh’ she would be a
good match for Toby. Despite her somewhat dismissive response, Feste’s
prediction becomes a reality by the play’s end.
But Shakespeare’s intent is not merely to demonstrate the natural basis
of language. As he does in other plays where characters engage in mock
debates, he also intends to show the illogicality of traditional philosophical
argument that prizes validity above soundness. The entry of Olivia and
Malvolio, whose names anagrammatically suggest opposing instances of the
same illogical attitude to life, incites Feste to give an example of a ‘simple
Feste begins his exchange with Olivia by suggesting that a ‘witty’or wellhung
‘fool’ is better than a ‘foolish’ or sexually confused ‘wit’ or vagina.
Wit, and’t be thy will, put me into good fooling:
Feste’s sardonic wish, ‘God bless thee Lady’, echoes his similarly irreverent
call that ‘God give them wisdom that have it’ (1.5.330). Shakespeare
demonstrates the illogicalities of the Judeo/Christian tradition by showing
that the eroticism in its mythology acknowledges the logic of the sexual out
of Nature, so God’s ‘blessing’ is a mixed one.
those wits that think they have thee, do very oft prove
fools: and I that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a
wise man. For what says Quinapalus, Better a witty fool,
than a foolish wit. God bless thee Lady. (1.5.326-30)
Olivia’s response is to insist the ‘fool’ be taken away, but Feste retorts that
as she is the fool she should go. When Olivia accuses him of being a ‘dry
fool’ and ‘dishonest’, he counters with the mock syllogism. As he begins his
argument he associates Olivia with the illogicality of belief in the efficacy
of the virginity of the ‘Madonna’ or Mary the mother of God. Hence the
sardonic irony in the idea that God bless ‘thee Lady’.
Two faults Madonna, that drink and good counsel
Feste begins by parodying the traditional uses of syllogisms, which derive
a valid conclusion from false premises. The obvious unsoundness of Feste’s
conclusion that a ‘dry fool’ and ‘a dishonest man mending himself ’ is ‘no
longer dishonest’ is cause for humour. But his intention is to set up a more
damning argument about traditional attitudes toward virtue and sin. Olivia’s
(and the Mary the ‘Madonna’s’) so-called virtue of spiritualised celibacy is
a sin against Nature. When such a sin seeks to amend or alleviate sorrow it
is only ‘patched’ with a show of virtue. Feste’s mockery of traditional
argument then leads to his sound conclusion. The ‘calamity’ of Olivia’s cloistering
‘cuckolds’ Nature with worse consequences than for anyone who
might cuckold a partner.
will amend: for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool
not dry: bid the dishonest man mend himself, if he mend,
he is no longer dishonest; if he cannot, let the Botcher
mend him: any thing that’s mended, is but patch’d: virtue
that transgresses, is but patched with sin, and sin that
amends, is but patched with virtue. If that this simple
Syllogism will serve, so: if it will not, what remedy?
As there is no true Cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a|
flower; The Lady bad take away the fool, therefore I
say again, take her away. (1.5.335-45)
In his play titled Twelfth Night, or What you will, Shakespeare’s intent to
critique traditional beliefs on the basis of the Sonnet philosophy has been
laid down in the first few scenes. Already allusions have been made to cloistering,
Christians, the Church, Mary, and the Madonna. As Shakespeare sees
the whole play as a logical argument that establishes the soundness of his
Nature based philosophy, it is not surprising that Feste’s mock argument
should move toward the same conclusion.
So neither is it surprising that when Feste continues his exchange with
Olivia, and she brings her alter ego Malvolio into the debate, he persists in
referring to Olivia as ‘Madonna’. Most commentators, wishing to defuse the
critique of Church dogma, remove the capital M from Madonna, ironically
making a proper name read as a descriptive noun. If there was any doubt
that the butt of Feste’s previous ‘proof ’was Olivia’s decision to seclude herself
from the society of men, it is removed in his offer to ‘prove’ Olivia a fool.
Olivia. Sir, I bad them take away you.
Feste begins by asserting that to ‘misprison him’ would be the ‘highest
degree’ of error because it would be acting on a false belief. He encapsulates
the nature of such belief in the Latin motto ‘Cucullus non facit
monachum’, which translates as: ‘the hood does not make the monk’. Feste
challenges Olivia’s desire to remain cloistered. He advises her against
assuming such a practice because it leads to the ‘highest degree’ of error.
Feste refuses to clutter his ‘brain’ with the mental burden of such religiosity.
Feste. Misprison in the highest degree. Lady, Cucullus
non facit monachum: that’s as much to say, as I wear not
motley in my brain: good Madonna, give me leave to
prove you a fool.
Olivia. Can you do it?
Feste. Dexterously, good Madonna.
Olivia. Make your proof.
Feste. I must catechize you for it Madonna, Good my
Mouse of virtue answer me.
Olivia. Well sir, for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your
Feste. Good Madonna, why mourn’st thou?
Olivia. Good fool, for my brother’s death.
Feste. I think his soul is in hell, Madonna.
Olivia. I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Feste. The more fool (Madonna) to mourn for your
Olivia says she is willing to be proven a ‘fool’, but before Feste offers his
formal ‘proof ’ he further clarifies his intent by advising her he will ‘catechize
her’, or use her reliance on the simplistic doctrines of the Christian
Catechism to catch her out. Olivia’s ‘virtue’ is mouse-like both because it
is simplistic and because it undermines the natural virtue that Shakespeare
articulates in the Sonnets.
Then, with three simple questions, Feste proves that Olivia’s cloistered
attitude is illogical even in the terms of her belief in heaven and hell. As all
Christians presume their loved ones will be with them in heaven, because
in their prejudice they reserve hell for non-believers or evil-doers such as
murderers, then Olivia should have no need to mourn. If she did not believe
in heaven and hell, she would have no need for such psychological refuge
and would live life to the full, because in the natural logic of life, as sonnet
144 argues, the heaven of one person can be another’s hell.
Then when Malvolio speaks, his first words identify him as Olivia’s male
persona. But because, unlike Olivia, he has completely suppressed his
feminine sensibility he grossly manifests the effects of the religious prejudice
from which Shakespeare will partly deliver Olivia by the play’s end. Malvolio,
as the recalcitrant equivalent of the rival poets of the Sonnets, however,
reminds blindly conditioned by his selfish male ego. Like an unshakeable
Christian who bases his understanding of life on the fear of death, Malvolio
answers Olivia’s question about the logic of the ‘fools’ argument with the
appropriate bad faith.
Yes, and shall do, till the pangs of death shake
And Feste responds to the hidden agenda in Malvolio’s remark by identifying
God as the agent responsible for the life denying attitude.
him: Infirmity that decays the wise, doth ever make the
better fool. (1.5.367-9)
God send you sir, a speedy Infirmity, for the
In Feste’s response, Shakespeare uses the word increase to underline the
presence of his Sonnet logic, and Malvolio is then given the word ‘barren’
to highlight the barrenness of his own male self-possession. Malvolio’s egotistical
defence of his prejudices sees him attribute his illogical attitudes to Feste,
the same attitudes that are mocked mercilessly as the play progresses. With
pointed irony, Shakespeare has Malvolio the fool accuse Feste the mock fool
of needing a ‘minister’ to incite his wit. Yet it is the foolish ministers of the
Church, who incite their congregations or ‘Zanies’ to excesses of religious
gullibility, that are implicitly culpable.
better increasing your folly. (1.5.370-1)
I marvel at your Ladyship takes delight in such
The relationship between Olivia and her man Malvolio begins to unravel
right from the first attack by Feste on the logic of her behaviour. So, not
surprisingly, in her response she projects onto her faithful servant Malvolio
the attitudes recently revealed in her unnatural desire for a lengthy cloistering.
a barren rascal: I saw him put down the other day, with
an ordinary fool, that has no more brain than a stone.
Look you now, he’s out of his guard already: unless you
laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gag’d. I protest
I take these Wisemen, that crow so at these set kind of
fools, no better than the fools’ Zanies. (1.5.375-81)
O you are sick of self-love Malvolio, and taste
Shakespeare, through the gradual disintegration of the previously untested
bond between Olivia and Malvolio, shows how a natural spirit like Olivia, if
she does not find a way to recover her natural balance, can be driven into the
death psychology of religion with its preying ministers, especially after the
double death of a father and brother. Twelfth Night critiques the twelfth day
when the divinity of Christ was proclaimed by arguing against the death wish
explicit in the Christian eschatology. What you will signals the ‘free disposition’
available to those who do not take biblical mythologies literally.
with a distemper’d appetite. To be generous, guiltless,
and of free disposition, is to take those things for Birdbolts,
that you deem Cannon bullets: There is no slander
in an allow’d fool, though he do nothing but rail;
nor no railing, in a known discreet man, though he do
nothing but reprove. (1.5.382-8)
The arrival of Viola/Cesario at Olivia’s door heralds the introduction of
the female/male dynamic into Olivia’s cloister. When Malvolio goes to
question the visitor, Olivia shows that her understanding of her plight is as yet
rudimentary. She eases her conscience for her attack on Malvolio’s selfishness
by accusing Feste of insensitivity. But Feste parries the slight by suggesting
there is more brain to Toby’s drunken madness than she yet realises.
Olivia. Now you see sir, how your fooling grows old, and
After a further round of drunken and mad conversation between Toby
and Olivia, she dismisses him as ‘drowned’ in the ‘third degree of drink’. As
Feste leaves with Toby he says the ‘fool shall look to the madman’. The
sexual/erotic battle of wits between Feste and Olivia, to which Olivia has
been little more than a prompt, then has its counterpart in the conversation
between Olivia and Malvolio. Shakespeare shows that Malvolio’s vain
attempts at wit are uninspired because they lack the erotic edge of the natural
logic of language.
people dislike it.
Feste. Thou hast spoken for us (Madonna) as if thy eldest
son should be a fool: whose skull, Jove cram with
brains, for here he comes. (1.5.403-7)
Olivia. What kind o’man is he?
When Viola/Cesario enters, she is conscious of the need to both conceal
her identity from Olivia and do her duty for Orsino. The double charade
leads to innuendo and uncertainties as the two women look to understand
each other. Viola has the upper hand as she knows the extent of her own
deception, whereas Olivia can only use intuition and suspicion to gauge the
intent of the feminine looking boy before her.
Malvolio. Why of mankind.
Olivia. What manner of man?
Malvolio. Of very ill manner: he’ll speak with you, will
you, or no.
Olivia. Of what personage, and years is he?
Malvolio. 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: (1.5.444-52)
As Viola is Shakespeare’s principal agent in his comic drama, he has her
state that while she is not a ‘comedian’, she swears by her ‘profound heart’
that she is ‘not that I play’. Olivia in turn is given insights into the deception
inherent in a ‘Commission’ that is purely ‘Poetical’. If Viola/Cesario had
romantic intentions, Olivia announces that she is not in the mood to ‘make’
it with Cesario, because it is the time of the ‘Moon’when she has her period.
It is the more like to be feigned, I pray you keep
When Viola/Cesario claims she comes bearing an ‘Olive’, Olivia queries
her previous rudeness.
it in. I heard you were saucy at my gates, and allowed your
approach rather to wonder at you, than to hear you. If
you be not mad, be gone: if you have reason, be brief:
‘tis not that time of Moon with me, to make one in so
skipping a dialogue. (1.5.490-5)
Olivia. Yet you began rudely. What are you?
Viola’s answer is framed to have the maximum effect on Olivia. By
alluding to the way she was received by Toby and Malvolio, and by
mentioning the issue of virginity most pertinent to Olivia’s state of mind,
and by suggesting the matter involves divinity rather than profanation, she
gets Olivia’s undivided attention. But Olivia had veiled her face when
Viola/Cesario entered. In keeping with the Sonnet logic, and remembering
that Olivia wept ‘eye-offending brine’ earlier, Viola’s task is to convince
Olivia to lift the veil so that she can see her eye to eye.
What would you?
Viola. The rudeness that hath appeared in me, have I
learn’d from my entertainment. What am I, and what I
would, are as secret as maiden-head: to your ears,
Divinity; to any others, profanation. (1.5.505-10)
When Olivia relents and unveils to reveal her face and eyes to Viola/
Cesario, Shakespeare uses Viola to re-establish for Olivia the logical precondition
for truth and beauty. To sustain the illusion of divinity, Viola
parodies Olivia’s divine conceit by exclaiming, ‘excellently done, if God did
all’. But right at the moment of face-to-face or eye-to-eye engagement,
Shakespeare moves from the patronising conditional of ‘if God’ to Viola’s
statement of the basic logic of the Sonnet philosophy. Viola recites the logical
conditions for Olivia’s beauty and for its persistence.
Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white,
Viola’s short statement contains the whole of the Sonnet logic. In the plays
and longer poems Shakespeare uses the contrast of red and white in cheeks
or roses to symbolise the relation between the singularity of beauty and its
relation to the oppositional logic of truth or language. So ‘beauty truly’
follows on ‘Nature’s…cunning hand’ (read cunt), and beauty and truth
cannot be sustained beyond the ‘grave’ except through increase or biological
‘copying’. As Viola can now see Olivia’s eyes, she is able to begin returning
Olivia to her natural balance.
Nature’s own sweet, and cunning hand laid on:
Lady, you are the cruel’st she alive,
If you will lead these graces to the grave,
And leave the world no copy. (1.5.530-4)
But Olivia, as if anticipating 400 years of failed attempts to understand
the logic of the increase sonnets, thinks Viola means a literal ‘copy’ of her
features. Viola’s response barely conceals her frustration at the persistence
of Olivia’s Malvolio-like selfishness.
Olivia. O sir, I will not be so hard-hearted: I will give
Viola’s judgment on Olivia is that of the Poet for the Master Mistress of
the Sonnets. Olivia is too influenced by her masculine persona to hear the
sense in Viola’s prescription for a re-awakening to the natural logic of life.
Olivia has so lost her capacity for judgment that she would mistake the ‘devil’
for ‘fair’. Viola suggests that Orsino loves Olivia not because she is conventionally
beautiful but because he is in tune with Olivia’s repressed natural
logic. It would not matter to him how beautiful Olivia was if only she would
recover her insight into the logic of truth and beauty. The passage recalls
the early Mistress sonnets where the Poet says he loves the Mistress even
though others think her fair is black.
out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be Inventoried
and every particle and utensil labell’d to my will: As,
Item two lips indifferent red, Item two gray eyes,
with lids to them: Item, one neck, one chin, and so forth.
Were you sent hither to praise me?
Viola. I see you what you are, you are too proud:
But if you were the devil, you are fair:
My Lord, and master loves you: O such love
Could be but recompensed, though you were crown’d
The non-pariel of beauty. (1.5.535-45)
When Olivia asks ‘How does Orsino love me’, Viola describes his passion
with barely contained eroticism, reflecting both Orsino’s command of
his natural propensities and Viola’s own empathy with his philosophic
With adorations, fertile tears,
Olivia’s response reiterates her determination to remain cloistered despite
Orsino’s evident qualities.
With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire. (1.5.547-8)
Your Lord does know my mind, I cannot love him
In the first scene, Orsino revealed an interest in Olivia that equates to
that of the Poet of the Sonnets for the Master Mistress. His love seems
quickened by her unavailability and by a desire to get her ‘sweet perfections’
into ‘sweet beds of flowers’. Shakespeare now develops the drama to show
that Orsino’s failure to impress Olivia is a direct consequence of his being
male. Olivia’s cloistered sensibility, which overrides Viola’s erotic language
to detail a litany of virtues, needs a female dressed as a male to liberate it
from its singular habits.
Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
In voices well divulg’d, free, learn’d, and valiant.
And in dimension, and the shape of nature,
A gracious person; But yet I cannot love him:
He might have took his answer long ago. (1.5.549-55)
When Viola came ashore and adopted a male guise she imitated the role
of God in biblical mythology. God, who usurps the priority of feminine
Nature, is a cross-dressed female. His psychological role in religious faith
serves to bring those of Olivia’s disposition into safe contact with the sexual.
Appropriately, at the plays end, Orsino and Viola, who have the same sensibility
toward Nature and have no need of religious intervention, are matched
as ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’. And logically Viola prepares the way for her male
twin Sebastian to replace her in Olivia’s favours.
So when Viola suggests she might love Olivia in Orsino’s place, she sets
alight Olivia’s desire in a way Orsino could not. Olivia’s ‘deadly life’, which
is morbidly affected by her recent bereavements, is contrary to Viola’s appreciation
of the natural logic of life based in Nature and increase.
If I did love you in my master’s flame,
In a brilliant example of reverse psychology, Viola/Cesario tells Olivia
that, unlike the directly sexual advances of Orsino, she would evoke her
‘pity’ by appealing to her ‘soul’. Her blatant appeal to the religious romantic
in Olivia classically emulates the appeal biblical-based religions have for their
ith such a suffring, such a deadly life:
In your denial, I would find no sense,
I would not understand it. (1.5.556-9)
Make me a willow Cabin at your gate,
Traditional commentaries demonstrate their ignorance of the Sonnet
philosophy and Shakespeare’s ironic intent by emending the word ‘Hallow’to
‘Halloo’. The change in meaning dramatically reveals their inability to
appreciate Viola’s role as the bearer of the Sonnet logic, and as the female/male
with the sensibility required to ‘know’ Olivia’s ‘mind’. The ‘Hallow’ is in
keeping with Viola’s appeal to Olivia’s susceptibility to religious psychology.
And call upon my soul within the house,
Write loyal Cantons of contemned love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night:
Hallow your name to the reverberate hills,
And make the babbling Gossip of the air,
Cry out Olivia: O you should not rest
Between the elements or air, and earth,
But you should pity me. (1.5.561-9)
As Olivia senses the effect of Viola’s overture she wonders at Viola/
Cesario’s worldly status, and suggests she might come again. Viola increases
the psychological pressure on Olivia by saying she has been ‘cruel’ to Orsino.
When Viola departs Olivia revisits the logic of the eyes from the Sonnets by
acknowledging just how Viola has breached her defenses.
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Olivia impulsively sends Malvolio after Viola with a ‘ring’ as if she had
left it behind. Olivia’s willingness to deceive, counterparts the deception she
plays on herself with her voluntary cloistering. Again Shakespeare has her
recognise the significance of the ‘eye’. The combination of the ‘eye’ of the
mind and the sexual ‘eye’ of the body, symbolised by the ‘ring’, creates a
feeling of unstoppable ‘fate’. She does not realise that her intimation of fate
is a harbinger of the dramatic reality yet to transpire.
Me thinks I feel this youth’s perfections
With an invisible, and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. (1.5.590-3)
I do not know what, and fear to find,
Sebastian enters at the beginning of Act 2 with Antonio, who has just
rescued him from the sea. Their short exchange conveys why Sebastian is
an appropriate partner for Olivia later in the play. Compared with his sister,
the witty and inventive Viola, he is drawn to the darker side of events.
Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind:
Fate, show thy force, our selves we do not owe,
What is decreed,must be: and be this so. (1.5.605-8)
my stars shine darkly
Sebastian then tells Antonio that his father was Sebastian of Messaline,
and that he believes his twin sister was drowned. He reveals something of
their different temperaments when he says he values her not so much as a
beauty but as ‘a mind’.
over me; the malignancy of my fate, might perhaps
distemper yours; therefore I crave of you your leave,
that I may bear my evils alone. (2.1.614-7)
A Lady sir, though it was said she much resembled
But Sebastian’s most revealing characteristic is his tendency (like Olivia)
to cry, a trait he attributes to his mother.
me, was yet of many accounted beautiful: but though
I could not with such estimable wonders over far
believe that, yet thus far I will boldly publish her, she
bore a mind that envy could not call but fair: (2.1.633-7)
With Sebastian’s first words, Shakespeare establishes the basis for his
willingness to marry Olivia at the end of Act 4. His watery response to
Viola’s drowning aligns his melancholy psychology with Olivia’s. Sebastian’s
tendency to weep brine with ‘mine eyes’ keys his less circumspect disposition
to her ‘eye-offending brine’ from Act 1.
drown’d already sir in salt water, though I seem to
drown her remembrance again with more.
my bosom is full of kindness, and I
am yet so near the manners of my mother, that upon the
least occasion more, mine eyes will tell tales of me: (2.1.637-48)
The scene ends as Sebastian sets off for Orsino’s court, with Antonio
swearing to follow. As they leave, Viola enters pursued by Malvolio who is
intent on returning the ring. When she refuses to accept it, he tosses it to
the ground and says it is in her ‘eye’. His action and words unwittingly relate
the sexual eye to the eye of the mind.
If it be worth
Viola’s soliloquy which follows is incited by her realisation that the ring
is Olivia’s. Viola finds herself in a double bind. Because of her male disguise,
she cannot respond to Olivia’s infatuation with her pity-evoking female
persona. And she cannot declare her love for Orsino while she remains
disguised. Shakespeare captures the confusion that ensues when a female is
cross-dressed as a male. He neatly depicts the illogicalities that arise when
a male God usurps female Nature and so becomes impotent, and while he
remains in the neutered state, is unable to resolve the psychology of
stooping for, there it lies, in your eye: (2.2.670-1)
The measure of Olivia’s infatuation is that, even though her eyes are now
unveiled, she sees only Viola’s outer male guise instead of seeing into her
eyes. In the Sonnet logic, the Poet is at pains to get the Master Mistress to
appreciate the logic of the eyes from which he derives ‘truth and beauty’
(sonnet 14). He criticises the rival poets whose focus on the outward
appearance of the Master Mistress leads them to write verse with inferior
content. Olivia, similarly, loses her ‘tongue’ because she misuses her eyes. If
she could see clearly she would see through Viola’s disguise.
I left no Ring with her: what means this Lady?
Viola realises that Olivia has fallen in love with her male guise. Ironically,
Olivia’s ‘cunning…passion’, or the desire driven by her ring/cunt, is elicited
by a female dressed as a ‘man’. Shakespeare has Viola express a frequent
refrain of the Sonnets that the ideal conceals within itself it own ‘wickedness’.
She muses on the paradox that the male God’s ‘pregnant enemy’ is Nature,
the usurped female.
Fortune forbid my out-side have not charmed her:
She made good view of me, indeed so much,
That me thought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly. (2.2.673-7)
She loves me sure, the cunning of her passion
Viola reflects on the willingness with which some females conform to
male demands. In Macbeth Shakespeare not only has Macbeth exercise his
proud male persona in denial of his feminine side, Lady Macbeth, in her
drive to align herself with her husband’s male God driven thirst for power,
disavows her womanly capacity to suckle a child. Similarly in Twelfth Night,
Olivia is seen as one who is susceptible to the unwarranted influence of her
male persona. Viola distinguishes between the human ‘frailty’ of condoning
excessive male pride within ‘women’s hearts’, and ‘we’, or females as ‘such’.
Her role in the play is to demonstrate the way out of the male/male cul-de-
Invites me in this churlish messenger:
None of my Lord’s Ring? Why he sent her none;
I am the man, if it be so, as tis,
Poor Lady, she were better love a dream:
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much. (2.2.678-84)
How easy is it, for the proper false
Because the commentators do not understand the logic, they make two
telling emendations to the passage. They change ‘O’ to ‘our’ and ‘if ’ to ‘of ’
and move the comma, making it seem as if women are inherently frail, and
that since they are made that way that is how ‘we be’. The meaning instead
is that some women are more susceptible to male/masculine guile and pride,
but can resist it if they wish. The course of the drama bears out the logic
articulated in the Sonnets.
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms:
Alas, O frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made, if such we be: (2.2.685-8)
Viola is already aware of the nature of Orsino’s love for Olivia. It is based
on his natural desire to challenge her cloistered temperament. So when she
says Orsino loves Olivia ‘dearly’, ‘dearly’ means costly not affectionately. The
precedent for her insight is established in sonnet 31 where the Poet warns
the youth of the costly consequences of ‘dear religious love’. Only then does
it make sense for Viola to feel her love for Orsino is real, however
‘monstrous’ it might seem in her present disguise.
How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
The incongruity of the twisted gender relations in the biblical-based
faiths of Shakespeare’s day, while patently obvious to his brilliant philosophic
mind, must have made him reflect on the persistence of the iniquities of
belief that work against natural logic and common sense. Viola expresses
Shakespeare’s insight into the knottiness of the problem. And by the
play’s end Shakespeare illustrates the difficulty by leaving Malvolio as the
recalcitrant male who refuses to appreciate natural logic. Ironically, faith in
the pride of the male God leads some commentators to defend Malvolio’s
And I (poor monster) fond as much on him.
And she (mistaken) seems to dote on me:
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love:
As I am woman (now alas the day)
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe? (2.2.689-95)
O time, thou must untangle this, not I,
When Toby, Andrew and Feste again swap humorous jibes in scene 3 in
which Toby mentions ‘the four Elements’, Shakespeare’s determination to
parody the formalism in Aristotle’s syllogistic logic is apparent. Shakespeare
mentions Aristotle twice in his works but fails to mention Plato, suggesting
an empathy with Aristotle’s Nature based philosophy and a dismissal of
Plato’s idealist realism.
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie. (2.2.676-7)
The Sonnet philosophy is precise in recognising Nature as prior to all else,
and the youth sequence is devastating in its critique of the dangers of
excessive idealism. But aspects of Aristotle’s logic remained under the
influence of Plato’s idealised forms. The degree of abstraction in his logical
relations and the organisation of his metaphysics into the four elements is
the butt of Shakespeare’s wit (see sonnets 45/46).
Toby. Approach Sir Andrew: not to be a bed after
Aquinas and many other Christian apologists have used Aristotle’s syllogistics
to construct arguments to justify their illogical ‘faith’, and others have
explored the arcane possibilities of Aristotle’s division of the world into the
four elements of air, earth, fire and water. But Shakespeare reduces their
misguided rationality to the basic needs of life in ‘eating and drinking’.
midnight, is to be up betimes, and Deliculo surgere, thou
Andrew. Nay by my troth I know not: but I know, to
Be up late, is to be up late.
Toby. A false conclusion: I hate it as an unfill’d Can.
To be up after midnight, and to go to bed then is early:
so that to go to bed after midnight, is to go to bed
betimes. Does not our lives consist of the four
Andrew. Faith so they say, but I think it rather consists
of eating and drinking.
Toby. Th’art a scholar; let us therefore eat and drink. (2.3.700-12)
Toby and Andrew’s ‘arguments’ are absurd because any argument based
on unsound premises is absurd. Their conclusion expresses Shakespeare’s
conviction that only by grounding understanding in natural logic can such
absurdities be avoided. And more basic than the need to eat and drink is
the logic of increase, which is present in the erotic suggestiveness of the
When Feste enters, the mockery of scholarly learning continues with
the parody of stock clichés and Latin phrases, which he and Toby leaven
with gratuitous humour. If Shakespeare’s intent was not yet apparent to his
audience, then he brings it to a focus in Feste’s song. Toby and Andrew insist
on a ‘love-song’ rather that a ‘song of good life’. Their natural logic is based
in love and not pious hopes.
O Mistress mine where are you roaming?
Whatever the source of the original song, Shakespeare has adapted it to
express his Sonnet logic. In keeping with the previous mockery by Toby and
the others of Olivia’s cloistering, Feste’s song is an expression of the logical
requirement of ‘youth’ to acknowledge the significance of increase with the
Mistress. It laughs at the religious idea that ‘love’ is in the hereafter or God.
The words and the argument of the song are so faithful to the logic of the
increase argument of the first 14 sonnets that only Shakespeare could have
arranged its lyrics.
O stay and hear, your true loves coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further pretty sweeting.
Journey’s end in lover’s meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love, tis not hereafter,
Present mirth, hath present laughter:
What’s to come, is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty:
Youth’s a stuff will not endure. (2.3.739-52)
The singing of the song of increase immediately after the mockery of
‘faith’, and Aristotelian logic and metaphysics, confirms Shakespeare’s intent
to direct the characters in the drama away from untenable conceits so that
they can recover their natural logic. Comic characters such as Toby, Andrew
and Feste serve to anchor the argument of the play in the realities of life
and ultimately in the priority of Nature and increase over the hereafter of
God. Only then is it possible to gain a consistent understanding of the
dynamic of truth and beauty.
When Maria enters to quiet their behaviour, because it might disturb
the cloistered Olivia, Toby retorts that his consanguineous relationship to
Olivia takes priority over Olivia’s abstract fear of death.
Am not I
Then to emphasise the relation of the play’s critique of the presumption
of the ‘divinity’ of Christ on the Epiphany, Shakespeare has Toby remind
everyone of its title, though he muddles the months. (Folio italics.)
consanguineous? Am I not of her blood: (2.3.775-6)
O the twelfth day of December. (2.3.782)
And then, if there was any doubt about the point of attack, Shakespeare
has Maria exclaim, ‘For the love o’God peace’. And then again if there was
any doubt about the role of Malvolio as the recalcitrant adolescent male,
who defends the God-like ideal of sanctity, Shakespeare has him enter right
on cue. Malvolio announces that a blood relationship has little value in the
house of dead love and remorse.
Sir Toby, I must be round with you. My Lady
Then Shakespeare adapts another song to ally Malvolio’s eyes with
Olivia’s. He has Feste turn the more evocative ‘mine eyes’ from a 1600
version of the song to ‘his eyes’. The alteration aligns Malvolio’s lack of
insight into human nature with Olivia’s.
bad me tell you, that though she harbours you as her
kinsman, she nothing allied to your disorders. If you can
separate your self and your misdemeanors, you are
welcome to the house: if not, and it would please you to take
leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell. (2.3.792-7)
His eyes do show his days are almost done. (2.3.800)
Toby responds with the Sonnet logic that kinship or increase ensures there
is no need to ‘love’ death.
But I will never die. (2.3.802)
And Feste quips with a pun on lie, turning a deathbed into a love bed.
Sir Toby there you lie. (2.3.803)
When Malvolio departs, threatening to tell Olivia of the ‘uncivil rule’,
Maria characterises him as a ‘Puritan’ or Christian fundamentalist whose
sense of self ‘excellence’ is the basis of ‘faith’. Typically, as with those who
manifest such excesses, Malvolio’s ‘vices’ are all too evident to others.
Shakespeare casts Malvolio as an irredeemable Master Mistress of the Sonnets
because he refuses to recognise the basis of his blinding self-regard.
Maria. Marry sir, sometimes he is a kind of Puritan.
Andrew’s suggestion that he would beat Malvolio ‘like a dog’ recalls that
play on ‘God/dog’ in Henry VIII. That his reason for beating Malvolio is
‘good enough’ could be a pun of God’s supposed goodness, and Maria’s
oxymoron ‘devil of a Puritan’ is consistent with Andrew’s ‘reason’. To teach
Malvolio a lesson, Maria reveals a plan to drop love letters where he would
find and read them, and where he could be observed.
Andrew. O, if I thought that, I’d beat him like a dog.
Toby. What for being a Puritan, thy exquisite reason,
Andrew. I have no exquisite reason for’t, but I have reason
Maria. The devil a Puritan that he is, or any thing
constantly but a time-pleaser, an affection’d Ass, that
cons State without book, and utters it by great swathes.
The best persuaded of himself: so crammed (as he thinks)
with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith, that all
that look on him, love him: and on that vice in him, will
my revenge find notable cause to work. (2.3.833-45)
Shakespeare begins scene 4, as he did the first scene of the play, with
Orsino calling for ‘Music’ in the form of a song to counter the effect of his
‘love’ for Olivia. Again, Shakespeare relates Orsino’s love for Olivia to the
unthinking sensations evoked by instrumental music. Orsino is aware that
his emotional response to Olivia’s idealistic seclusion incites an intense but
untenable sensation of love. His overheated desire for Olivia requires more
than instrumental music if it is to be allayed permanently.
Not surprising, then, Orsino asks to hear Feste sing ‘that piece of song’
he heard the night before, which ‘did relieve my passion much’. He specifically
acknowledges that the ‘verse’ or words of the song would be more
effective than the ‘light airs’ of the instrumentalists.
Give me some Music;Now good morrow friends.
As Feste could not immediately be found to sing the ‘verse’, Orsino
suggests the musicians ‘play the tune’ until the songster is located. He calls
Viola/Cesario near to give her an account of his understanding of love.
Shakespeare has Orsino express the logic of love he articulates in the Sonnets,
and in particular the 14 increase sonnets. Orsino wishes to explain that his
love for Olivia is not based in ‘unstaid and skittish’ emotions (of which the
Poet accuses the Master Mistress) but in the ‘constant image of the creature’
who is the ‘beloved’. His attraction to Olivia, like that of the Poet for the
Master Mistress, is based more on a desire to correct her disposition, which
tends to tears and celibacy.
Now good Cesario, but that piece of song,
That old and Antique song we heard last night;
Me thought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs, and recollected terms
Of these most brisk, and giddy-paced times.
Come, but one verse. (2.4.844-90)
Come hither Boy, if ever thou shalt love
Orsino’s use of the word ‘Boy’, and his reference to the beloved as a
‘creature’, can only be understood in terms of the logic of the increase
sonnets. The first line of sonnet 1 states that ‘From fairest creature we desire
increase’, and the Master Mistress is referred to as ‘Boy’ 3 times in the set
but particularly in sonnet 126 where the logic of increase is brought to a
head. So Orsino, in keeping with his insights into Nature as the ‘high fantastical’
sea in the first scene, accounts for his love of Olivia out of the constant
logic of Nature and the consequence that logically creatures need to increase.
In the sweet pangs of it, remember me:
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 belov’d. (2.4.899-904)
So when Orsino asks Viola/Cesario how she liked ‘this tune’, her answer
matches his insight into the logic of love. Viola appreciates that instrumental
music can only echo the emotions associated with the ‘seat of love’ or the
heart. She knows that the sensations evoked by such music differ markedly
from the articulation of thoughts through song, verse, or prose. Viola
exhibits an awareness of the logic of beauty and truth presented in the
Mistress sequence of the Sonnets. And Orsino acknowledges her ‘masterly’
understanding by aligning it with ‘thine eye’.
Viola. It gives a very echo to the seat
While Orsino is focused on his mission to free Olivia from the grip of
her cloistering temperament, he has not noticed that Viola/Cesario has
recognised in him the temperament of the Sonnet Poet, a temperament very
sympathetic to her own. So when Orsino questions her as to the source of
her insights, the exchange is at cross purposes and for Viola beside the point.
Orsino’s use of Sonnet imagery such as ‘Roses’ and Viola’s reference to the
conditions of ‘dying’ and ‘growing’ indicate their common ground.
Where love is throned.
Orsino. Thou dost speak masterly,
My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye
Hath staid upon some favour that it loves:
Hath it not boy? (2.4.905-10)
The temporary offset between Orsino and Viola, though, is relieved by
the arrival of Feste. Orsino informs Viola that the song to be sung is ‘old
and plain’. His comment is reminiscent of the Sonnet philosophy where in
sonnet 76 the Poet says his poetry is ‘far from variation or quick change’.
Come away, come away death,
Orsino’s preference for a song that ‘did relieve my passion much’ is
evident in its unsentimental attitude to death. To counter death due to the
‘fair cruel maid’, the song regards death as an event that no one else can
‘share’. Only then, when there is no grave for the likes of Olivia to ‘weep
on’, might she recognise death as part of life and not an end in itself. The
song expresses the Sonnet understanding of life and death. In the increase
sonnets life persists through increase, while death is but an event in the
dynamic of life across generations. No wonder Orsino feels comfort at Feste’s
song that gives ‘music’ a significance the Poet argues for in sonnet 8.
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fie away, fie away breath,
I am slain by a fair cruel maid:
My shroud of white, stuck all with Yew, O prepare it.
My part of death no one so true did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin, let there be strewn:
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save, lay me o where
Sad true lover never find my grave, to weep there. (2.4.941-52)
Before Feste departs, he sardonically identifies the source of Olivia’s
melancholy with the God of religion who usurps the role of Nature, represented
in Twelfth Night by the ‘Sea’. Those ‘men’ who lack ‘constancy’
because they are melancholic over death, and have faith in the God of death,
should be ‘put to Sea’. Their idealistic ambitions, when faced with the
impossibility of having ‘everything’ and ‘everywhere’, might then accommodate
life (‘it’), which provides a ‘good voyage’ through wanting ‘nothing’
of such a God. (Commentators who identify Jupiter as the ‘melancholy God’
avoid Shakespeare’s critique of the death psychology inherent in the biblical
theology that promises a better ‘life’ in heaven, after preparing for that better
‘life’ through celibacy or worldly denial.)
Now the melancholy God protect thee, and the
Orsino corroborates Feste’s intent when he describes Olivia to Viola/
Cesario as a ‘sovereign cruelty’. He, though, is not attracted to her worldly
‘Fortune’ but, paradoxically, his ‘soul’ is drawn to the ‘miracle’ of life that
Nature has provided through her potential to increase.
Tailor make thy doublet of changeable Taffata, for thy
mind is a very Opal. I would have men of such constancy
put to Sea, that their business might be every thing,
and their intent every where, for that’s it, that always
makes a good voyage of nothing. (2.4.959-64)
Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty:
While Orsino reveals insights into the natural logic behind his love for
Olivia, Viola/Cesario’s role is to teach him how to graduate to the next stage
of listening. He needs to be taught why Olivia cannot love him, and so be
free to discover a woman more suited to his temperament.
Tell her my love, more noble than the world
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands,
The parts that fortune hath bestowed upon her:
Tell her I hold as giddily as Fortune:
But ’tis that miracle, and Queen of Gems
That nature pranks her in, attracts my soul. (2.4.966-72)
Viola. But if she cannot love you sir.
Orsino, though, is focused on the emotional challenge (announced in
the first scene) of overcoming Olivia’s selfish melancholic ‘spirit of love’,
and making it responsive to Nature, the high fantastical ‘sea’. He asserts the
love required of a male to overcome the resistance of a woman who has gone
against her inner nature, is greater than that a woman alone may experience.
Orsino’s sense of obligation to save Olivia from herself is conveyed in the
Orsino. It cannot be so answer’d.
Viola. Sooth but you must.
Say that some Lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love as great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her:
You tell her so: Must she not then be answer’d? (2.4.973-9)
There is no woman's sides
But Viola argues, from her vantage as a woman disguised as a man, that
a male has the same responsibility when exercising his feminine persona.
She wishes to take Orsino to the final stage of his awareness of the Sonnet
logic, by asserting that women ‘owe’ men the same lesson in maturity.
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion,
As love doth give my heart: no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much, they lack retention.
Alas, their love may be called appetite,
No motion of the Liver, but the Palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt,
But mine is all as hungry as the Sea,
And can digest as much, make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me,
And that I owe Olivia. (2.4.980-90)
Too well what love women to men may owe:
When Orsino asks a question of Viola’s ‘history’, he reveals his incapacity
to appreciate her challenge to his lack of awareness of his feminine persona.
Shakespeare anticipates the academics who will write volumes of speculation
about his biographical details, but who miss the simple logical insights into
the female/male and feminine/masculine relationships that permeate his
works. Viola in her double role as female and male is able to describe
Orsino’s unliberated feminine side. And her history is a ‘blank’ because it is
irrelevant to Shakespeare’s logical programme.
In faith they are as true of heart, as we.
My Father had a daughter lov’d a man
As it might be perhaps, were I a woman
I should your Lordship. (2.4.993-7)
A blank my Lord: she never told her love,
The passage recalls the ideas and words of the Sonnet logic that argue for
the return of the adolescent Master Mistress to the Mistress. A male is no
more than show if he cannot appreciate the implications of not developing
his feminine persona. The invention of God should not lead to male
hegemony but rather assist the male reconcile himself with the priority of
the female within high fantastical Nature.
But let concealment like a worm i’th bud
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like Patience on a Monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men say more, swear more, but indeed
Our shows are more than will: for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love. (2.4.999-1007)
In scene 5 Shakespeare shows just how gullible the immature masculine
mind is before the written word. Malvolio is so beguiled by his own idealised
self-image that he will accept without question a letter otherwise intended
to challenge his conceits. The written promise that his desires will be fulfilled
is enough to convince him of their immanent realisation. In the critique of
Malvolio’s impressionable mind, Shakespeare parodies those who believe
literally in biblical mythology.
Shakespeare’s critique of blind faith in the written word, and particularly
Christian dogma, is addressed in the first few lines of the scene. When
Toby encourages Fabian to ‘come thy ways’, Fabian replies in imagery that
is reminiscent of the Christian attitude to death and its sanctification of
Nay I’ll come: if I loose a scruple of this sport,
In just a few words Shakespeare conveys the complex relation between
the melancholy love of death and the valorisation of painful death as the
ultimate expression of faith. Toby’s response is even more direct in its identification
of Malvolio’s male-based self regard with the worse consequences
of male-based faith. Using the word ‘niggard’ from the first sonnet, with its
meaning of miserliness in respect to the logic of increase, Shakespeare
characterises Malvolio as ‘Rascally sheep-biter’. Recalling that elsewhere
Shakespeare alludes to the anagrammatic relation between God and Dog,
and that Christ is the ‘shepherd’ of the flock, the phrase could identify
Malvolio’s recalcitrance with a niggardly male Christ who plays God/Dog
to keep his flock in order.
let me be boiled to death with Melancholy. (2.5.1018-9)
Would’st thou not be glad to have the niggardly
Olivia’s man Fabian enters the play in scene 5. He has first hand
experience of Olivia’s melancholy spirit and Malvolio’s puritan excess that
pervades her household. Commentators wonder that his part might have
been meant for Feste, but Feste would not have been as delighted as Fabian
to see Malvolio bested.
Rascally sheep-biter, come by some notable shame? (2.5.1020-1)
When Maria enters, Toby characterises her as the opposite of the puritan
evil of Malvolio. As the ‘Mettle of India’Maria’s worldly-wise temperament
makes her the appropriate foil to Malvolio’s patent evil. Shakespeare recognises
that evil comes of idealistic posturing while good comes of a little
Here comes the little villain:How now my
Then Toby, Andrew and Fabian conceal themselves as Malvolio approaches
talking to his ‘shadow’. Malvolio’s conceitedness and his self-deceit
are brilliantly evoked in his self-addressed fantasies, and brilliantly parodied
in a continuous series of asides from Toby, Andrew and Fabian.
Mettle of India. (2.5.1029-30)
When Malvolio sights the letter, Shakespeare immediately takes the piss
out of him by having him note the three letters ‘C’, ‘U’ and ‘T’ and the
‘great P’s’. As his fantasies are dictated by his lust for Olivia’s ‘cunt’ he unwittingly
spells out the letters for ‘cut’ or the female organ, and identifies its
non-sexual function as the outlet for urine or ‘pee’.
Ironically Olivia’s sealing wax bears the impress of Lucrece, the heroine
of the Lucrece, whose idealised innocence left her unprepared for the
compromise of her virtue by her husband and the consequent rape by
Tarquin. Shakespeare identifies Olivia with Lucrece because she does not
appreciate the logic of increase in Nature and its implication for the correct
understanding of beauty and truth. Maria’s letter reinforces the allusion.
I may command where I adore, but silence like a
As Malvolio reads the letter he is so convinced that his fate lies with
Olivia he will dress and behave in a way bound to offend her. His self-regard
leaves him oblivious to his Mistress’s preferences. The passage also confirms
that, against the conventional reading, Olivia is ‘addicted to melancholy’
rather than to Orsino.
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore,M.O.A.I. doth
sway my life. (2.5.1114-7)
The commentators make two unwarranted emendations. They change
‘stallion’ to ‘staniel’ so killing the allusion to the winged Pegasus as symptomatic
of Malvolio’s idealistic fantasies, and they change ‘become’ to ‘born’
ironically using a word related to increase when the meaning is based on
the ‘stars’ that sonnet 14 slights as a source of truth and beauty. Malvolio
wants to ‘become’ great despite the logic of his birth and death.
Scene 5 also establishes the basis for the eventual marriage of Toby and
Maria. In its last few lines Toby recognises (echoed by Andrew) the qualities
of a woman who knows, as a ‘most excellent devil of wit’, how to ‘lie’ to
reveal the truth. In sonnet 138, the first of the truth sonnets in the Mistress
sequence, the Poet and the Mistress ‘lie’ to each other to reveal the depth
of their love. Unlike Malvolio and biblical literalists, they appreciate the logic
of words. As Shakespeare knew, if myth is taken to be true it is a lie and if
it is accepted as a lie it is true.
Shakespeare’s understanding of the logic of truth and beauty in the
Sonnets, and particularly the exposition of beauty and then truth in the
Mistress sequence, is critical for an appreciation of the plays. The characters in
the plays represent argument places in his critique of traditional beliefs and
for the recovery of natural logic. Immediately after the gulling of Malvolio’s
overwrought hopes, Shakespeare demonstrates through an exchange between
his two most Sonnet aware characters the logic of truth or the possibilities of
In the first scene of Act 3, Shakespeare emphasises that the lesson delivered
through the idealistic stupidity of Malvolio when confronted with
words is symptomatic of the psychology of belief exemplified by the Church’s
blind faith in the wording of the Bible. Appropriately Viola and Feste present
the demonstration of the logic of words. Viola has established herself as the
most insightful character in the comic drama, and Feste, as the clown or fool,
has demonstrated insight into the psychology of the other players.
Viola enters and greets Feste with a challenge that associates God and
Music. Her ‘‘Save thee’ is a contraction of ‘God save thee’ and her allusion
to instrumental Music begins the exchange by pointing to the form of
sensation or beauty generated in the mind through the intuitive combination
of ideas. The idea of God and the artificiality of Music excite the mind to
intensified internal sensations consequent on the logic of words and ordinary
sensations derived through the senses from Nature.
Feste’s responds not to Viola’s question about his means of livelihood,
but to the status of God and Music. He differentiates between where he
‘lives’ and the role of the Church.
Viola. ’Save thee Friend and thy Music: dost thou live
Viola extends the differentiation to include Kings, effectively identifying
Church and Monarchy as institutions that ‘stand by’ indifferently toward the
processes of everyday life.
by thy Tabor?
Feste. No sir, I live by the Church.
Viola. Art thou a Churchman?
Feste. No such matter sir, I do live by the Church: For
I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the
So thou may’st say the Kings lies by a beggar, if a
So immediately after Malvolio’s puritanical delusions, delusions ironically
driven by his desire to bed Olivia, Shakespeare identifies the two institutions
that benefit most from the unthinking devotion of the likes of
Malvolio to the written word. Then when Feste reflects on the nature of
‘words’, the mock argument turns to sexual matters (suggested by the idea
of a King lying by a beggar) to demonstrate the source of truth and beauty
out of the logic of increase in Nature.
beggar dwell near him: or the Church stands by thy
Tabor, if thy Tabor stand by the Church. (3.1.1221-3)
Feste. You have said sir:To see this age: A sentence is
In the Sonnet logic, truth and beauty are not self-subsistent. Sensation
and language derive their logic from the priority of Nature and the sexual
dynamic. The whole system hangs together to provide for the possibility
of acting and thinking in accord with Nature. When Churches and Kings
claim the divine right to supplant Nature and give God priority over
Nature, then their language is in conflict with natural logic. Feste not only
identifies the conditions that give words their meaning, he implicates the
‘Rascals’ like Christ and religious institutions that ‘bond’ words to
unredeemable and unnatural expectations epitomised by the association of
‘Word’ and ‘God’.
but a chev’rel glove to a good wit, how quickly the
wrong side may be turned outward.
Viola. Nay that’s certain: they that dally nicely with
words, may quickly make them wanton.
Feste. I would therefore my sister had no name Sir.
Viola. Why man?
Feste. Why sir, her name’s a word, and to dally with
that word,might make my sister wanton: But indeed,
words are very Rascals, since bonds disgraced them. (3.1.1224-33)
The mockery of traditional argument in the play reaches its pitch when
Viola asks Feste for his ‘reason’. Reason alone or the juggling of words does
not provide meaning for words. Together Viola and Feste play on the sexual
basis of language using words like ‘nothing’ or the female sex organ to
indicate the source of ‘reason’.
Viola. Thy reason man?
Feste is sufficiently aware of the logic of increase to know that anyone
who marries merely for the bond of marriage alone is a ‘fool’. As a
‘corruptor of words’, Feste counters the tendency for words like God to
assume unwarranted meaning. To protect against such foolery, the interrelation
between Master and Mistress should be encouraged, and Feste
alludes to the source of Viola’s ‘wisdom’ in her successful combination of
the feminine/masculine dynamic.
Feste. Troth sir, I can yield you none without words,
and words are grown so false, I am loath to prove
reason with them.
Viola. I warrant thou art a merry fellow, and car’st for
Feste. Not so sir, I do care for something: but in my
conscience sir, I do not care for you: if that be to care for
nothing sir, I would it would make you invisible. (3.1.1234-42)
Viola. Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?
Feste seems aware of Viola’s cross-dressed condition. He recognises that
Viola’s masculine persona is similar to that of the feisty Cressida in Troilus
and Cressida, who reveals the inadequacy of Troilus’ idealised expectations.
Because Cressida knew she and Troilus had differing temperaments, she
foiled Pandarus’ attempt to unite them in marriage. Viola acknowledges
Feste’s insight by playing on the need to ‘beg’. If ‘Cressida was a beggar’ it
was because she demonstrates the beggary of understanding in Troilus’
romantic idealism and so in Olivia’s cloistering. Feste has another stab at the
pretence of Aristotelian logic and metaphysics when he dismisses the word
‘Element’ as ‘over-worn’.
Feste. No indeed sir, the Lady Olivia has no folly, she
will keep no fool sir, till she be married, and fools are
as like husbands, as Pilchers are to Herrings, the
husbands the bigger, I am indeed not her fool, but her
corrupter of words.
Viola. I saw thee late at the Count Orsino’s.
Feste. Foolery sir, does walk about the Orb like the
Sun, it shines every where. I would be sorry sir, but the
Fool should be as oft with your Master, as with my
Mistress: I think I saw your wisdom there.
Viola. Nay, thou pass upon me, I’ll no more with
thee. Hold there’s expenses for thee.
Feste. Now Jove in his next commodity of hair, send
thee a beard.
Viola. By my troth I’ll tell thee, I am almost sick for
one, though I would not have it grow on my chin. Is
thy Lady within?
Feste. Would not a pair of these have bred sir?
Viola. Yes being kept together, and put to use. (3.1.1243-62)
Feste. I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia sir, to bring
Shakespeare has Viola and Feste demonstrate his Sonnet philosophy. The
sense they communicate through their nonsense makes more sense than
systems of belief that claim to be based on reason alone. Viola summarises
the exchange with an appreciation of the natural logic of words.
A Cressida to this Troilus.
Viola. I understand you sir, tis well begged.
Feste. The matter I hope is not great sir; begging, but a
beggar:Cressida was a beggar. My Lady is within sir. I
will conster to them whence you come, who you are, and
what you would out of my welkin, I might say
Element, but the word is over-worn. (3.1.1263-70)
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
When Toby and Andrew enter, Shakespeare has them parody the hidden
reference to God in Viola’s earlier salutation.
And to do that well, craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood upon whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time:
And like the Haggard, check at every Feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice,
As full of labour as a Wise-man’s Art:
For folly that he wisely shows, is fit;
But wisemen’s folly fallen, quite taint their wit. (3.1.1271-9)
Toby. ’Save you Gentleman.
When Toby tells Viola that Olivia will see her, his reference to ‘trade’
draws the appropriate maritime response that Olivia is ‘the list of my voyage’.
Shakespeare, immediately after the parody on the word God, reminds his
audience that Nature determines the course of his comic drama.
Viola. And you sir.
Andrew. Dieu vou guard Monsieur.
Toby. Et vous oussi vostre serviture. (3.1.1281-4)
The exchange between Viola/Cesario and Olivia establishes that Olivia
is captivated by Cesario and not Orsino. Olivia’s admission that she would
rather hear Viola speak than listen to the ‘Music from the spheres’, indicates
her willingness to relinquish the cloistered life. As the ‘Music of the Spheres’
is the Godly music of the heavens, Olivia’s ur-shift is dramatic. She then
associates the ‘Ring’ she sent after Cesario with her ‘shameful cunning’ or
her previous desire to cloister her cunt.
Give me leave, beseech you: I did send,
Olivia, though, draws from Viola/Cesario not an avowal of love but an
expression of ‘pity’. Olivia previously drew a piteous response from Viola
at 1.5.569. The difference this time is that she sees it as ‘a degree to love’.
After the last enchantment you did hear,
A Ring in chase of you. So did I abuse
My self, my servant, and I fear me you:
Under your hard construction must I sit,
To force that on you in a shameful cunning
Which you knew none of yours. What might you think?
Have you not set mine Honor at the stake,
And baited it all with all th’unmuzzled thoughts
That tyrannous heart can think. (3.1.1324-33)
Viola. I pity you.
As Olivia begins to surface from her male-God driven melancholic cloistering,
she is ready to ‘smile again’ in the face of the ‘world’. Shakespeare
has her use the metaphor of a ‘harvest’ to express her renewed sense of life.
She recovers her natural disposition by challenging her unwillingness to be
herself. When Viola faces her with a female/male dynamic it draws her out
of her male-God based melancholic death wish to appreciate the sexual logic
inherent in life.
Olivia. That’s a degree to love.
Viola. No not a grize: for tis a vulgar proof
That very oft we pity enemies.
Olivia. Why then me thinks ’tis time to smile again:
O world, how apt the poor are to be proud?
If one should be a prey, how much the better
To fall before the Lion, than the Wolf.
The clock upbraids me with the waste of time:
Be not afraid good youth, I will not hurt you,
And yet when wit and youth is come to harvest,
your wife is like to reap a proper man: (3.1.1336-48)
Olivia. Stay: I prithee tell me what thou think’st of me?
With the repetition of ‘I am’, Shakespeare deliberately parodies the
biblical assertion of the priority of the male God. Viola as the female crossdressed
as a male is not as she seems, just as God is not as he seems because
Nature is prior to the idea of God. But Viola admits that, for Olivia’s psychological
type, it ‘would be better’ if God’s inherently femininity remain
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?
I wish it might, for now I am your fool. (3.1.1353-9)
The effect on Olivia is to heighten her awareness of the dynamic of truth.
The cross-dressed Viola’s double nature incites the ‘love’ which paradoxically
confers meaning on the loss of ‘maid-hood’. Olivia is given insights
into the Sonnet logic in which the idea of selfish ‘love’ is called a ‘murdrous’
shame in sonnets 9 and 10. She evokes the image of the ‘Rose’ used
throughout the Sonnets as a symbol of beauty because within the Rose is
the shadow and together they reveal the dynamic of ‘truth’ in life.
O what a deal of scorn, looks beautiful?
Viola’s role in making Olivia see the ‘murdrous guilt’ in her cloistering
is complete (see sonnet 9). Viola can now act more resolutely as the ‘Mistress’
behind her disguise as a cross-dressed female. She treats Olivia to the pity
Orsino cannot provide.
In the contempt and anger of his lip,
A murdrous guilt shows not itself more soon,
Than love that would seem hid: Love’s night, is noon.
Cesario, by the Roses of the Spring,
By maid-hood, honor, truth, and everything,
I love thee so, that maugre all thy pride,
Nor wit, nor reason, can my passion hide:
Do not extort thy reasons from this clause,
For that I woo, thou therefore have no cause:
But rather reason thus, with reason fetter;
Love sought, is good: but given unsought, is better. (3.1.1360-71)
By innocence I swear, and by my youth,
When Toby, Andrew and Fabian enter for scene 2, Shakespeare again
has them parody the use of ‘reason’ in biblical thought and apologetics. The
exchange, which uses words such as ‘reason’, ‘argument’, ‘judgment’, etc.,
also invokes ‘faith’, ‘venom’, ‘by Mary’, ‘orchard’, ‘God’s light’, ‘Ass’, and
‘Noah’. By associating reason and faith, Shakespeare appeals to the imagery
familiar to his audience, but he also challenges their biblical prejudices
through the sardonic humour of his comic characters.
I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,
And that no woman has, nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.
And so adieu good Madam, never more,
Will I my Master’s tears to you deplore. (3.1.1372-77)
Andrew. No faith, I’ll not stay a jot longer:
Fabian and Toby convince Andrew to renew his courtship of Olivia.
They suggest he reveal his ‘valour’ by writing a letter that challenges Viola/
Cesario to a duel. The letter counterpoints the previous references to the
Bible. The pretence, prejudice, and lying in the beliefs based in the Bible are
parodied mercilessly by Toby’s prescription for Andrew’s ‘valour or policy’.
Toby. Thy reason dear venom, give thy reason.
Fabian. You must needs yield your reason, Sir
Andrew. Marry I saw your Niece do more favours to the
Count’s Serving-man, than ever she bestow’d upon me:
I saw’t i’th Orchard.
Toby. Did she see the while, old boy, tell me that.
Andrew. As plain as I see you know.
Fabian. This was a great argument of love toward
Andrew. S’light; will you make an Ass o’me.
Fabian. I will prove it legitimate sir, upon the Oaths of
judgment, and reason.
Toby. And they have been grand Jury men, since before
Noah was a Sailor. (3.2.1382-97)
Go, write in a martial hand, be curst and brief:
Both Sir Andrew and Malvolio are mocked in Twelfth Night for
their desire to marry above themselves or their understanding. While Toby
agrees with Fabian that the proposed duel between Andrew and Cesario
will come to naught because neither are fighters, Malvolio’s suit to Olivia
will lead to the further indignity of being incarcerated as mad because
his blind self-regard represents the worst of religious prejudice. Maria,
the pseudo Mary, draws the God/Dog connection between Malvolio’s
‘Christian’ temperament and ‘impossible passages of grossness’ in the writings
of ‘Church’ pedants.
it is no matter how witty, so it be eloquent, and full of
invention: taunt him with the license of Ink: if thou
thou’st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss, and as
many Lies, as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the
sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England,
set ’em down, go about it. Let there be gaulle
enough in thy ink, though thou write with a Goose-pen,
no matter: about it. (3.2.1421-9)
Maria. If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves
In his play deliberately called Twelfth Night, or,What you will, Shakespeare
reveals the inconsistencies of a Church-based faith in the divinity of the male
God. He offers instead the natural logic of the consistent relationship
expressed precisely in the Sonnets between the sexual ‘will’ and the ‘will’ of
into stitches, follow me; yond gull Malvolio is
turned Heathen, a very Renegatho: for there is no christian
that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever
believe such impossible passages of grossness. He’s in
Toby. And cross garter’d?
Maria. Most villainously: like a Pedant that keeps a
School i’th Church: I have dogg’d him like his murderer.
He does obey every point of the Letter that I dropp’d,
to betray him: He does smile his face into more lines,
than is in the new Map, with the augmentation of the
Scene 3 develops the roles of Sebastian and Antonio. Antonio reveals that
once he was in a ‘sea-fight’ with Orsino’s galleys for which he has not paid
his dues. Antonio’s quarrel with Orsino represents a ‘bloody argument’ at
sea in which the world of male egos is at odds with Nature.
Th’offence is not of such a bloody nature,
Editors change ‘lapsed’ to ‘latched’ in line 1504 because they think
Antonio is wary of being caught. But the logic of the passage determines
that he is wary he might ‘lapse’ into his ‘sea-fight’ mentality. Ironically,
Shakespeare has Antonio arrested when he steps forward to defend Viola in
the guise of Cesario, unaware that Cesario is Sebastian’s sister.
Albeit the quality of the time, and quarrel
Might have well have given us bloody argument: (3.3.1498-1500)
For his part Sebastian is depicted as one whose ‘eyes’ are still closed to
truth and beauty. Instead they are intent on viewing the sights of the city.
I pray you let us satisfy our eyes
It is left to Antonio, who is becoming aware of the implications of his
sea-based offence, to suggest where Sebastian might recover his insightful
‘eye’. He suggests he find a ‘toy’ he ‘desires’ in a ‘market’ suited to his ‘store’
or potential to increase. The logic of the increase sonnets surfaces again when
Antonio offers Sebastian’s his ‘purse’.
With the memorials, and the things of fame
That do renown this City. (3.3.1489-91)
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
When Malvolio enters in scene 4, Maria announces him to ‘Madam’
Olivia as one who is ‘tainted in’s wits’. And when Olivia puns on ‘Madam’
by claiming ‘I am as mad’, she admits to being Malvolio’s ‘sad and merry’
equal in ‘madness’. The close psychological bond between man and Mistress
You have desire to purchase: and your store
I think is not for idle Markets, sir. (3.3.1513-5)
I am as mad as he,
Then, appropriately, Malvolio’s ‘cross-gartering’ causes an ‘obstruction
in the blood’ brought on by Olivia’s ‘sweet Roman hand’. Shakespeare
associates Olivia’s morbid madness with the Church of Rome, itself ironically
the home of Pilate who sentenced Christ. And Shakespeare expresses
Malvolio’s contrariness to the Sonnet logic when he has him speak of the
‘eye’ in terms of pleasing appearance.
If sad and merry madness equal be. (3.4.1536-7)
If it please the eye of one, it is with me as the very true
The relationship between melancholic illness and the selfish sexual eye
is captured in the misunderstanding of the next few lines. Malvolio ‘wilts’
sexually, and ‘God’ provides psychological ‘comfort’ for his selfish sadness.
Sonnet is: Please one, and please all. (3.4.1544-5)
Olivia. Wilt thou go to bed Malvolio?
When Malvolio persists in acting out Maria’s letter to the word, Maria
facetiously parodies his ‘ridiculous boldness’ and Olivia suggests he needs
‘special care’. Malvolio’s willingness to believe the content of the letter mocks
the willingness of pedants who believe literally the words of the Bible and
Church. Shakespeare, further mocking the use of the Bible to understand
reality, has Malvolio look to the ‘lies’ of the Letter to interpret favourably
Olivia’s suggestion that he is ‘Midsummer mad’.
Malvolio. To bed? I sweet heart, and I’ll come to thee.
Olivia. God comfort thee. (3.4.1552-4)
Oh ho, do you come near me now: no worse
Malvolio’s exclusive use of ‘Jove’ contrasts with the other characters
regular use of ‘God’, and occasionally ‘Jove’. Shakespeare’s emphasises
Malvolio’s puritanical pedantry in his refusal to blaspheme in the name of
God. Ironically some commentators read the use of Jove as an indication of
censorship in Shakespeare’s day but the occurrence of God throughout the
play says otherwise.
man than sir Toby to look to me. This concurs directly
with the Letter, she sends him on purpose, that I may
appear stubborn to him: for she incites me to that in
the Letter. (3.4.1587-91)
When Toby, Fabian, and Maria re-enter, the excessive idealism of
Malvolio’s righteous beliefs is captured in Toby’s recognition that Malvolio’s
God has turned devil in the self-perfect man. The ‘private’ nature of
Malvolio’s delusion is made clear. The extended exchange baits Malvolio
by referring to ‘God’, ‘Lord’ and ‘prayers’.
Toby. Which way is he in the name of sanctity. If all
The sequence expresses the concern articulated in the Sonnets that the
idealistic Master Mistress’ selfish niggardliness sustains his circumscribed
world and leads to its logical opposite in unmitigated ‘murdrous shame’
(sonnet 9) upon himself. Malvolio, or any religious idealist, ignores the logic
that God and Devil are natural counterparts. So Toby’s characterisation of
Malvolio as having passed through ‘sanctity’ to become the Devil is
consistent with Shakespeare’s logic. Malvolio’s umbrage at being told to
‘pray’ is typical of those who think they have the ear of God. Their delusion,
though, aligns them with the ‘Fiend’.
the devils of hell be drawn in little, and Legion himself
possessed him, yet I’ll speak to him.
Fabian. Here he is, here he is: how is’t with you sir?
How is’t with you man?
Malvolio. Go off, I discard you: let me enjoy my private:
Maria. Lo, how hollow the fiend speaks within him;
did I not tell you? Sir Toby, my Lady prays you to have
care of him.
Malvolio. Ah ha, does she so?
Toby. Go to, go to: peace, peace, we must deal
gently with him: Let me alone. How do you do Malvolio?
How is’t with you? What man, defy the devil: consider,
he’s an enemy to mankind.
Malvolio. Do you know what you say?
Maria. La you, and you speak ill of the devil, how
he takes it at heart. Pray God he not be bewitch’d.
Fabian. Carry his water to th’wise woman.
Maria. Marry and it shall be done tomorrow morning
if I live. My Lady would not loose him for more than I’ll
Malvolio. How now mistress?
Maria. Oh Lord.
Toby. Prithee hold thy peace, this is not the way:Do
you not see you move him? Let me alone with him.
Fabian. No way but gentleness, gently, gently: the Fiend
is rough, and will not be roughly used.
Toby. Why how now my bawcock? how dost thou chuck?
Toby. Ay biddy, come with me. What man, tis not for
gravity to play ay cherry pit with satan. Hang him foul
Maria. Get him to his prayers, good sir Toby get
him to pray.
Malvolio. My prayers Minx.
Maria. No I’ll warrant you, he will not hear of
Malvolio. Go hang yourselves all: you are idle shallow
things, I am not of your element, you shall know more
Shakespeare’s awareness of the logical relation between myth and reality
gives his plays their unmatched veracity. His creation of Malvolio, as the
extreme exemplar of the melancholic type evident in Olivia, stages for the
audience the play’s critique of mythological fictions. Toby expresses the
If this was played upon a stage now, I could
Toby’s intention, together with Maria and Fabian, is to awaken Olivia
to the madness in Malvolio so that she can better know herself. They also
want Malvolio to do ‘penance’ for the madness of his pretensions, but
without making him ‘mad indeed’.
Condemn it as an improbable fiction. (3.4.1649-50)
Shakespeare contrasts the deep religious delusion sustained by Malvolio
with the romantic fantasies of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. If Malvolio is
susceptible to believe what he reads because of excessive self-regard, as do
Christians, Andrew is unable to write what he thinks because he does not
know what to believe about his chances with Olivia. Shakespeare assigns
Toby, Maria, and Fabian the role of bringing Andrew to an effective understanding
of his emotional miscalculations, just as they are called on to address
Malvolio’s more grievous religious delusions. Sardonically, Shakespeare has
Andrew call upon ‘God’ to have mercy on his and Viola’s ‘souls’ in their
When Andrew returns with his letter to Viola, Toby realises that the
‘extreme ignorance’ of the letter would not ‘breed terror’ in Viola/Cesario,
so he decides to manipulate the match by ‘word of mouth’. By exaggerating
Andrew’s ‘skill and fury’, he anticipates that they will both be so
frightened neither will fight.
When Viola and Olivia enter, they begin by discussing the state of their
emotions. Olivia, who has made no progress with Viola/Cesario, admits that
she does not understand her ‘fault’ of mind.
I have said too much unto a heart of stone,
Through Toby and Maria’s mockery of Malvolio and their lighthearted
mockery of Andrew, Shakespeare identifies the psychological components
required for the healing of Olivia. The psychological process will not lead
to insights for Malvolio or Andrew. The intent, though, is to transform
Olivia, who at least admits she has a fault. Shakespeare’s play is as much about
resolving psychological inconsistencies as it is about existing character types.
And laid mine honour too unchary on’t:
There’s something in me that reproves my fault:
But such a head-strong potent fault it is,
That it but mocks reproof. (3.4.1718-22)
Viola’s observation that Olivia’s emotional behaviour has its counterpart
in Orsino’s ‘grief ’ acknowledges that Orsino is drawn to Olivia because he
empathises with her lack of insight into natural logic. But to release them
both will require Olivia to accept the previously unacceptable. Like her
idealistic and melancholic servant Malvolio, she has to confront the evil
inherent in their shared love of death. She needs to understand that a God
who sustains her morbid attitude to life is Fiendish.
Well, come again to morrow: fare-thee-well,
Viola’s role as a cross-dressed female mimics the role of God as a crossdressed
feminine Nature. The doubts Olivia has about the ‘male’ with a
‘heart of stone’ are the same doubts believers have of God when he fails to
respond to their emotional needs. It is then that God is seen as the Devil.
But because Shakespeare’s cross-dressed female has adopted her role to
prosecute his intent, she is able by the end of the play to liberate both Olivia
and Orsino from the effects of Olivia’s God/death morbidity.
A Fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell. (3.4.1734-5)
Toby’s role in inciting Viola/Cesario and Andrew to a duel mocks the
aggression that develops between Christian sects who in Nature have no
reason to fight but are brought to murder and mayhem by the machinations
of the clergy and Church pedants. Toby begins by facetiously saying ‘God
save thee’, and claiming he does not know the ‘nature’ of the ‘wrongs’ either
has done. In keeping with the mockery of male-God driven conflict, he
tells each of the duelists that the other is ‘a devil’ (3.4.1754,1792).
To confirm the religious basis of the conflict, in an interlude with Fabian,
Viola says she would rather have a ‘go with’ or fight ‘sir Priest’ than ‘sir
knight’, implicitly recognising the point of Toby’s mockery. When faced
with Toby’s insistence that they fight, Viola wistfully asks ‘God’ to ‘defend
her’ knowing that both she and God as cross-dressed females lack the ‘little
thing’ or penis which would make them men. (See the concluding song of
Pray God defend me: a little thing would make
Shakespeare sustains the irony by having Antonio break up the fight
when he mistakes the female/male Viola for the male Sebastian. When
officers enter to arrest Antonio for his offences against Orsino, he challenges
Viola over the purse he gave Sebastian, but instead she offers to divide her
own money when he Christ-like accuses her of ‘denying’ him. The irony
is that the cross-dressed Viola’s denial of Antonio, who has previously said
he ‘adored’ Sebastian, inverts the biblical precedent.
me tell them how much I lack of a man. (3.4.1818-9)
Antonio and Viola then comment on ‘gratitude’ or ‘kindness’ in a ‘man’.
Antonio thinks his love of Sebastian will be lessened by Viola’s refusal to
admit having his purse, and Cesario/Viola, as the cross-dressed man, agrees
that ‘ingratitude’ in a ‘man’ is worse than other vices.
Antonio. Will you deny me now,
Antonio complains that he has plucked a man from the sea only to find
selfishness instead of unselfish love. Like the Poet of the Sonnets, who
upbraids the Master Mistress for his lack of awareness of natural logic,
Antonio is aghast at the apparent turnaround in Sebastian’s temperament.
For her part, Viola speaks from the perspective of the female who knows
that the male should be ‘grateful’ for his derivation from the female above
any other fault.
Is’t possible that my deserts to you
Can lack persuasion. Do not tempt my misery,
Lest that it make me so unsound a man
As to upbraid you with those kindnesses
That I have done for you.
Viola. I know of none,
Nor know I you by voice, or any feature:
I hate ingratitude more in a man,
Than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice, whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood. (3.4.1865-76)
When Antonio exclaims, ‘O heavens themselves’, he tacitly acknowledges
that the fault of ‘ingratitude’ and the inability to comprehend the
source of the ‘vices’ derives from the male-God ‘heavens’. Shakespeare
emphasises the point by having Antonio identify the logical cause of
Sebastian/Cesario’s seeming about face. He accuses Cesario of rejecting love
based in the natural logic of the ‘sea’ in preference for a God-like ‘idol’.
Antonio’s speech, like that of Viola at 1.5.530, anchors the drama in the
Let me speak a little. This youth that you see here,
The irony is profound. If Antonio had confronted the real Sebastian with
a deed of ingratitude, the evil of the deed would be measured against the
quiddity of the male. But instead he confronts Viola/Cesario, the crossdressed
female, and so Shakespeare directs his attack on the cross-dressed
male idol God who usurps the priority of Nature. And Shakespeare is
insistent that the fault does not devolve upon Nature at large, but like the
conceit of biblical belief, is a fault of the mind alone. The theme pervades
Shakespeare’s works and is given precise expression in his long poem of 1593,
Lucrece. There he says,
I snatch’d one half out of the jaws of death,
Reliev’d him with such sanctity of love;
And to his image, which me thought did promise
Most venerable worth, did I devotion.
But oh, how vild an idol proves this God:
Thou hast Sebastian done good feature, shame.
In Nature, there’s no blemish but the mind:
None can be call’d deformed, but the unkind.
Virtue is beauty, but the beauteous evil
Are empty trunks, o’er-flourish’d by the devil. (3.4.1879-90)
For marks descried in men’s nativity
Although the arresting officer comments that Antonio ‘grows mad’,
Viola is affected by his sincerity and veracity. She after all is well placed to
be conscious of the duplicity of male pretensions.
Are nature’s faults, not heir own infamy. (Lucrece, 538-9)
Me thinks his words do from such a passion fly
Viola affirms the Sonnet logic in which true love is derived from Nature
and not a mind-based God. Her brother is ‘living in my glass’ (which recalls
sonnet 3 of the increase group), and so is a witness to the power of Nature.
And Viola acknowledges that even a ‘tempest’ has a ‘kindness’compared with
the vices practiced by those who believe in God.
That he believes himself, so do not I:
Prove true imagination, oh prove true,
That I dear brother, be now ta’en for you.
He nam’d Sebastian: I my brother know
Yet living in my glass: even such, and so
In favour was my Brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, colour, ornament,
For him I imitate: Oh if it prove,
Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love. (3.4.1894-905)
Fabian confirms Shakespeare’s investigation of the effects of belief when,
believing Viola a male, he characterises her as a ‘religious coward’. And Toby,
in a sexual allusion, predicts that they have seen ‘nothing yet’.
When Sebastian and Feste enter at the beginning of Act 4, Feste
continues the play on ‘belief ’ and ‘faith’. He also intuits that if Sebastian’s
name is not Cesario, then ‘Nothing that is so, is so’. The ‘World’ in which
the ‘word of some great man’ is applied to a ‘fool’ is too strange. The
mistaken identity, where a male is confused with a cross-dressed female,
replicates the illogicality of mistaking a male-God for Nature. The confusion
is parodied when Toby and Fabian reenter to stage-manage the duel between
romantic Andrew and Cesario/Viola. The crossing-dressing of gender roles
typical of biblical-based beliefs inevitably gives rise to violence, as it did
between the religious sects of Shakespeare’s day.
Olivia enters and dismisses all but Sebastian who intuitively recognises
his soul-mate and agrees to accompany her to her house.
I prithee gentle friend,
To Sebastian the invitation is the fulfillment of a ‘dream’.
Let thy fair wisdom, not thy passion sway
In this uncivil, and unjust extent
Against thy peace
Thou shall not choose but go:
Do not deny, beshrew his soul for me,
He started one poor heart of mine, in thee. (4.1.1968-76)
What relish is in this? How runs the stream?
Sebastian’s recognition of a fellow dreamer who is fascinated by ‘Lethe’-
like death, allows him to accept the logical priority of a woman who asks
if he would be ‘ruled by me’. Shakespeare’s Sonnet philosophy ensures that
those who recognise their correct place in Nature’s logic find happiness.
Or am I mad, or else this is a dream:
Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steepe,
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep. (4.1.1977-80)
Shakespeare’s intention to recover the natural logic of life, and demonstrate
the psychological basis of belief in a male God, is given clear expression
when Maria encourages Feste to adopt the guise of a Curate. Feste appreciates
that the nature of belief will ‘dissemble’ life, and laconically wishes he
was the first ever to have done so.
Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble my self
Feste comments that, like the old hermit of Prague who never saw ‘pen
and ink’, he is a Parson and that’s the way it is. Shakespeare establishes the
relation between the ability to read and write and the capacity to see through
the mythological constructs of the Bible that are based on the written word.
The issue is critical to the exchange that follows between Feste and Malvolio.
When Feste presents himself as the Curate he calls Malvolio a ‘lunatic’.
in’t, and I would I were the first that ever dissembled
in such a gown. I am not tall enough to become the
function well, nor lean enough to be thought a good
Student: but to be said an honest man and a good housekeeper
goes as fairly, as to say, a careful man, and a great
Malvolio’s male orientated mind reveals its imbalance in his delusions about
Olivia. Feste recognises the problem as too much faith in a God turned
Out hyperbolical fiend, how vexest thou this
Appropriately Malvolio’s male God driven pride has cast him into the
‘darkness’ of a virtual hell. Feste rebukes him by saying that an honest devil
is less an evil than the ‘Satan’ generated though over-idealised expectations.
man? Talkest thou of nothing but of Ladies? (4.2.2011-2)
Fie, thou dishonest satan: I call thee by the
When Malvolio insists he is not ‘mad’, Feste dismisses his problem as
‘ignorance’. For Shakespeare, Malvolio’s ignorance is ignorance of Nature’s
most modest terms, for I am one of those gentle ones,
that will use the devil himself with courtesy: say’st thou
that house is dark? (4.2.2017-21)
Madman thou errest: I say there is no darkness
But Malvolio, the determined male-God loving idealist who is unwilling
to see the measure of his offence against natural logic, regards himself as an
but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the
Egyptians in their fog. (4.2.2028-30)
I say this house is as dark as Ignorance, though
Malvolio’s offer to have his madness tested by ‘any constant question’ is
taken up by Feste. Shakespeare bases Feste’s question in Pythagoras rather
the Aristotle. While he mentions Aristotle in his works if only to
acknowledge Aristotle’s determination to base his philosophy on natural
principles, he has little interest in Plato’s metaphysics which postulated an
ideal imaginary soul prior to human existence.
Ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say there was
never man thus abused, I am no more mad than you are,
make the trial of it in any constant question. (4.2.2031-4)
So the reference to Pythagoras, whose doctrine of metempsychosis
asserted that human souls transmigrated to animals, provides an opportunity
to ridicule Platonic type fantasies in the light of the natural logic of the
Sonnet philosophy. When in the first few lines Orsino compared ‘shapes’ of
‘fancy’ with the ‘high fantastical’ sea, Shakespeare sets up Pythagoras as a
classic example of simplemindedness. Like a typical fantasist Malvolio falls
for Feste’s ploy.
Feste. What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning
To give Malvolio a chance to reconsider his beliefs, Feste says he must
remain in ‘darkness’ until he forgoes his idealised fantasies and accepts the
logic of the natural world. Toby affirms that ‘I would we were well rid of
Malvolio. That the soul of our grandam, might happily
inhabit a bird.
Feste. What think’st thou of his opinion.
Malvolio. I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve
Feste. Fare thee well: remain thou still in darkness,
thou shalt hold th’opinion of Pythagoras, ere I will allow
of thy wits, and fear to kill a Woodcock, lest thou dispossess
the soul of thy grandam. (4.2.2035-45)
Shakespeare sustains the attack on the illogicalities of Platonic metaphysics
and its influence on Christian thinking when Feste returns to Malvolio as
Feste. In keeping with the activity in the previous scenes of writing ‘Letters’
or Bibles, Malvolio asks for ‘a Candle, pen, ink, and paper’. Feste asks how he
came to be out of his ‘five wits’ (recalling sonnet 141 that discusses the relation
between the five senses and the five wits). The distinction is crucial because
Shakespeare is concerned with blemishes within the mind and not the direct
influence of sensations acquired through the senses.
Feste. Alas sir, how fell you besides your five wits?
Shakespeare has implicated Curates, Parsons, and now Ministers in the
fraud perpetrated by excessive idealists like Malvolio. And Ministers are Asses
because, like the Christ represented in the New Testament, they travel with
false humility to perpetrate a metaphysical charade on the psychologically
vulnerable. Feste makes the connection between the ‘heavens’ and the
mythological status of the Bible when he resumes his guise as ‘Minister’.
Malvolio. Fool, there was never man so notoriously
abus’d: I am as well in my wits (fool) as thou art.
Feste. But as well: then you are mad indeed, if you be
no better in your wits than a fool.
Malvolio. They have here propertied me: keep me in
darkness, send Ministers to me, Asses, and do all they
can to face me out of my wits. (4.2.2071-8)
Advise you what you say: the Minister is here.
In an exchange with himself as Topaz, Feste suggests ‘God buy’ you
‘good’. Editors remove the intended bite in the idea that ‘God’ purchases
‘good’ for his clergy because they buy favours from the likes of Malvolio.
Most editors also misallocate the roles to enforce their preferred meaning.
Malvolio, Malvolio, thy wits the heavens restore: endeavour
thy self to sleep, and leave thy vain bibble
Maintain no words with him good fellow.
As Shakespeare continues to develop the relation between writing and
lies, Malvolio persists in asking for ‘ink, paper, and light’. Feste sums up the
possibilities in that Malvolio is either ‘mad’, or he wishes to ‘counterfeit’ the
Who I sir, not I sir. God buy you good sir Topas:
Marry Amen. I will sir, I will. (4.2.2084-6)
Malvolio. By this hand I am: good fool, some ink,
Feste turns around the order of Malvolio’s request to emphasise his need
to see the light of common sense. In his song that closes the scene Feste
repeats the concern that those, who cry ‘devil’ in a rage, wave nothing but
a wooden dagger compared with the ‘good man’ ‘dad’ or God who is a
‘devil’ behind his idealised face.
paper and light: and convey what I will set down to my
Lady: it shall advantage thee more, than ever the
bearing of Letter did.
Feste. I will help you to’t. But tell me true, are you not
mad indeed, or do you but counterfeit.
Malvolio. Believe me I am not, I tell thee true.
Feste. Nay, I’ll nere believe a madman till I see his brains.
I will fetch you light, and paper, and ink. (4.2.2094-102)
I am gone sir, and anon sir,
In the short third scene to Act 4, Sebastian muses at his unexpected love
for Olivia. His brinish temperament has not prepared him for the love he
now feels toward the melancholic Olivia. As his reason has no answers he
says he is ready to ‘mistrust’ his ‘eyes’, the eyes that he has not yet used to
assess truth and beauty. Shakespeare has him seek Antonio, who has demonstrated
an awareness of natural logic.
I’ll be with you again:
In a trice, like to the old vice,
your need to sustain.
Who with a dagger of lath, in his rage and his wrath,
cries ah ha, to the devil:
Like a mad lad, pare thy nails dad,
Adieu good man devil. (4.2.2105-12)
His counsel now might do me golden service,
But Sebastian observes that aside from Olivia’s psychological tendency
to tears, she seems normal. And when she enters she has already arranged
for a ‘holy man’ to wed them.
For though my soul disputes well with my sense,
That this may be some error, but no madness,
Yet doth this accident and flood of Fortune,
So far exceed all instance, all discourse,
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes,
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust, but that I am mad,
Or else the Lady’s mad; (4.3.2122-30)
And underneath that consecrated roof,
In her desire to wed, Olivia reveals a state of mind that needs the
comfort of the Church to attain a measure of ‘peace’. Shakespeare has,
from the beginning, indicated that Olivia and Sebastian have temperaments
not sufficiently circumspect to see into the ‘eyes’ that reveal the
natural logic of truth and beauty. Their melancholic dispositions are more
suited to Church bound succour. Fittingly, in Twelfth Night, Olivia and
Sebastian are married at the end of scene 4 so that Viola and the Duke are
free to commit to each other without the psychological constructs of faith
and Church at the play’s end.
Plight me the full assurance of your faith,
That my most jealous, and too doubtful soul
May live at peace. (4.3.2140-3)
At the beginning of Act 5, after Fabian’s play on the word ‘dog’ in
response to Feste’s unwillingness to show him Malvolio’s ‘Letter’, Feste gives
Orsino a lesson in the logic of truth consistent with that presented in the
Mistress sequence of the Sonnets. To Orsino’s enquiry as to how he ‘does’,
Feste replies with a seeming paradox.
Feste. Truly sir, the better for my foes, and the worse
While Orsino is aware of the priority of ‘high fantastical’ Nature over
other fancies, he is not proficient in the logic of truth and beauty. He is
drawn to Olivia more for her ignorance of its logic than by his command
of truth and beauty consequent upon the logic. As the time nears for Viola
to abandon her cross-dress disguise, Orsino first needs a lesson in the
dynamic of truth and beauty. He needs to understand that the dynamic of
true and false is not determined by social conventions but is apparent only
in its logical relation with Nature. If Orsino were fully in command of his
mind he would have already recognised his soul mate in the guise of Cesario.
for my friends.
Orsino. Just the contrary: the better for thy friends.
Feste. No sir, the worse.
Orsino. How can that be? (5.1.2165-9)
Marry sir, they praise me, and make an ass of me,
Feste treats Orsino to a lessen in pure natural logic. Orsino is struck as
if by a revelation and responds, ‘this is excellent’. Then in a word-play on
the sub-meanings of coin, Feste obliquely advises Orsino to start thinking
about having sex with Viola.
now my foes tell me plainly, I am an Ass: so that by my
foes sir, I profit in the knowledge of my self, and by my
friends I am abused: so that conclusions as to be kisses, if
your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why
then the worse for my friends, and the better for my foes. (5.1.2170-5)
Put your grace in your pocket sir, for this once,
He suggests Orsino has a ‘good play’ and that he should let his ‘bounty
take a nap’ until he returns to ‘wake it’.
And let your flesh and blood obey it. (5.1.2183-4)
When Antonio re-enters with the officers, Orsino and the first Officer
recognise him as a ‘pirate’ who fought at ‘sea’. Antonio’s role as the ‘saltwater
Thief ’ rescuer of Sebastian makes him the intermediary between
Nature and the others who are in varying degrees divorced from their natural
logic. Viola intervenes to defend Antonio for his defence of her at the duel,
and he insists he was not a ‘Thief, or Pirate’ but agrees he was Orsino’s
enemy. Instead he describes his experiences in terms consistent with the
A witchcraft drew me hither:
In Macbeth, the Witches who open the play are the female element
introduced after the thunder of Nature. Their role is confirmed when the
license they take with the immature idealist Macbeth is later moderated by
the more mature Hecat who restores the balance of the Sonnet logic. So
Antonio’s recognition that ‘witchcraft’ drew him ‘here’ acknowledges the
logical priority of the female over the male. His accusation that Viola as
Cesario is an ungrateful ‘boy’ for rejecting his ‘love’, although he mistakes her
for Sebastian, makes the logical point that any male who tries to ignore the
consequence of enraging the ‘rude seas’ (or Nature) can still incur her ‘wrack’
to end ‘life’ at any time.
That most ingrateful boy there by your side,
From the rude seas enrag’d and foamy mouth
Did I redeem: a wrack past hope he was:
His life I gave him, and did thereto add
My love without retention, or restraint,
All in his dedication. (5.1.2228-34)
The words ‘boy’ and ‘wrack’ and the theme of Antonio’s concern recall
sonnet 126, the final sonnet of the Master Mistress sequence. Antonio’s role
as a ‘redeemer’ of ‘life’ is in contrast to Christ’s role as the symbol for death
as life in heaven. And the generality of Antonio’s point is captured in his
intuition that Viola acts with ‘false cunning’. In the Sonnets, and in plays like
Macbeth, both the male and the masculine persona of the female is in danger
of Nature’s wrack. Most editors change ‘wrack’ to ‘wreck’ because they do
not appreciate the intent of the Sonnet logic.
When Olivia enters she mistakes Viola for Sebastian and expects she/he
will honour their marriage. And when Viola suggests she speak to Orsino
she rates his words ‘as howling after Music’, recalling the earlier characterisation
of Music as undifferentiated sensation. But then Orsino identifies his
regard for Olivia as ‘devotion’ of his ‘soul’ to her ‘Altars’, confirming that
her appeal has been more for her cloistered unassailability than for her flesh
What to perverseness? You uncivil Lady
Olivia appreciates that whatever ‘pleases’ Orsino suits him, and for his
part, he realises he cannot redeem Olivia. He wonders if he should ‘kill’ the
‘savage jealousy’ of ‘what I love’ because he ‘knows the instrument’ which
partly keeps him from Olivia’s ‘Marble-breasted’ tyranny. Ironically he
threatens to take Cesario away because he realises that Olivia ‘loves’ him.
Yet Viola/Cesario is neither the man Olivia can love, nor does Orsino yet
see that he is most suited to love Viola.
To whose ingrate, and inauspicious Altars
My soul the faithfull’st offerings have breath’d out
That ere devotion tender’d. (5.1.2268-71)
But this your Minion, whom I know you love,
To Orsino, Olivia’s ‘cruel eye’ seems incapable of love. Shakespeare has
Orsino identify Olivia with the ‘Lamb’ or Christ who she imitates in her
flight from life to death. And Orsino senses the ‘Raven’ darkness in Olivia’s
innocent ‘Dove’, just as Malvolio’s apparent goodness equally warrants his
confinement in the dark.
And whom, by heaven I swear, I tender dearly.
Him I will tear out of that cruel eye,
Where he sits crowned in his master’s spite. (5.1.2281-4)
Come boy with me, my thoughts are ripe in mischief:
Viola is more than happy to be offered an opportunity to be the focus
of Orsino’s jealousy. She openly declares her love and preparedness to be
his ‘wife’. But, despite Viola’s denial, Olivia remonstrates that
Viola/Cesario is her husband. The entry of the priest apparently confirms
Olivia’s claims and corroborates the ‘Contract of eternal bond of love’ and
‘holy close of lips’ she made with Sebastian. Orsino in turn calls her a
I’ll sacrifice the Lamb that I do love,
To spite a Raven’s heart within a Dove. (5.1.2285-7)
The metaphysical comedy is temporarily averted, though, by the arrival
of Andrew who claims Toby has been bloodied by Cesario. In a punning
twist he calls the Church the ‘devil incardinate’. He keeps cursing in the
name of God as he confuses Viola with Sebastian. And when Toby enters
the mayhem multiplies until he and Andrew leave to have their wounds
Sebastian then appears and apologises to Olivia for hurting her ‘kinsman’,
and reaffirms their wedding vows. Orsino is the first to respond to the shock
of seeing the twins together.
One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,
Antonio reinforces Orsino’s ‘natural’wonderment as if he was witnessing
the increase of ‘creatures’ from sonnet 1, with a hint at the origins of biblical
mythology in the reference to an ‘apple’. The apparent bifurcation of Cesario/
Sebastian parodies the biblical division of male Adam from male God.
A natural Perspective, that is, and is not. (5.1.2380-1)
How have you made division of your self,
And Sebastian expresses the logical impossibility of having a ‘Deity’ in
his ‘nature’. By now the audience should realise that the answer lies in the
An apple cleft in two, is not more twin
Than these two creatures. (5.1.2387-9)
Do I stand there? I never had a brother:
As Sebastian and Viola share experiences, they realise they are from the
same ‘womb’ and so share the father who died when they were thirteen.
Viola reveals that she has usurped ‘masculine attire’ and is Sebastian’s sister.
The significance of Sebastian’s reference to ‘tears’ (5.1.2406) and Viola’s
Shakespearean awareness of the usurping function of the male-God is
sustained as the drama unfolds.
Nor can there be that Deity in my nature
Of here, and everywhere. I had a sister,
Whom the blind waves and surges have devour’d:
Of charity, what kin are you to me? (5.1.2391-5)
Significantly, at this dramatic moment in the play, the images called upon
are from the Sonnet logic and not biblical mythology. Shakespeare has
Sebastian ascribe to Nature the overview that brings about the logical
conclusion where Olivia is betrothed to ‘a maid and man’. Viola’s admission
that she has usurped the masculine is reflected by Sebastian in the Sonnet
based awareness that as a male he has masculine and feminine characteristics
in both body and mind.
So comes it Lady, you have been mistook:
Orsino confirms the force of the Sonnet logic when he gains from ‘this
most happy wrack’ a ‘Boy’ (sonnet 126), who is more mature than he. He
acknowledges Viola’s Feste-like understanding of the dynamic of truth by
reflecting on her insistence he should never love a woman like her. Orsino’s
education in the logic of truth and beauty nears completion.
But Nature to her bias drew in that.
You would have been contracted to a Maid,
Nor are you therein (by my life) deceiv’d,
You are betrothed both to a maid and man. (5.1.2425-9)
I shall have share in this most happy wrack,
Viola’s response is right out of the Mistress sonnets, which articulate the
logic of truth. Sonnet 137 logically distinguishes between beauty as ‘seeing’
and truth and ‘saying’, and sonnet 138 uses the idea of swearing as the most
decided form of saying to elucidate the relation between speaking well and
lying. Again Viola refers to the Earth and Sun or Nature rather than to
Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times,
Thou never should’st love women like to me. (5.1.2432-4)
And all those sayings, will I over swear,
Orsino asks for Viola’s ‘hand’, and looks forward to seeing her in
‘woman’s weeds’. The topic of her clothing raises the question of Malvolio’s
whereabouts and incites Olivia to again associate their idealising
psychologies. As Orsino awakens to the deeper implications of his natural
logic he sees more clearly the reason for his previous attraction to the
psychology of ‘dead love’.
And all those swearings keep as true in soul,
As doth that Orbed Continent, the fire,
That severs day from night. (5.1.2435-8)
They say poor Gentleman, he’s much distract.
Feste makes the issue even clearer when he tells Olivia of Malvolio’s
‘letter’ and says ‘madman’s Epistles are no Gospels’. He relates the logic of
saying or writing to Twelfth Night’s critique of biblical ‘bibble babble’.
A most extracting frenzy of mine own
From my remembrance, clearly banish’d his. (5.1.2447-50)
Truly Madam, he holds Beelzebub at the stave’s end as
Feste revives the word play on ‘am mad’ with his conflation of Olivia
and Malvolio’s self-delusion. And again he associates her with the Madonna.
well as a man in his case may do: has here writ a letter to
you, I should have given’t you to day morning. But as a
madman’s Epistles are no Gospels, so it skills not much
when they are deliver’d. (5.1.2452-6)
Feste. Look then to be well edified, when the Fool
Malvolio’s self-delusional stupidity is taken to new heights in his letter.
He blames Olivia for his misguided performance in the previous scenes and
he ignores his own exhibition of conceitedness before he spied the letter
on the garden path. Because Malvolio’s madness is not a physiological disease
but a psychological state allied to Olivia’s, Orsino acknowledges that he is
not ‘distracted’. Olivia then correctly offers Orsino her friendship ‘as a sister’
with Shakespeare playing on Olivia’s recent role as a virtual nun.
delivers the Madman. By the Lord Madam.
Olivia. How now, art thou mad?
Feste. No Madam, I do but read madness: and your
Ladyship will have it as it ought to be, you must allow
Olivia. Prithee read i’thy right wits.
Feste. So I do Madonna: but to read his right wits, is to
read thus: therefore, perpend my Princess, and give
Orsino then turns to Viola to relinquish his role as ‘Master’ and accept
Viola as the ‘Master’s Mistress’. The shift, which acknowledges Orsino’s
appreciation of Viola’s superior judgment, elevates her to the logical role
of the Mistress in the Sonnets (who is prior to the Master Mistress of the
youth sequence). Shakespeare has led Orsino from his limited appreciation
of natural logic in the opening lines to a fuller acceptance of the logic of
Madam, I am most apt t’embrace your offer:
Olivia though, because her temperament remains psychologically conditioned,
is only able to consider Viola as a ‘sister’ (5.1.2493). When Malvolio
enters he is still determined to lay the faults described in his letter with
Olivia. And Olivia, in keeping with her psychological alliance with her
manservant, offers him role of both ‘Plaintiff and Judge’ in his own cause
when those responsible for the letter are found. Ironically she offers Malvolio
the role of the biblical male God, who illogically acts as both plaintiff and
judge of his own creation.
Your Master quits you: and for your service done him,
So much against the mettle of your sex,
So far beneath your soft and tender breeding,
And since you call’d me Master, for so long:
Here is my hand, you shall from this time be
Your Master’s Mistress. (5.1.2486-92)
Fabian, the voice of common sense, reveals who wrote the letter, but
suggests that Viola and Sebastian’s recent revelations and the marriage of
Toby and Maria are reason for celebration. Both Fabian and Feste encourage
Olivia to appreciate the humour in the situation.
Fabian. Maria writ
Feste expresses Shakespeare’s Sonnet understanding that Nature, through
the agency of time will always bring about justice through the audit (sonnet
126) of idealistic pretences. But Shakespeare also knows that the world and
its response to his works will always throw up idealistic psychological fools,
so he has Malvolio leave vowing revenge.
The Letter, at sir Toby’s great importance,
In recompense whereof, he hath married her:
How with sportful malice it was followed,
May rather pluck on laughter than revenge,
If that the injuries be justly weigh’d
That have on both sides passed.
Olivia. Alas poor Fool, how have they baffled thee.
Feste. Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal,
and you smile not he’s gagged: and thus the whirligig
of time, brings in his revenges. (5.1.2533-47)
I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you. (5.1.2548)
Shakespeare, while asserting the priority of Nature over the psychology
of belief and the priority of the female over the male, was also conscious
that the role of the male God has a therapeutic function in human wellbeing.
‘Sister’ Olivia exemplifies the concern the idealising soul has for the
welfare of the individual with her concern for the recalcitrant Malvolio.
He has been most notoriously abused. (5.1.2549)
Orsino, now more sensitive to the needs of his ‘sister’ Olivia, recognises
her need to commemorate ‘dead love’ so offers her the comfort, with a pun
on ‘convents’, of a ‘golden time’ for a ‘solemn Combination’ of ‘our dear
souls’. As in the Sonnets, the word ‘dear’ carries the double meaning of
precious and costly.
Pursue him, and entreat him to a peace:
Then when Orsino turns to Viola he reverts to his natural voice. He does
not offer her holy matrimony, but in keeping with the Sonnet logic, again
accepts her as his Mistress and, referring back to his introductory speech,
acknowledges her as ‘fancies Queen’. Viola has not only shown up the inconsistencies
of the cross-dressed male God, but has demonstrated with her
command of natural logic that she is at one with Nature (or the sea) and so in
Orsino’s new world, the ‘high fantastical’ foil to his own ‘shapes of fancy’.
He hath not told us of the Captain yet,
When that is known, and golden time convents
A solemn Combination shall be made
Of our dear souls. Meantime sweet sister,
We will not part from hence. (5.1.2550-5)
Feste’s song concludes Twelfth Night, or, What you will by leading to
maturity the ‘little boy’ whose divinity was revealed to the world twelve days
after Christmas. The song recovers Christ’s natural logic by giving him a
trajectory from when he had a little ‘toy’ of a penis, at a time when the rest
of humankind is ‘raining’ increase everyday, until he comes into his ‘estate’
and into his ‘beds’ when his ‘head’ or penis can also rain. The song’s
trajectory logically represents of the ‘world’ since it ‘began’. And now that
the comic drama has shown the relation between Nature and the sexual
dynamic and has critiqued the unnatural cloistering of Christian mythology,
the ‘play is done’.
(For so you shall be while you are a man:)
But when in other habits you are seen,
Orsino’s Mistress, and his fancies Queen. (5.1.2555-8)
When that I was and a little tiny boy,
The inverted erotics of the night of the Epiphany twelve days after
Christmas has been rectified, and the priority of the ‘Will’ (both sexual and
in conscience) has been reasserted.
with hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
A foolish thing was but a toy,
for the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came alas to man’s estate,
with hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
Gainst Knaves and Thieves men shut their gate,
for the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came alas to wine,
with hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
By swaggering I could never thrive,
for the rain it raineth every day.
But when I came unto my beds,
with hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
With tosspots still had drunken heads,
for the rain it raineth every day.
A great while ago the world begun,
with hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
But that’s all one, our Play is done,
and we’ll strive to please you every day. (5.1.2559-79)
The relation of Twelfth Night to the Sonnet template
The analysis of Twelfth Night, or What you will reveals not only conformity
with the logic of the philosophy Shakespeare articulated in his Sonnets, but
also a critique of Bible based pretensions and practices.
Shakespeare recreates a cross-section of philosophic and psychological
types. They range from those capable of acting in accord with natural logic
such as Viola and eventually Orsino, to those who intuit elements of natural
logic such as Toby, Maria, Antonio and Feste, to those relatively ignorant
of its influence in their lives because of their excessive psychological dispositions
such as Olivia, Sebastian and particularly Malvolio. Shakespeare shows
how it is possible for characters to develop their sensibilities over time to
better appreciate the logic of the world, and he also examines the psychological
barriers that prevent some characters from advancing at all.
Twelfth Night is structured to introduce gradually but logically the
principal elements of the Sonnet logic. Nature creates the overarching
context for the whole drama, the female and male are introduced and their
relation to increase is broached. After the characters consider the dynamic
of logical argument, first Feste, then Viola make specific mention of the
dynamic of truth and beauty.
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
Simultaneously, as the structure of natural logic is introduced and elaborated
until it reaches a pitch in Act 5, the critique of Judeo/Christian beliefs
gradually unravels their illogicalities so that by the play’s end most characters
have aligned their minds to some degree with natural logic. The exception
is Malvolio who remains recalcitrant and vengeful. The mythology of the
Epiphany is subjected to logical scrutiny and even parody and mockery, and
the implications of the claim for divinity are examined in terms of the
characterisation of God as a male, until the whole illogical system is reduced
to its natural components in Act 5.
Feste’s final song is the cross-over point for the two strains in the drama.
It is a dirge for the collapse of biblical conceits and an ballad for the common
sense of Shakespeare Sonnet philosophy. What begins as the ‘Twelfth Night’
under the influence of ‘dead love’ becomes, at least for Viola and Orsino, a
freedom and responsibility to do ‘what they will’.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Venus and Adonis
Rape of Lucrece
The Phoenix and the Turtle
A Lover's Complaint
Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure