Below is my Director’s interpretation of one part of Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene 5. For a marked-up/annotated script, see here.
After Viola claims that what she has to say is profanity to all other ears, but divinity to Olivia’s, she gets her time alone with Olivia. The exchange between them changes, from prose to verse, and ultimately, Olivia falls in love with Viola (disguised as Cesario) onstage.
Now, sir, what is your text?
Most sweet lady,–
A comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it.
Where lies your text?
In Orsino’s bosom.
In his bosom! In what chapter of his bosom?
To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.
O, I have read it: it is heresy. Have you no more to
At this point, Viola is perhaps starting to get fed up by Olivia’s aloof arrogance–that she would brush off her dear Orsino’s heart so easily as heresy. Next, off comes the veil, demands Viola–things are about to get more personal.
Good Madam, let me see your face.
Have you any Commission from your Lord, to negotiate
with my face: you are now out of your Text: but we
will draw the Curtain, and show you the picture.
Olivia lifts her veil.
Look you sir, such a one I was this present: Ist not
Excellently done, if God did all.
I imagine Viola’s annoyance is now evident on her voice; she might sound almost as if sarcastic, definitely incredulous. Olivia, like Orsino, is rather self-centered especially now, and Olivia is already fond of Cesario (to lift her veil) considering the idea that she’s lifting her veil for Cesario, and not the Duke.
‘Tis in graine sir, ’twill endure winde and weather.
Olivia begins to reveal more of her arrogance towards her own appearance, saying that her beauty will last as if engraved in stone–through wind and weather (and time).
Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white,
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.
Viola here echoes one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, where the argument goes to support that one should have progeny if only to pass on their beauty.
O sir, I will not be so hard-hearted: I will give out
divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be Inventoried
and every particle and utensil label’d to my will: As
item two lips indifferent red, Item two grey eyes,
with lids to them; Item: one neck, one chin, and so
forth. Were you sent hither to praise me?
Olivia’s irreverence has made her arrogance become blatant, here–as if these aspects of her features are inanimate objects that can be labeled and put away. (But, the interesting part here is that one can interpret it as if she believes that future generations could “re-assemble” her beauty through an inventory listing; this is essentially what bioengineering’s ultimate goal is, and what a steampunk interpretation of this production might emphasize. Olivia and Viola could then be on the opposite ends in a spectrum of humanity, with Olivia appearing more machine-like, and Viola, in contrast, very human. We’re not doing steampunk, btw.)
I see 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 not be recompenc’d, though you were crown’d
The nonparaeil of beauty.
Viola now claims that Olivia’s beauty is basically no match against Orsino’s love. Olivia might reply with a bit of incredulity, at this point:
Olivia: How does he love me?
Viola: With adorations, fertile tears,
With groans that thunder love, with sighs of fire.
Your Lord does know my mind, I cannot love him
Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
In voices well divulg’d, free, 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.
Olivia goes into verse. It’s almost as if she’s reading a form mail of a love rejection letter.
If I did love you in my master’s flame,
With such a suff’ring, such a deadly life:
In your denial, I would find no sense,
I would not understand it.
This incites Olivia’s interest. (Indeed, she seems to have a thing for the underdog–so, perhaps, she’s already developed a fondness for Viola.)
Olivia: Why, what would you?
Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house,
Write loyal cantons of condemned 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 element of air, and earth,
But you should pity me.
You might do much.
What is your parentage?
Note that Olivia completes Viola’s pentameter perfectly. Olivia reacts very profoundly to Viola’s words–in fact, she’s fallen in love with Viola on stage. Next, she takes a breath of a pause, catching her wits, testing to make sure Viola’s a good match for her.
Above my fortunes, yet my state is well:
I am a Gentleman.
Viola has to lie a bit, so I imagine she says her second line almost too quickly.
Get you to your Lord:
I cannot love him: let him send no more,
Unless perchance you come to me again,
To tell me how he takes it: fare you well:
I thank you for your pains: spend this for me.
Olivia tests Viola again. Olivia seems unaware of how rude the gesture appears to be from Viola’s POV
I am no feed post, Lady; keep your purse,
My master not myself, lacks recompence.
Love make his heart of flint, that you shall love,
And let your fervour, like my master’s, be,
Plac’d in contempt: farewell fair cruelty.
Viola’s rudeness is, again, apparent, as she leaves. (Though we know Feste’s impertinence is more to do with his act as a fool, Olivia seems to have a natural affinity towards the rude ones.)
Tags: love, Olivia, Viola