This is Part II of several Director’s Notes blog entries on Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 5.
This scene is like to a sort of “play within a play,” although it’s a “real event” within the world of this play–but, for this spectacle, Malvolio’s the actor, and the other, willing and comment-eager audience.
Malvolio enters–beautifully, with a prancing shadow AO, and thinking that Maria fancies him:
Malvolio: ‘Tis but Fortune, all is fortune. Maria once told me she did affect me, and I have heard herself come thus near, that, should she fancy, it should be one of my complexion. Besides she view me with a more exalted respect than anyone else that follows her. What should I think on’t?
Toby betrays his first explicit sign of affinity towards Maria–jealousy that Malvolio would view Maria suchly:
Toby: Here’s an overweening rogue.
I imagine Toby might actually draw sword (or, in our “archetypal production“, a historical pistol).
Fabian seems to be the guy who will maintain peace among the trio; he tells Toby to chill:
Fabian: Oh peace: Contemplation makes a rare Turkey Cock of him, how he lets under his advanc’d plumes.
Andrew, displays his characteristic valor (which, in later scenes, we’d find is mere bravado–words, words, words but he’s really a chicken inside):
Andrew: Slight, I could so beat the Rogue.
Of course, when Andrew (the “lesser knight”) joins in the violence-threats, Toby’s the one who goes, “Calm down!” (but, perhaps, Andrew is also pulling for a grab at Toby’s pistol):
Toby: Peace I say.
Even before getting that letter, it seem as if Malvolio is set for this perfect duping–he’s already deep in that booby-trap of unwarranted arrogance:
Malvolio: To be Count Malvolio.
I imagine Toby is holding the gun *away* from Andrew, and Andrew is insistent that he shoots:
Toby: Ah, Rogue.
Andrew: Pistol him, pistol him!
Toby might even put his pistol away (or get a better, more concentrated aim at Malvolio), as he tells Andrew to shut up:
Toby: Peace, peace.
Malvolio has some sort of class-crossing epiphany, as he cites the marriage of the “Lady of the Strachys” with a mere yeoman (Lady of the Starchys was a prominent patron of the Blackfriars Theatre, and she married the yeoman wardrobes-keeper of the Blackfriars):
Malvolio: There is example for’t: The Lady of the Strachy, married the yeoman of the wardrobe.
Andrew, apparently, greatly disapproves of such class-crossings, curses to Jezebel, that yeoman of the wardrobe:
Andrew: Fie on him, Jezabel.
At this point, it becomes evident that the boxtree-hidden trio’s conversation isn’t just an aside, but actually a part of the script–Fabian cues in Malvolio’s full immersion in delusion:
Fabian: O peace, now he’s deeply in: look how imagination blows him.
Malvolio: Having been three months married to her, fitting in my state.
Elizabethan-pistols were not known for accuracy, so I suppose slingshots and such are preferred for precision:
Toby: O for a stone-bow to hit him in the eye.
For a Puritan, Malvolio certainly doesn’t believe in thriftiness or even celibacy (then again, maybe he means to only tuck his lady in):
Malvolio: Calling my Officers about me, in my branch’d Velvet gown: having come from a daybed, where I have left Olivia sleeping.
Malvolio would be turned, away from the boxtree. Toby might even rise up, losing cover of the box-tree, completely outraged, gun drawn and ready to shoot:
Toby: Fire and Brimstone!
Tortured, Fabian would pull Toby back down to hiding:
Fabian: Oh peace, peace.
Fabian braces for the next line, his arms, the shackles holding the furious Toby down:
Malvolio: And then to have the humor of state: and after a demure travaile of regard: telling them I know my place, as I would they should do theirs: to ask for my kinsman Toby.
Toby: Bolts and shackles.
Fabian, perhaps just slightly fearful that he might be caught again, prays:
Fabian: Oh peace, peace, peace, now, now.
Malvolio is kind of quintessentially prissy-at-heart–he’d have seven people go after Toby, while Malvolio himself frowns and dallies, winding up his watch or playing with some other object of amusement:
Malvolio: Seven of my people with an obedient start make out for him: I frown the while, and perchance wind up my watch, or play with my–some rich Jewell: Toby approaches; curtsies to me.
Toby, fighting in Fabian’s stranglehold:
Toby: Shall this fellow live?
According to Penguin (Mahood), Fabian basically says the era-equivalent of “Wild horses wouldn’t draw it out of me”–with chariots (cars):
Fabian: Though our silence be drawn from us with cars, yet peace.
You can almost see it–Malvolio smiling that annoying expression (as seen in an upcoming OEP2 playbill), fading to an evil expression (or, see the raw snapshot of our current steward juxtaposed next to a sinister-ish “Count Malvolio”). And, hearing that, Toby’s fist has just broken free of Fabian’s stranglehold:
Malvolio: I extend my hand to him thus: quenching my familiar smile with an austere regard of control–
Toby: And do’s not Toby take you a blow o’the lips, then?
Malvolio seems to really lose it here, that light touch with reality, “By virtue of my luck of having become married to your niece, I now have the right to say this to you.”
Malvolio: Saying, “Cousin Toby, my Fortunes having cast me on your Niece, give me this prerogative of speech.”
I imagine Fabian, completely bewildered by this unexpected wildness, loses his hold on Toby. Toby is also astounded by Malvolio’s great leap of faith–all that power, from a single marriage:
Toby: What, what?
Malvolio, facing away from the boxtree, again:
Malvolio: “You must amend your drunkenness.”
Toby gets up to try to take a swing at Malvolio; Fabian pulls him back down, trying to reason with him:
Toby: Out scab!
Fabian: Nay patience, or we break the sinews of our plot?
Malvolio waxes on the grandiose, “the treasure of Sir Toby’s time”:
Malvolio: “Besides you waste the treasure of your time, with a foolish knight.”
This bit is just classic funny to me:
Andrew: That’s me, I warrant you.
Malvolio: “One Sir Andrew–”
Andrew: I knew ’twas I, for many do call me fool.
Finally, Malvolio looks down–perhaps at his shadow–to spot the letter, picks it up:
Malvolio: What employment have we here?
The trio hiding behind the boxtree are really a knavish audience, each taking turns poking at the other to “shut up”, while Fabian takes his glory in introducing the cues:
Fabian: Now is the Woodcock near the gin.
Toby: Oh peace, and the spirit of humors intimate reading aloud to him.
I imagine that Malvolio has already torn the envelope open by now (in haste, as if a rowdy birthday boy, throwing the envelope on the ground), in order to see the full range of letters (her C’s, U’s, and T’s–Elizabethan slang for vagina, or cunt sans n, clearly echos Malvolio’s subconscious licentiousness):
Malvolio: By my life this is my Lady’s hand: these be her very C’s, her U’s, and her T’s, and thus makes she her great P’s. It is in contempt of question her hand.
Andrew, always the odd person out in double entendres:
Andrew: Her C’s, her U’s, and her T’s: why that?
Malvolio is reading the letter’s opening line carefully. And then he goes back to the envelope, notices the wax, announces that he will call the authenticity of the letter “by your leave wax”. Carefully, he bends down to look at the envelope, sees the imprint of Lucrece–takes that as the affirmation to be from her lady:
Malvolio: “To the unknown belov’d, this, and my good Wishes” — Her very Phrases… By your leave wax. Soft, and the impressure her Lucrece, with which she uses to seal: t’is my Lady – to whom should this be?
Fabian sounds almost impertinent, but since Orsino has mentioned liver in the context of infatuation several times earlier, Fabian might deliver this line with both humor and vigor:
Fabian: This wins him, Liver and all.
Malvolio reads the opening riddle of the letter (a rather coarse rhyme that just seems so ridiculous — seems more fit if uttered by a high-pitched echoing female voice):
“Jove knows I love,
Lips, do not move;
No man must know.“
Delightfully, Malvolio continues thinking aloud:
Malvolio: “No man must know.” What follows? The numbers alter’d: “No man must know,” If this should be thee, Malvolio?
In jest, Toby wonders along with Malvolio:
Toby: Marry, hang thee brock.
In The Rape of Lucrece, Lucrece dagger-kills herself (due to shame, and such romantic/era reasoning), after being raped (albeit by royalty); her death galvanized her people to fight for the Republic of Rome. The cryptic message in this letter thus refers to how the supposed-writer’s heart is stabbed “with bloodless stroke”, as if by a self-imposed knife (“a Lucrece knife”), by its silent yearning, for M.O.A.I., which “doth sway her life”:
“I may command where I adore,
But silence, like a Lucrece knife:
With bloodless stroke
My heart doth grow,
M.O.A.I. doth sway my life.“
Fabian, always, the avid commentator:
Fabian: A fustian riddle.
Toby’s got it:
Toby: Excellent Wench, say I!
Malvolio closes in precisely on the bait:
Malvolio: “M.O.A.I. doth sway my life.” Nay but first let me see, let me see, let me see.
Fabian and Toby exchange commentator jests:
Fabian: What dish o’ poison has she dreft him?
Toby: And with what wing the Stallion checks at it?
Malvolio interprets the first line of the “fustian riddle” to be “I command the man whom I love”, implying that he must be one of her servants. He thinks that’s obvious, or “evident to any formal capacity.” There’s no ambiguity (“not dark”) in this, “there is no obstruction in this.” And then he goes to the end of the letter, the acronym, that “alphabetical position”–he asks himself if he could read that as something that resembles himself?
Malvolio: “I may command, where I adore.” Why she may command me: I serve her, she is my Lady. Why this is evident to any formal capacity. There is no obstruction in this! And the end: What should that Alphabetical position portend… if I could make that resemble something in me? Softly, “M.O.A.I.”
Toby thinks Malvolio’s lost the bait–Fabian, though, thinks the bait can’t be missed, it smells “as rank as a Fox”:
Toby: O, aye, make up that, he is now at a cold scent.
Fabian: Sowter will cry upon’t for all this, though it be as rank as a Fox.
Malvolio: “M. Malvolio, M.” — Why that begins my name.
Almost as if he’d just placed a verbal bet on this bear of a Mal:
Fabian: Did I not say he would work it out, the Cur is excellent at faults.
Malvolio: “M.” But then there is no consonancy in the sequel that suffers under probation: “A.” should follow, but “O.” does.
The commentators seem to join him in deduction, though Malvolio doesn’t hear them:
Fabian: And O shall end, I hope.
Toby: Aye, or I’ll cudgel him, and make him cry O.
Malvolio: And then “I” comes behind.
Fabian: Aye, and you had an “I” behind you, you might see more detraction at your heels, than Fortunes before you.
Fabian puns on “eye” and “I”, almost as he wishes the trio to be given away, to be “credited”.
Malvolio then gives that famous MOAI reading (which is surprisingly understandable to a modern audience even without further interpretation), following its directions as-if-hypnotized (taking a “spin” upon reading “revolve”). The letter deviously builds up on his aspirations, as well as his current want-to-do-list, and even ends with a threat that if he doesn’t do otherwise, he’d stay a steward, “the fellow of servants”:
Malvolio: M.O.A.I. This simulation is not as the former: and yet to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for every one of these Letters are in my name. Soft, here follows prose: “If this fall into thy hand, revolve. In my stars, I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em. Thy fates open their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them, and to inure thyself to what thou art like to be — cast thy humble slough, and appear fresh. Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants: Let thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into the trick of singularity. She thus advises thee, that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy yellow stockings, and wish’d to see thee ever cross garter’d: I say remember. Go to, thou art made if thou desir’st to be so: If not, let me see thee a steward still, the fellow of servants, and not worthy to touch Fortune’s fingers. Farewell, she that would alter services with thee, that fortunate unhappy.”
Malvolio’s reaction is the best that can be had–he even admits he’d be “point-device”, i.e., the very man described in the letter, to perfection:
Malvolio: Daylight and champaign discovers not more! This is open… I will be proud, I will read politic Authors, I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-device, the very man. I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my Lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my legs being crossgarter’d, and in this she manifests herself to my love, and with a kind of iniuntion drives me to these habits of her liking. I thank my stars, I am happy: I will be strange, stour, in yellow stockings, and cross Garter’d, even with the swiftness of putting on. Jove, and my stars be praised. Here is yet a postscript. “Thou canst not choose but know who I am. If thou entertainst my love, let it appear in thy smiling–thy smiles become thee well. Therefore in my presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee.” Jove, I thank thee, I will smile, I will do everything that thou wilt have me.
Already starting to smile, Malvolio exits.
It’s curious to note that Malvolio’s “inner self” seems completely removed from his outer persona of the goody-Puritan; Malvolio’s malady is that of the hypocrisy of schisms–if he truly believes in the principles he tries to act, he wouldn’t have been the victim (he wouldn’t have taken the bait!–would have reported this letter direct to Olivia, caused a few raised eyebrows, and that’s all). But then, maybe it’s fundamental human nature that “Puritan-types” are just an act, and so it’s inevitable that Malvolio falls for this trick.