The Dancing Stallion Inn. Two common folk sit at a table, speaking in low tones.
And did’st thou see the latest play they played
That flowed from Avon’s Bard’s pen, and his mind?
A tale of love and secrets, pride and fall,
And ladies clad in men’s clothes - even so!
Twelfth Night its title, and Twelfth Night in truth
Would fonder be remembered were it like
This pleasant play, of which I wish to speak.
Speak on, my friend, speak on. For if your tastes
Do match with mine, what joy we’ll have this eve,
When memory of Shakespeare’s words is clear,
And all his tales are brought to mind once more.
Smithson, speak on! I hearken to your words.
I shall, friend Cartwright, speak of many things,
Of shipwreck, loss and sadness; of a man
Who would ascend from servitude to lie
Beside a noble Illyrian maid.
‘To lie’? Good friend, say true - you speak of lust?
Of love, and lust, and coupling.
Would never write such crudeness in his play.
Is this the time? Are Anna’s soldiers now
To stand against the tide of bawdy jests?
Or do I misinterpret Smithson’s words?
I’ll listen more, decide my course at length.
With pleasure. All these things I’ll tell,
But first must crave a moment to indulge
A thought I had most pleasant of my own.
What thought is this? What fantasy?
The Spanish Inquisition would not be
So fervent to discover what I think.
Peace, Cartwright. I will tell you as I please.
Forgive me, friend. Go on, if such you choose.
The countess named Olivia, in the play,
Spends all her time in longing o’er a man
Whose name she deems ‘Cesario’; yet in truth
His name Viola is, and ‘he’ a ‘she’,
In man’s disguise.
How like the Bard!
Now as the play draws on, Sebastian comes,
The brother of Viola, whom she seeks,
And in whose cause she clad herself in trews.
The countess sees the man, but knows him not -
Indeed, ‘Cesario’ she thinks he is,
And claims his hand, and weds him ere she knows!
A scene most filled with humour and with mirth,
The man who is a maid is now a man,
And married to the maid who never knew
That he was not a man at ev’ry point!
Just so. But think! Olivia knows him not,
His character, or aught save for his face.
Will she remain enthralled by looks alone,
Or long for her ‘Cesario’ once again?
I see his thought, and fear it, but I must
Be sure of where he heads; I’ll draw him out
And have my soldiers ready when he trips
Beyond the bounds of what we can allow.
I follow not your thought; the play is done,
What further ‘longing’ can Olivia hold?
More could be wrought, like Labours Lost and Won.
Though changes would be needed, for I feel
An honest woman’s form must be on stage,
Not men in wigs of straw and sackcloth dress.
A woman tread the stage? It shall not be,
Not in my lifetime or that of my son,
And sure I am that Shakespeare’d not allow
Such strange occurance in his theatre.
Not he, perhaps, but I would need it so.
For, picture it! The maid Viola stands
Before her former mistress. ‘I have come,
Though Orsino my husband knows it not.
Your summons drew me here, o countess fair.’
‘And do you think me fair?’ the countess asks,
Rising from her bower on the stage.
‘My lady,’ says Viola, ‘ever so,
Though never dared I say such words to thee.’
‘Then say them now!’ the countess cries, and lo!
She tears her bodice, lets her dress fall free
Until it hits the floor; she stands unveiled,
And all the watchers gasp - and then applaud
As Viola cries out, and lunges forth,
With pleasure in her eyes and on her face,
And rends her own clothes in her eagerness
To claim at last the bosom of her love.
She kisses her-
-And then the door is thrust
Aside by a strong man of Greek descent.
‘This cannot stand!’ he bellows; at his side
A fairy watches, manuscript in hand,
Pen hard at work to record all he sees.
What madness this? What do you here? I fear
The ale that flows so freely here has damped
Your wits; you make no sense.
More sense than you.
‘The Duke of Sparta,’ says the man of Greece,
‘Will stop this traversty before it starts.
And Dragonfly, my servant, will record
All that which passes here. Now see! Two maids,
Who recently have each wed noble men,
Ought not to voice such passion for their own.
And even should they speak forbidden love -
For oft can even women fall in sin -
There is one thing which never can occur.
What right have you to say such cruel things?
What reason? And what cause have you?
Our reason and our right are both the same,
And stem from both our mission and our lords.
We speak at the command of our high Queen
Fair Anna, she of whitest lace
And through her to the greatest of them all
The Emperor Louis, who watches o’er
The worlds of stage.
Louis! So you are French!
And no true friend of mine.
- please understand,
I speak not for myself, but as the Duke.
His wrath is not my own - I am your friend,
The same Cartwright that you have ever known,
And so I hope and trust I will remain.
But he - he is not me, nor ought he be:
He is a soldier, fighting for a cause
Beyond our ken. His words of rage and fear
Are his alone.
- enough. I understand.
He is not thee, thou art not he. ‘tis clear.
Then in this understanding, I speak on.
For we (said he, who is not me) serve them,
Proud Louis, in whose armies we enlist
And in the Queen’s battalion do we serve:
Unwonted ribaldry is our foul foe,
To seek it out and end it is our goal,
And for this cause, your tale must find its end.
Ribaldry! What nonsense rhyme is this?
Or know you not that e’en the Bard himself
Makes light amusement from the thought of lust?
Thinkest thou that ‘Puck’, and ‘Bottom’ vain,
And proud ‘Titania’ are pure chance alone,
That in their names they bear such tawdry sounds?
I said not so, nor would I ever say
Such things that bear no semblence of the truth.
But there’s a world of difference ‘twixt such jests -
Such clowning, which makes the crowds laugh loud -
And words the like of which you offer here.
Though Shakespeare’s clowns may think to talk of love,
The act itself is far beyond their reach:
No naked flesh would e’er be bared on stage!
My friend, your education is remiss;
You need to visit better sorts of inn.
Or ought I to say ‘worse’?
- I take your point,
But fear you have not sought to take in mine.
What ever may be seen in smokey rooms
Beneath this city’s narrow, darkened streets and ways,
Has bearing on the Bard’s works not at all.
In his works and plays, decorum is maintained -
Or else, is kept to clowns and idle words!
Speak on, since silence will not fall,
I’m sure, until you’ve had your fill of words.
The Army for Protecting the Stage Worlds
Will not permit this breach of Will’s designs.
And in the Duke of Sparta’s wake they see
The fairy Dragonfly stand tall and speak:
First, know: our fair Viola does not lust
For woman’s touch, or ever spoke of such.
Her love goes to Orsino, his to her,
And to Olivia’s words she answered ne’er
With love unfeigned or seedling of desire.
Second: these maidens claim a higher
Cause now: for married they both are
To noble men who love them true, who they
Do love in turn, and will to end of days.
Third thought: that William Shakespeare’s plays and words
Do show a certain taste. His valiant lords
And ladies fair do never undertake
The common folk with laughter cause to break-’
And now the Duke steps forward, coughing low:
‘Friend Dragonfly: that last worked rather ill.’
‘I know,’ the fairy says with sorrowed brow,
‘I could not find the rhyme. May I go on?’
‘I’ll speak from here,’ the Spartan says.
‘Ladies, though the Bard will jest of lust,
He’ll never do so from Olivia’s mouth.
And further, though his clowns may boast of feats
Of loving that can barely be believed,
He shows us none such things as you do bare!’
Hold now! Halt now! You run my story through,
And never let my ladies speak their turn.
‘Rude sirs,’ Olivia speaks, ‘avert your gaze!
Or else my guards will claim your life this day!’
‘Not so,’ the Duke declares, ‘for you are not
In your own mind set right: you are possessed
By forces from beyond our world of stage.’
What? Forces? Of what demons do you speak?
Of you, for you have claimed them for yourself,
Regarding not their own desires and will.
And so the Duke will say, if chance he has.
They have no will; they are but characters,
Placed in their parts by Shakespeare’s guiding hand.
They are mere dolls.
And aren’t we all? For God
Has placed us here, each one, to play our part.
We are as puppets; the Almighty holds the strings
That guide our lives.
Your words… ring true. I grant
That even written people have the right
To follow their own paths. Then how can I
Repair the damage done by my short tale?
I cannot draw the words back to my tongue,
Or make the thoughts be vanished from my mind!
The ‘Ribalders’ can fix it, if they may.
They’ll summon forth a priest - and he is blind,
For else he’d be exposed to female flesh,
A temptation that’s far too much to bear!
And he will drive the spirits from their minds
And leave them clean.
Not for long.
Then Anna’s knights will call for fresh-made clothes,
And women-folk will dress the ladies well
And take them to their homes to live their lives.
The memory of this tale will fade away;
Viola and Olivia will not
Be haunted by it, but will be at peace.
Why then, say I, speak on. And when ‘tis done,
You’ll have to tell me of this ‘Army’ proud
Who enter other’s tales and right their wrongs
And value fiction over friendship’s bonds.
And so I shall. I think you will approve.
Now, to the task. The Duke steps forth once more...