Hi everyone! So…I know I'm the kind of fanfiction author everyone hates, because I have stories I haven't updated in forever, and here I am posting new stuff! But, here's the thing: I write what I'm inspired to write, and lately that's been Shakespeare. I just found out that my school is doing Twelfth Night next year (SO EXCITED!), and I also was just cast in a production of Love's Labours Lost, so I'm immersed in Shakespeare right now.
I recently read over this story, and felt compelled to rewrite it, because I think it has the potential to be more than I had first imagined it to be. Enjoy!
From the moment she awoke, Viola knew she was not well. The light creeping through the cracks in the shuttered window told her she had slept later than usual. She turned toward the wall and buried her face under the blanket. Her throat was sore, and her head ached. She burrowed further under the blanket with a miserable groan. Just as she was about to drift back to sleep, she heard someone knock on her door. "Who is't that knocks?" she rasped.
"Cesario!" Curio's voice called from the other side of the door, "Art thou not yet awake? His lordship hath inquired after thee."
Viola sat up. Her head spun dizzily. "I go, I go," she muttered, "Tell him I come anon."At least she would not have to try so hard to deepen her voice, she thought. She pulled on some clothes and made her way downstairs.
Most of the servants had already begun their work for the day, but a few were still lingering at the kitchen table when Viola came down. Valentine beckoned her over. "Wilt thou breakfast with us, Cesario?" he said, more an invitation than a question. He poured her a mug of cider, which Viola gratefully accepted; but she declined the plate of brown bread that was pushed her way. She was not very hungry, and it hurt when she tried to swallow. She sipped her drink, and said nothing while the other servants gossiped and joked merrily with one another.
Curio poked his head in as he passed the kitchen door. "Where's Cesario?" he said, "Come, boy, his lordship would speak with thee." Viola got up, leaving her half-empty mug on the table. "Look to thy doublet, Master Cesario," the cook whispered as she was about to leave the table. Viola looked down; in her haste to get dressed, she had done up the buttons wrong, off by one. She unbuttoned the garment to do it up again properly while she made her way upstairs. It was tempting, when she reached the top of the big staircase, to turn to her left, creep quietly back to her room, and go back to sleep. But instead she turned right, toward the duke's quarters.
Orsino was sitting on his balcony, his arms folded on the low stone railing, looking out over the sea. Viola stepped softly into the doorway. She cleared her throat. "Good day, my lord," she said. Orsino glanced over his shoulder. "Come hither, boy," he said, beckoning her nearer. Viola took a few steps closer.
"If ever thou shalt love," sighed the duke, "in the sweet pangs of it, remember me." He patted the space on the stone bench beside him, waiting for her to sit down before he went on. "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 beloved." He handed her a paper. "How dost thou like this verse?" he asked.
Viola looked over this latest love letter. It was no different from the others she had conveyed to the countess for him, full of flowery words and lofty sentiments. If she herself were the recipient of his poetry, she might have laughed out loud. As it was, she read them over with an approving nod. "It gives a very echo to the seat where Love is throned," she said.
Orsino turned toward her. "Thou dost speak masterly," he said. A smile slowly crept across his face. "My life upon 't," he declared, "young though thou art, thine eye hath stay'd upon some favor that it loves. Hath it not, boy?"
Viola looked down at her lap, unable to meet his eyes. "A little, by your favor," she answered carefully.
Orsino chuckled. "What kind of woman is't?" he asked.
"Of your complexion," Viola answered.
"She is not worth thee, then. What years, i'faith?"
"About your years, my lord."
"Too old by heaven!" declared Orsino. He slung his arm around Viola's shoulders. "Let still the woman take an elder than herself," he chided. "So wears she to him, so sways she level in her husband's heart." He slapped her chest jokingly. Viola startled, and flinched away from his touch; apparently he took no notice, but with a little laugh continued on. "For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, more longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, than women's are."
"I think it well, my lord," said Viola, edging away from him. Orsino must have sensed something of her discomfort. He took the letter from her hand and folded it neatly in thirds.
"Once more, Cesario," he said, "Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty. 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." He grinned at his own cleverness before going on. "But 'tis that miracle and queen of gems that nature pranks her in attracts my soul."
"But if she cannot love you, sir?"
Viola bit her lip––she had not meant to say the words aloud. Orsino got up from the bench. "I cannot be so answered," he said, with a dismissive wave of the hand.
"Sooth, but you must," said Viola, standing up beside him. "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 answered?"
Orsino's blue eyes darkened; he turned abruptly and paced the length of the balcony. Viola sat on the railing and watched him. "There is no woman's sides can bide the beating of so strong a passion as love doth give my heart," he declared, "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 suffers surfeit, cloyment, and revolt; but mine is all as hungry as the sea, and can digest as much." He stopped and spread his arms wide toward the blue water below, taking in a deep breath of the salty air. "Make no compare between that love a woman can bear me and that I owe Olivia."
"Ay, but I know––" Viola began. She stopped herself, but not quickly enough.
Orsino turned around to face her. "What dost thou know?" he demanded.
Viola cleared her throat. "Too well what love women to men may owe," she said, wishing she had had the sense to hold her tongue, "In faith, they are as true of heart as we." Orsino sat back on the bench, facing her with folded arms and an incredulous look. Viola looked down at the blue water below them. "My father had a daughter loved a man," she said carefully, "as it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship."
"And what's her history?" Orsino asked.
"A blank, my lord," Viola answered quietly. "She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i' the 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?" She turned to face Orsino, and found he was standing directly behind her. She stood up, and playfully swatted his arm. "We men may say more, swear more," she said, "but indeed, our shows are more than will, for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love."
"But died thy sister of her love, my boy?" asked Orsino.
Viola raised her eyes to meet his. "I am all the daughters of my father's house," she faltered, "and all the brothers too––and yet I know not." Her head was spinning, whether from her sickness or from Orsino's gaze she could not tell; either way, it was time to go. "Sir, shall I to this lady?" she asked.
Orsino blinked. "Ay, that's the theme," he said. He stepped back into the room from which the balcony opened, took the letter to his writing desk, and sealed it with a few drops of wax. "To her in haste," he said, pressing his seal into the soft wax. "Give her this letter. Say my love can give no place, bide no denay." He gave Viola the sealed letter, and she hurried from the room.
At the top of the stairs, she stopped and caught her breath. It occurred to her that she might quietly dispose of the letter––the countess refused to read them anyhow––and steal back to her bed for the rest of the afternoon. But shirking her errand was sure to land her in trouble, and that was the last thing she needed now. She tucked the letter in her pocket, and set out for Olivia's.
So, funny story: in my Shakespeare class last semester, I got to do the scene that is referenced above (it's Act 2, Scene 4), as Viola. The day before we were supposed to do our first performance, both my scene partner and I got sick (not as sick as poor Viola is going to be…); we hadn't rehearsed, and both felt pretty miserable. Thankfully, that was not the only chance we got to do the scene. But it made me think back to this story, and was part of the reason I decided to revisit it.
Next stop, Olivia's…