Twelfth Night or What You Will, is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and performed plays. It is often referred to as a ‘musical comedy’ but is as sad as it is funny, with many dark and strange moments. Even in this very funny monologue, there is sadness and heartache.
Viola, the intelligent and resourceful heroine of the play, washes up on the shores of Illyria after a shipwreck. Believing her twin brother drowned and unsure of her safety in this strange land, she decides to take of a disguise. She dresses as a boy, called Cesario and goes to work for the Count Orsino until she can sure up her situation. Orsino is in love with Olivia and he sends Cesario/Viola, to woo the woman he loves. Unfortunately for Viola, this is incredibly difficult because she has fallen in love with Orsino. And of course, to make the triangle complete, Cesario is so charming, so witty and poetic that Olivia falls in love with him/her.
What has just happened?
In the moments before this monologue Cesario/Viola has left Olivia’s house, unable to convince her to accept Orsino’s love. Olivia, desperate to think of some excuse to get Cesario back to the house, gives her own ring to her servant Malvolio, pretending it was one Cesario left on Orsino’s behalf. Olivia tells Malvolio to chase down the young male servant and give it back to the Count and to return with a report of how the Orsino reacted. Malvolio finds Cesario/Viola and delivering the message, throws the ring at their feet and leaves Cesario/Viola alone and very puzzled.
I’ve marked up this monologue with beat changes and thought changes, see below:
Space = New beat/idea
, or ; = build on a thought
I left no ring with her: what means this lady?
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm’d her!
She made good view of me; indeed, so much,
That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue,
For she did speak in starts distractedly.
She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion
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.
How easy is it for the proper-false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we!
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly;
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!
O time! thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!
Here’s the monologue again, translated into modern english.
I didn’t leave a ring with her: what does this woman (Olivia) mean?
God forbid my appearance made her attracted to me.
She did stare at me a bit; yes, in fact,
I thought she’d lost her ability to speak
For she was talking confused and disjointedly.
She loves me, yes; her feelings are evident
In the crafty message sent by this rude servant.
She doesn’t want my lord’s ring! He never gave her one.
I am the man she wants: if it’s true, and it is,
Poor lady, she would be better in-love with a dream.
Disguise, I now see, how terrible you are,
In you, the devil does his best work.
How easy is it for handsome and deceitful people
To make women’s fall in love with them!
Oh, our weakness is at fault, not us!
We are just made that way.
How will this turn out well? my master loves her;
And I, poor unnatural creature, am just as in love with him;
And she, mistaken, seems to love me.
What will happen? As I am dressed as a man,
My love for my master, is impossible;
As I am woman,–curse the day I became one!–
Olivia sighs of love are useless and wasted!
Oh time, only you can resolve this;
It is too hard for me to figure out!
Unfamiliar Words / Phrases
Fortune: Luck or Fortune in a more spiritual sense. The play was written in a time when people believed in fate and fortune, so Viola could be addressing a higher power.
Methought: I thought
Pregnant Enemy: The Devil. Here Pregnant means ‘ready’
Proper–False: Handsome on the outside, deceitful underneath
Women’s waxen hearts: The imagery is that their hearts are soft and therefore mailable and penetrableb
Fadge: Succeed, turn out well
Monster: Unnatural creature. Viola is making a reference to being both a man and a woman – therefore ‘unnatural’
Now alas the day: There are a few interpretations of this line. Whatever you choose, it is clearly an expression of exasperation.
Time: Most editions will use a capital T for time. Viola could be talking to Time and Fortune as we might talk to God.
This is a fantastic comic monologue for any actor. Viola goes through so many emotions and her thoughts jump all over the place, offering a wonderful range to play. There are a lot of choices for an actor to make. Does Viola at any stage find enjoyment or amusement? When she says ‘I am the man’ does she relish it or is she horrified? The monologue is written as a soliloquy but what happens if you speak it to the audience? How does that change her reaction? There is also a lot of comedy to be found in the rhythm and pace of the actor’s delivery. Notice at the top of the monologue, there are a lot of short thoughts, that change quickly. Once Viola realises that Olivia is in love with her the images get bigger and the sentences fuller and more robust.
When approaching the script, take notice of the wonderful images, alliteration and vowels. When Shakespeare wrote ‘O’ sounding vowels they usually indicate large emotions ‘poor monster’, Oh Time’. The consonants also help with emotion too. ‘Women’s waxen hearts’ gets tangled in your mouth, sounding exasperated or frustrated. Shakespeare gave us this wonderful language to help us with our performance so don’t forget to use it!