Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Twelfth Night


ACT I SCENE IIThe sea-coast.
[Enter VIOLA, a Captain, and Sailors]
VIOLAWhat country, friends, is this?
CaptainThis is Illyria, lady.
VIOLAAnd what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown’d: what think you, sailors?
CaptainIt is perchance that you yourself were saved.
VIOLAO my poor brother! and so perchance may he be.
CaptainTrue, madam: and, to comfort you with chance,
Assure yourself, after our ship did split,
When you and those poor number saved with you10
Hung on our driving boat, I saw your brother,
Most provident in peril, bind himself,
Courage and hope both teaching him the practise,
To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Where, like Arion on the dolphin’s back,
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
So long as I could see.
VIOLAFor saying so, there’s gold:
Mine own escape unfoldeth to my hope,
Whereto thy speech serves for authority,20
The like of him. Know’st thou this country?
CaptainAy, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Not three hours’ travel from this very place.
VIOLAWho governs here?
CaptainA noble duke, in nature as in name.
VIOLAWhat is the name?
VIOLAOrsino! I have heard my father name him:
He was a bachelor then.
CaptainAnd so is now, or was so very late;30
For but a month ago I went from hence,
And then ’twas fresh in murmur,–as, you know,
What great ones do the less will prattle of,–
That he did seek the love of fair Olivia.
VIOLAWhat’s she?
CaptainA virtuous maid, the daughter of a count
That died some twelvemonth since, then leaving her
In the protection of his son, her brother,
Who shortly also died: for whose dear love,
They say, she hath abjured the company40
And sight of men.
VIOLAO that I served that lady
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,
What my estate is!
CaptainThat were hard to compass;
Because she will admit no kind of suit,
No, not the duke’s.
VIOLAThere is a fair behavior in thee, captain;
And though that nature with a beauteous wall
Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee
I will believe thou hast a mind that suits50
With this thy fair and outward character.
I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously,
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke:
Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him:
It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.
What else may hap to time I will commit;60
Only shape thou thy silence to my wit.
CaptainBe you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be:
When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see.
VIOLAI thank thee: lead me on.

Next: Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 3


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 2

From Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan.

3. And what … Illyria. What business have I in coming to Illyria? a question of appeal equivalent to, There is no good in my coming to Illyria (now that my brother is dead). Editors point out the pun on Illyria andElysium.

6. It is perchance, it is only by a lucky chance; echoing her use of the word in the preceding line; cp. Temp, ii. 1. 238, 9, “Seb. I have no hope That he’s undrown’d. Ant. O, out of that ‘no hope’ What great hope have you!”

8. to comfort … chance, in order to comfort yourself with what chance may have in store for you.

9. did split, went to pieces; a nautical term, cp. Temp, i. 1. 65, “We split, we split!”

10. those poor number, those few; number being a noun of multitude, those number is not more ungrammatical than ‘those sort,’ a colloquialism still common.

11. Hung on, clung to; cp. Temp. i. 2. 474, “Hence, hang not on my garments”; the converse, ‘hang off,’ i.e. cease to hang on, is used in M. N. D. iii. 2. 260, “Hang off thou cat, thou burr, vile thing, let loose”: driving, i.e. before the wind.

13. Courage … practice, being prompted to do so not only by hope, but by a courage also which does not always belong to those who hope; for practice, meaning a single action, not, as usually, a habitual one, cp. Per. iv. 2. 136, “These blushes of hers must be quenched with some present practice.”

14. lived, did not sink, floated buoyantly; another nautical term, as in such phrases as “the boat could not live in such a sea.”

15. Arion, of Methymna in Lesbos, an ancient Greek bard, and celebrated player on the cithara. On his return to Corinth from Sicily, whither he had gone to take part in a musical contest, the sailors on board his vessel coveting the presents he had brought away with him, determined to murder him. After pleading in vain for his life, he obtained permission once more to play on his cithara, and, having done so, threw himself into the sea. But many song-loving dolphins had assembled round the vessel, and one of them now took the bard on his back and conveyed him to Taenarus, whence be returned to Corinth in safety.

16. I saw … waves, so long as I could see him, he continued to be on terms of acquaintance with, did not cringe to, the waves, i.e. bore up against them, did not sink. For hold acquaintance, cp. A. Y. L. ii. 3. 49, 60, “If with myself I hold intelligence, Or have acquaintance with mine own desires.”

19-21. Mine own … him. My own escape suggests to my hopeful mind a like fortunate escape on his part, and this hopefulness is strengthened by your words: of him, as regards him. For country, a trisyllable, see Abb. § 477.

22. bred and born, Shakespeare uses ‘bred’ in two different senses, (1) begotten, (2) reared, brought up; and it is difficult to say whether the word here has the former sense, or whether the expression bred and born is merely an inversion of the commoner ‘born and bred,’ i.e. born and brought up.

25. in nature … name, the Orsini being among the noblest of Italian families both as to birth and personal distinction in various lines of life. Throughout the rest of the play, Orsino is called “Count,” though his speeches are prefixed “Duke.”

28, 9. Orsino! … then. Cowden Clarke remarks, “Here is one of Shakespeare’s subtle touches in dramatic art. By the mention of Viola’s father having spoken of the Duke, we are led to see the source of her interest in Orsino; and by the word ‘bachelor’ we are made to see the peculiar nature of that interest. By this delicate indication of an already existing inclination on the part of the heroine for the hero of the play, the circumstance of her at once falling so deeply in love with him, on coming to know him personally, is most naturally and beautifully introduced.”

32. And then … murmur, and at that time it was already rumoured that, etc. The idea in murmur is of their speaking with bated breath of a matter so much above their personal concern.

33. the less, the lower orders, the inferiors to those great ones; cp. Macb. V. 4. 12, “Both more and less have given him the revolt”: prattle, the frequentative form of ‘prate,’ to talk idly.

35. What’s she? Who may she be? with a notion of indefiniteness.

37. some twelvemonth since, for ‘some’ in the sense of ‘about,’ which is frequently used with numeral adjectives qualifying nouns of time, and so, by association, with a singular noun of time, see Abb. § 21.

39. for … love, out of fond love for whom: Dyce follows Walker in reading ‘loss’ for love; but here, as in i. 1. 31, “A brother’s dear love,” the genitive is used objectively.

41-4. O that … estate is! Would that I served that lady, and might not be discovered to the world as being what I am, until I had been able to make ripe, bring to maturity, my design. Cowden Clarke interprets, “Oh, that I might not be presented to the world, till I had myself prepared the occasion for declaring what my condition really is”; and sees in the words “the idea of the shrinking diffidence with which a young and well-born lady dreads encountering publicity until she can do so under suitable protection.” Schmidt takes mellow as an intransitive verb, Abbott (§ 290) as a transitive verb, apparently connecting it with the following line. It appears to me to be an adjective. Cp. L. L. L. iv. 2. 72, “delivered upon the mellowing of occasion“; and for deliver, Cor. v. 3. 39, “The sorrow that delivers us thus changed Makes you think so.” The construction And might … estate is, is analogous to that of the redundant pronoun in i. 2. 53, “Conceal me what I am,” and i. 6. 231, “I see you what you are,” and equivalent to, Would that no one would deliver me to the world what I am.

44. to compass, lit. to go round something and so get to the desired point, hence to obtain, and, as here, to bring about, effect; cp. Temp. iii. 2. 66, “How now shall this be compassed?”

46. not the duke’s, not even the duke’s.

47. a fair behaviour, a well-seeming manner.

48, 9. And though … pollution, and though nature often gives a fair exterior to a foul inside; cp. M. V. v. 1. 63-5, “Such harmony is in immortal souls; But while this muddy vesture of decay Doth grossly close it in, we cannot bear it,” where the converse idea is stated. The allusion in the text is to whited sepulchres. For that, as a conjunctional affix, see Abb. § 287.

52. I prithee … bounteously, I pray you to conceal who and what I am, and I not only pray you to do so, but will reward you handsomely if you do: for conceal … am, see note on 1. 44, above.

55. The form … intent, the character of my design.

66. present, introduce.

57. It may … pains, if I become his page, I shall probably be able to reward you well for introducing me to his notice.

58. And speak … music, and hold converse with him, touch his feelings with, etc.; cp. Haml, iii. 2. 374, “it will discourse most eloquent music.”

59. allow, prove; as frequently in Shakespeare: Wright notes that the two senses of ‘allow,’ to assign, and to approve, are due to the different sources from which the word is derived; the former being from the Low Lat.allocare, the latter from allaudarevery worth, being worthy of; we still say ‘well worth,’ but not ‘very worth.’

60. commit, entrust to, leave to.

61. Only … wit, all that I ask of you is that you should make your silence about my condition, etc., fit in with my design; my wit, that which my ingenuity shall devise.

62. your mute, the mention of ‘eunuch’ brings into the captain’s mind the thought of the ‘mutes,’ dumb attendants in the Turkish harems, and he promises to perform her behest as faithfully as the mutes performed those of the sultan; cp. Cymb. iii 5. 158, “that you will be a voluntary mute to my design.”

63. let mine … see, I will be content that my eyes should be put out.


How to cite the explanatory notes:

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1889.