Orsino came out into the garden where his courtiers had gathered. ‘Let’s have some music,’ he said as he passed the lounging musicians. ‘Well now.’ He smiled sadly. ‘Good morning, friends.’ His eyes singled Viola out and he spoke directly to her. ‘Well now, Cesario, that little song, that charming old song, the one we heard last night. It gave me far more pleasure than any of the light-hearted tunes of these fast and giddy-paced times do. Come on: just one verse will do.’
The musicians waited for the outcome of these negotiations.
‘The one who sang it isn’t here, so please your lordship,’ said Viola.
‘Who was it?’
‘Feste, the jester, my lord. A fool who was a favourite of the lady Olivia’s father. He’s around here somewhere.
‘Go and look for him,’ he told Curio. He turned to the musicians. ‘Play the tune in the meantime.’
Orsino took Viola’s arm as the musicians began, and led her to a bench where he invited her to sit down beside him. ‘Come here, boy. If you should ever fall in love, then, while in the sweet pain of it, remember me, because the state I’m in at the moment is how all of those in love are: restless and unstable in everything except in their preoccupation with the creature that is loved. How do you like this tune?’
‘It resounds with the very place where love reigns.’
‘You speak like an experienced lover! Upon my life, young as you are, you’ve eyed someone you’ve fancied, haven’t you, boy?’
‘I don’t mind admitting it to you, that I have,’ she said.
‘What’s she like?’
‘She’s similar to you in her looks.’
He laughed. ‘She’s unworthy of you, then. How old, indeed?’
‘About your age, my lord.’
‘Too old, by heaven! A woman should always have a man older than herself so that she adjusts to him and develops a steady place in her husband’s heart. Because, boy, no matter how much we pretend otherwise, our natures are more giddy and fickle, more lustful and changeable, our passions sooner lost and spent than women’s are.’
‘I agree, my lord.’
‘So make sure your beloved is younger than you are, or your love can’t last. Women are like roses whose bloom begins to fade the very moment it reaches its height.’
‘They are!’ exclaimed Viola. ‘And what a pity they are – to die just when they reach perfection.’
Curio returned, followed by Feste.
‘Oh fellow!’ called Orsino. ‘Come, the song we had last night. Listen to it Cesario: it’s old and simple. The women who spin and knit in the sunshine and the unmarried girls who make lace with thread and shuttles sing it. It’s down to earth and it’s about the innocence of love as it was in the olden days.’
The musicians were waiting and Feste stood with them.
‘Are you ready, sir?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said Orsino. ‘Please sing.’
The musicians began and Feste started singing:
Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid:
Fly away, fly away, breath,
I am slain by a fair, cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O! prepare it:
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown:
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me O! where
Sad true love never find my grave:
To weep there.
The duke sat in silence for a full minute. No-one spoke. Then he reached into his purse. ‘This is for your trouble,’ he said, holding out a coin.
‘No trouble, sir,’ said Feste, taking the coin. ‘I enjoy singing, sir.’
‘I’ll pay for your enjoyment then.’
‘Indeed, sir, enjoyment must be paid for some time or another.’
‘Allow me to let you go now,’ said Orsino.
Feste bowed exaggeratedly. ‘May the god of sadness protect you, and the tailor make you a jacket of changeable taffeta because your mind is a real opal! I’d have all inconstant men like you put to sea. Then their business would be everything and their destinations everywhere. That’s the way to an interesting voyage – having no destination. Goodbye.’
Orsino shook his head as Feste skipped off. Then he made a dismissive gesture. ‘You can all go,’ he said and everyone except Viola left.
‘Go back to that cruelty personified, Cesario,’ he said. ‘Tell her that my love, transcending material things in its nobility, sets no store by property. Tell her that I regard whatever fortune has provided me with as mere luck. What attracts my soul about that queen of gems is her miraculous beauty.’
‘But if she cannot love you, sir?’
‘I can’t be answered like that.’
‘But you really must. Say there were some lady, as perhaps there is, who was dying for your love as you are for Olivia’s. You can’t love her. You tell her that. Mustn’t that be her answer?’
‘No woman’s body could stand the beating of so strong a passion as love gives my heart. No woman’s heart is big enough to hold so much passion. Women lack endurance. Alas, their love can be more like appetite, not coming from the deeper organs but from the palate, and that can lead to overeating, feeling full and the sensation of having had too much. But my appetite is every bit as hungry as the sea and can digest as much. Don’t make comparisons between the love a woman may have for me and the love I have for Olivia.’
‘Yes but I know…’ She stopped herself.
‘What do you know?’
‘Too well how much women may love men. Indeed, they are as faithful as we are. My father had a daughter who loved a man, as I might love your lordship if I were a woman.’
‘And what’s her history?’
‘A blank, my lord. She never told anyone about her love but allowed her concealment of it destroy the colour in her cheeks like a worm in the bud. She pined away and with her mind and body infected with melancholy, she sat like Patience on a monument, smiling at her grief. Wasn’t that great love? We men may say more and swear more but most of it is insincere. We make a lot of love vows but don’t really love much.’
‘But did your sister die of her love, my boy?’
‘I am all the daughters of our family and all the brothers too, although I may be mistaken about that. Sir, shall I go to this lady?’
Orsino stood up. ‘Yes, that’s the way. Go as fast as you can. Give her this jewel. Tell her I can’t give my love up and couldn’t bear any rejection.’