| Tales from Shakespeare|
|by Charles and Mary Lamb|
|First published in 1807, these simple retellings of the plots of Shakespeare's plays have delighted generations of children, while serving as an excellent introduction to the dramas of our greatest playwright. Shakespeare's own language is used as much as possible to accustom children to the English of the Elizabethan age and so make easier their transition to the reading of the plays themselves. Numerous black and white illustrations by Louis Rhead complement the text. Ages 10-14 |
TWELFTH NIGHT; OR, WHAT YOU WILL
EBASTIAN and his sister Viola, a young gentleman and lady of
Messaline, were twins, and (which was accounted a great wonder)
from their birth they so much resembled each other that, but for
the difference in their dress, they could not be known apart.
They were both born in one hour, and in one hour they were both
in danger of perishing, for they were shipwrecked on the coast of
Illyria, as they were making a sea-voyage together. The ship on
board of which they were split on a rock in a violent storm, and
a very small number of the ship's company escaped with their
lives. The captain of the vessel, with a few of the sailors that
were saved, got to land in a small boat, and with them they
brought Viola safe on shore, where she, poor lady, instead of
rejoicing at her own deliverance, began to lament her brother's
loss; but the captain comforted her with the assurance that he
had seen her brother, when the ship split, fasten himself to a
strong mast, on which, as long as he could see anything of him
for the distance, he perceived him borne up above the waves.
Viola was much consoled by the hope this account gave her, and
now considered how she was to dispose of herself in a strange
country, so far from home; and she asked the captain if he knew
anything of Illyria.
"PERCHANCE HE IS NOT
DROWN'D; WHAT THINK YOU, CAPTAIN?"
"Aye, very well, madam," replied the captain, "for I was born not
three hours' travel from this place."
"Who governs here?" said Viola. The captain told her Illyria was
governed by Orsino, a duke noble in nature as well as dignity.
 Viola said, she had heard her father speak of Orsino, and that he
was unmarried then.
"And he is so now," said the captain; "or was so very lately, for,
but a month ago, I went from here, and then it was the general
talk (as you know what great ones do, the people will prattle of)
that Orsino sought the love of fair Olivia, a virtuous maid, the
daughter of a count who died twelve months ago, leaving Olivia to
the protection of her brother, who shortly after died also; and
for the love of this dear brother, they say, she has abjured the
sight and company of men."
Viola, who was herself in such a sad affliction for her brother's
loss, wished she could live with this lady who so tenderly
mourned a brother's death. She asked the captain if he could
introduce her to Olivia, saying she would willingly serve this
lady. But he replied this would be a hard thing to accomplish,
because the Lady Olivia would admit no person into her house
since her brother's death, not even the duke himself. Then Viola
formed another project in her mind, which was, in a man's habit,
to serve the Duke Orsino as a page. It was a strange fancy in a
young lady to put on male attire and pass for a boy; but the
forlorn and unprotected state of Viola, who was young and of
uncommon beauty, alone, and in a foreign land, must plead her
She having observed a fair behavior in the captain, and that he
showed a friendly concern for her welfare, intrusted him with her
design, and he readily engaged to assist her. Viola gave him
money and directed him to furnish her with suitable apparel,
ordering her clothes to be made of the same color and in the same
fashion her brother Sebastian used to wear, and when she was
dressed in her manly garb she looked so exactly like her brother
that some strange errors happened by means of their being
mistaken for each other, for, as will afterward appear, Sebastian
was also saved.
Viola's good friend, the captain, when he had transformed this
pretty lady into a gentleman, having some interest at court, got
her presented to Orsino under the feigned name of Cesario. The
 duke was wonderfully pleased with the address and graceful
deportment of this handsome youth, and made Cesario one of his
pages, that being the office Viola wished to obtain; and she so
well fulfilled the duties of her new station, and showed such a
ready observance and faithful attachment to her lord, that she
soon became his most favored attendant. To Cesario Orsino
confided the whole history of his love for the lady Olivia. To
Cesario he told the long and unsuccessful suit he had made to one
who, rejecting his long services and despising his person,
refused to admit him to her presence; and for the love of this
lady who had so unkindly treated him the noble Orsino, forsaking
the sports of the field and all manly exercises in which he
used to delight, passed his hours in ignoble sloth, listening to
the effeminate sounds of soft music, gentle airs, and passionate
love-songs; and neglecting the company of the wise and learned
lords with whom he used to associate, he was now all day long
conversing with young Cesario. Unmeet companion no doubt his
grave courtiers thought Cesario was for their once noble master,
the great Duke Orsino.
It is a dangerous matter for young maidens to be the confidantes
of handsome young dukes; which Viola too soon found, to her
sorrow, for all that Orsino told her he endured for Olivia she
presently perceived she suffered for the love of him, and much it
moved her wonder that Olivia could be so regardless of this her
peerless lord and master, whom she thought no one could behold
without the deepest admiration, and she ventured gently to hint
to Orsino, that it was a pity he should affect a lady who was so
blind to his worthy qualities; and she said:
"If a lady were to love you, my lord, as you love Olivia (and
perhaps there may be one who does), if you could not love her in
return), would you not tell her that you could not love, and must
she not be content with this answer?"
But Orsino would not admit of this reasoning, for he denied that
it was possible for any woman to love as he did. He said no
woman's heart was big enough to hold so much love, and
there-  fore it was unfair to compare the love of any lady for him to his love
for Olivia. Now, though Viola had the utmost deference for the
duke's opinions, she could not help thinking this was not quite
true, for she thought her heart had full as much love in it as
Orsino's had; and she said:
"Ah, but I know, my lord."
"What do you know, Cesario?" said Orsino.
"Too well I know," replied Viola, "what love women may owe to
men. They are as true of heart as we are. My father had a
daughter loved a man, as I perhaps, were I a woman, should love
"And what is her history?" said Orsino.
"A blank, my lord," replied Viola. "She never told her love, but
let concealment, like a worm in 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
The duke inquired if this lady died of her love, but to this
question Viola returned an evasive answer; as probably she had
feigned the story, to speak words expressive of the secret love
and silent grief she suffered for Orsino.
While they were talking, a gentleman entered whom the duke had
sent to Olivia, and he said, "So please you, my lord, I might not
be admitted to the lady, but by her handmaid she returned you
this answer: Until seven years hence the element itself shall
behold her face; but like a cloistress she will walk veiled,
watering her chamber with her tears for the sad remembrance of
her dead brother."
On hearing this the duke exclaimed, "Oh, she that has a heart of
this fine frame, to pay this debt of love to a dead brother, how
will she love when the rich golden shaft has touched her heart!"
And then he said to Viola: "You know, Cesario, I have told you
all the secrets of my heart; therefore, good youth, go to
Olivia's house. Be not denied access; stand at her doors and tell
her there your fixed foot shall grow till you have audience."
"And if I do speak to her, my lord, what then?" said Viola.
"Oh, then," replied Orsino, "unfold to her the passion of my
love. Make a long discourse to her of my dear faith. It will well
become you to act my woes, for she will attend more to you than
to one of graver aspect."
Away then went Viola; but not willingly did she undertake this
courtship, for she was to woo a lady to become a wife to him she
wished to marry; but, having undertaken the affair, she performed
it with fidelity, and Olivia soon heard that a youth was at her
door who insisted upon being admitted to her presence.
"I told him," said the servant, "that you were sick. He said he
knew you were, and therefore he came to speak with you. I told
him that you were asleep. He seemed to have a foreknowledge of
that, too, and said that therefore he must speak with you. What
is to be said to him, lady? for he seems fortified against all
denial, and will speak with you, whether you will or no."
Olivia, curious to see who this peremptory messenger might be,
desired he might be admitted, and, throwing her veil over her
face, she said she would once more hear Orsino's embassy, not
doubting but that he came from the duke, by his importunity.
Viola, entering, put on the most manly air she could assume, and,
affecting the fine courtier language of great men's pages, she
said to the veiled lady:
"Most radiant, exquisite, and matchless beauty, I pray you
me if you are the lady of the house; for I should be sorry to
cast away my speech upon another; for besides that it is
excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to learn it."
"Whence come you, sir?" said Olivia.
"I can say little more than I have studied," replied Viola, "and
that question is out of my part."
"Are you a comedian?" said Olivia.
"No," replied Viola; "and yet I am not that which I play,"
meaning that she, being a woman, feigned herself to be a man. And
again she asked Olivia if she were the lady of the house.
Olivia said she was; and then Viola, having more curiosity to see
her rival's features than haste to deliver her master's message,
said, "Good madam, let me see your face." With this bold request
Olivia was not averse to comply, for this haughty beauty, whom
the Duke Orsino had loved so long in vain, at first sight
conceived a passion for the supposed page, the humble Cesario.
 When Viola asked to see her face, Olivia said, "Have you any
commission from your lord and master to negotiate with my face?"
And then, forgetting her determination to go veiled for seven
long years, she drew aside her veil, saying: "But I will draw the
curtain and show the picture. Is it not well done?"
Viola replied: "It is beauty truly mixed; the red and white upon
your cheeks is by Nature's own cunning hand laid on. You are the
most cruel lady living if you lead these graces to the grave and
leave the world no copy."
"Oh, sir," replied Olivia, "I will not be so cruel. The world may
have an inventory of my beauty. As, item, two lips, indifferent
red; item, two gray eyes with lids to them; one neck; one chin;
and so forth. Were you sent here to praise me?"
Viola replied, "I see what you are: you are too proud, but you
are fair. My lord and master loves you. Oh, such a love could but
be recompensed though you were crowned the queen of beauty; for
Orsino loves you with adoration and with tears, with groans that
thunder love, and sighs of fire."
"Your lord," said Olivia, "knows well my mind. I cannot love him;
yet I doubt not he is virtuous; I know him to be noble and of
high estate, of fresh and spotless youth. All voices proclaim him
learned, courteous, and valiant; yet I cannot love him. He might
have taken his answer long ago."
"If I did love you as my master does," said Viola, "I would make
me a willow cabin at your gates, and call upon your name. I would
write complaining sonnets on Olivia, and sing them in the dead of
the night. Your name should sound among the hills, and I would
make Echo, the babbling gossip of the air, cry out Olivia. Oh,
you should not rest between the elements of earth and air, but
you should pity me."
"You might do much," said Olivia. "What is your parentage?"
Viola replied: "Above my fortunes, yet my state is well. I am a
Olivia now reluctantly dismissed Viola, saying: "Go to your
 master and tell him I cannot love him. Let him send no more,
unless perchance you come again to tell me how he takes it."
And Viola departed, bidding the lady farewell by the name of Fair
Cruelty. When she was gone Olivia repeated the words, Above my
fortunes, yet my state is well. I am a gentleman. And she said
aloud, "I will be sworn he is; his tongue, his face, his limbs,
action, and spirit plainly show he is a gentleman." And then she
wished Cesario was the duke; and, perceiving the fast hold he had
taken on her affections, she blamed herself for her sudden love;
but the gentle blame which people lay upon their own faults has
no deep root, and presently the noble lady Olivia so far forgot
the inequality between her fortunes and those of this seeming
page, as well as the maidenly reserve which is the chief ornament
of a lady's character, that she resolved to court the love of
young Cesario, and sent a servant after him with a diamond ring,
under the pretense that he had left it with her as a present from
Orsino. She hoped by thus artfully making Cesario a present of
the ring she should give him some intimation of her design; and
truly it did make Viola suspect; for, knowing that Orsino had
sent no ring by her, she began to recollect that Olivia's looks
and manner were expressive of admiration, and she presently
guessed her master's mistress had fallen in love with her.
"Alas!" said she, "the poor lady might as well love a dream.
Disguise I see is wicked, for it has caused Olivia to breathe as
fruitless sighs for me as I do for Orsino."
Viola returned to Orsino's palace, and related to her lord the
ill success of the negotiation, repeating the command of Olivia
that the duke should trouble her no more. Yet still the duke
persisted in hoping that the gentle Cesario would in time be able
to persuade her to show some pity, and therefore he bade him he
should go to her again the next day. In the mean time, to pass
away the tedious interval, he commanded a song which he loved to
be sung; and he said:
"My good Cesario, when I heard that song last night, methought it
did relieve my passion much. Mark it, Cesario, it is
 old and
plain. The spinsters and the knitters when they sit in the sun,
and the young maids that weave their thread with bone, chant this
song. It is silly, yet I love it, for it tells of the innocence
of love in the old times."
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 strewn:
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 lover never find my grave, to weep there!
Viola did not fail to mark the words of the old song, which in
such true simplicity described the pangs of unrequited love, and
she bore testimony in her countenance of feeling what the song
expressed. Her sad looks were observed by Orsino, who said to
"My life upon it, Cesario, though you are so young, your eye has
looked upon some face that it loves. Has it not, boy?"
"A little, with your leave," replied Viola.
"And what kind of woman, and of what age is she?" said Orsino.
"Of your age and of your complexion, my lord," said Viola; which
made the duke smile to hear this fair young boy loved a woman so
much older than himself and of a man's dark complexion; but Viola
secretly meant Orsino, and not a woman like him.
When Viola made her second visit to Olivia she found no
difficulty in gaining access to her. Servants soon discover when
their ladies delight to converse with handsome young messengers;
and the instant Viola arrived the gates were thrown wide open,
 and the duke's page was shown into Olivia's apartment with great
respect. And when Viola told Olivia that she was come once more
to plead in her lord's behalf, this lady said:
"I desired you never to speak of him again; but if you would
undertake another suit, I had rather hear you solicit, than music
from the spheres."
This was pretty plain speaking, but Olivia soon explained
still more plainly, and openly confessed her love; and when she
saw displeasure with perplexity expressed in Viola's face, she
said: "Oh, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful in the contempt
and anger of his lip! Cesario, by the roses of the spring, by
maidhood, honor, and by truth, I love you so that, in spite of
your pride, I have neither wit nor reason to conceal my passion."
But in vain the lady wooed. Viola hastened from her presence,
threatening never more to come to plead Orsino's love; and all
the reply she made to Olivia's fond solicitation was, a
declaration of a resolution Never to love any woman.
No sooner had Viola left the lady than a claim was made upon her
valor. A gentleman, a rejected suitor of Olivia, who had learned
how that lady had favored the duke's messenger, challenged him to
fight a duel. What should poor Viola do, who, though she carried
a man-like outside, had a true woman's heart and feared to look
on her own sword?
When she saw her formidable rival advancing toward her with his
sword drawn she began to think of confessing that she was a
woman; but she was relieved at once from her terror, and the
shame of such a discovery, by a stranger that was passing by, who
made up to them, and as if he had been long known to her and were
her dearest friend said to her opponent:
"If this young gentleman has done offense, I will take the fault
on me; and if you offend him, I will for his sake defy you."
Before Viola had time to thank him for his protection, or to
inquire the reason of his kind interference, her new friend met
with an enemy where his bravery was of no use to him; for the
officers of justice coming up in that instant, apprehended the
stranger in the duke's name, to answer for an offense he had
committed some years before; and he said to Viola:
"This comes with seeking you." And then he asked her for a purse,
saying: "Now my necessity makes me ask for my purse, and it
grieves me much more for what I cannot do for you than for what
befalls myself. You stand amazed, but be of comfort."
His words did indeed amaze Viola, and she protested she knew
not, nor had ever received a purse from him; but for the kindness
he had just shown her she offered him a small sum of money, being
nearly the whole she possessed. And now the stranger spoke severe
things, charging her with ingratitude and unkindness. He said:
"This youth whom you see here I snatched from the jaws of death,
and for his sake alone I came to Illyria and have fallen into
But the officers cared little for harkening to the complaints of
their prisoner, and they hurried him off, saying, "What is that
to us?" And as he was carried away, he called Viola by the name
of Sebastian, reproaching the supposed Sebastian for disowning
his friend, as long as he was within hearing. When Viola heard
herself called Sebastian, though the stranger was taken away too
hastily for her to ask an explanation, she conjectured that this
seeming mystery might arise from her being mistaken for her
brother, and she began to cherish hopes that it was her brother
whose life this man said he had preserved. And so indeed it was.
The stranger, whose name was Antonio, was a sea-captain. He had
taken Sebastian up into his ship when, almost exhausted with
fatigue, he was floating on the mast to which he had fastened
himself in the storm. Antonio conceived such a friendship for
Sebastian that he resolved to accompany him whithersoever he
went; and when the youth expressed a curiosity to visit Orsino's
court, Antonio, rather than part from him, came to Illyria,
though he knew, if his person should be known there, his life
would be in danger, because in a sea-fight he had once
dangerously wounded the Duke Orsino's nephew. This was the
offense for which he was now made a prisoner.
Antonio and Sebastian had landed together but a few hours before
Antonio met Viola. He had given his purse to Sebastian, desiring
him to use it freely if he saw anything he wished to purchase,
telling him he would wait at the inn while Sebastian went to view
the town; but, Sebastian not returning at the time appointed,
Antonio had ventured out to look for him, and,
 Viola being dressed the same, and in face so exactly resembling
her brother, Antonio drew his sword (as he thought) in defense
of the youth he had saved, and when Sebastian (as he supposed)
disowned him and denied him his own purse, no wonder he
accused him of ingratitude.
Viola, when Antonio was gone, fearing a second invitation to
fight, slunk home as fast as she could. She had not been long gone
when her adversary thought he saw her return; but it was her
brother Sebastian who happened to arrive at this place, and he
"Now, sir, have I met with you again. There's for you," and
struck him a blow.
Sebastian was no coward; he returned the blow with interest,
and drew his sword.
A lady now put a stop to this duel, for Olivia came out of the
house, and, she too mistaking Sebastian for Cesario, invited him
to come into her house, expressing much sorrow at the rude attack
he had met with. Though Sebastian was as much surprised at
the courtesy of this lady as at the rudeness of his unknown foe,
yet he went very willingly into the house, and Olivia was
delighted to find Cesario (as she thought him) become more sensible
of her attentions; for, though their features were exactly the same,
there was none of the contempt and anger to be seen in his face
which she had complained of when she told her love to Cesario.
Sebastian did not at all object to the fondness the lady lavished
on him. He seemed to take it in very good part, yet he wondered
how it had come to pass, and he was rather inclined to think Olivia
was not in her right senses; but, perceiving that she was mistress
of a fine house and that she ordered her affairs and seemed to
govern her family discreetly, and that in all but her sudden love
for him she appeared in the full possession of her reason, he well
approved of the courtship; and Olivia, finding Cesario in this good
humor, and fearing he might change his mind, proposed that,
as she had a priest in the house, they should be instantly married.
Sebastian assented to this proposal; and when the marriage
 ceremony was over he left his lady for a short time, intending
to go and tell his friend Antonio the good fortune that he had
met with. In the mean time Orsino came to visit Olivia, and at
the moment he arrived before Olivia's house the officers of justice
brought their prisoner, Antonio, before the duke. Viola was with
Orsino, her master; and when Antonio saw Viola, whom he still
imagined to be Sebastian, he told the duke in what manner he had
rescued this youth from the perils of the sea; and after fully
relating all the kindness he had really shown to Sebastian, he
ended his complaint with saying that for three months, both day
and night, this ungrateful youth had been with him. But now,
the Lady Olivia coming forth from her house, the duke could
no longer attend to Antonio's story; and he said:
"Here comes the countess. Now Heaven walks on earth!
but for thee, fellow, thy words are madness. Three months has
this youth attended on me." And then he ordered Antonio to
be taken aside. But Orsino's heavenly countess soon gave the
duke cause to accuse Cesario as much of ingratitude as Antonio
had done, for all the words he could hear Olivia speak were words
of kindness to Cesario; and when he found his page had obtained
this high place in Olivia's favor he threatened him with all the
terrors of his just revenge; and as he was going to depart he
called Viola to follow him, saying: "Come, boy, with me. My
thoughts are ripe for mischief." Though it seemed in his jealous
rage he was going to doom Viola to instant death, yet her love
made her no longer a coward, and she said she would most
joyfully suffer death to give her master ease.
But Olivia would not so lose her husband, and she cried,
"Where goes my Cesario?"
Viola replied, "After him I love more than my life."
Olivia, however, prevented their departure by loudly
proclaiming that Cesario was her husband, and sent for the priest,
who declared that not two hours had passed since he had married
the Lady Olivia to this young man. In vain Viola protested she
was not married to Olivia. The evidence of that lady and the
 priest made Orsino
believe that his page had robbed him of the treasure he prized
above his life. But thinking that it was past recall, he was
bidding farewell to his faithless mistress, and the young dissembler,
her husband, as he called Viola, warning her never to
come in his sight again, when (as it seemed to them) a miracle
appeared! for another Cesario entered, and addressed Olivia as
his wife. This new Cesario was Sebastian, the real husband of
Olivia; and when their wonder had a little ceased at seeing two
persons with the same face, the same voice, and the same habit,
the brother and sister began to question each other; for Viola
could scarce be persuaded that her brother was living, and
Sebastian knew not how to account for the sister he supposed
drowned being found in the habit of a young man. But Viola
presently acknowledged that she was indeed Viola, and his sister,
under that disguise.
When all the errors were cleared up which the extreme likeness
between this brother and sister had occasioned, they laughed at
the Lady Olivia for the pleasant mistake she had made in falling
in love with a woman; and Olivia showed no dislike to her
exchange, when she found she had wedded the brother instead of
The hopes of Orsino were forever at an end by this marriage of
Olivia, and with his hopes, all his fruitless love seemed to
vanish away, and all his thoughts were fixed on the event of his
favorite, young Cesario, being changed into a fair lady. He
viewed Viola with great attention, and he remembered how very
handsome he had always thought Cesario was, and he concluded she
would look very beautiful in a woman's attire; and then he
remembered how often she had said she loved him, which at the
time seemed only the dutiful expressions of a faithful page; but
now he guessed that something more was meant, for many of her
pretty sayings, which were like riddles to him, came now into his
mind, and he no sooner remembered all these things than he
resolved to make Viola his wife; and he said to her (he still
could not help calling her Cesario and boy):
 "Boy, you have said to me a thousand times that you should never
love a woman like to me, and for the faithful service you have
done for me so much beneath your soft and tender breeding, and
since you have called me master so long, you shall now be your
master's mistress, and Orsino's true duchess."
Olivia, perceiving Orsino was making over that heart, which she
had so ungraciously rejected, to Viola, invited them to enter her
house and offered the assistance of the good priest who had
married her to Sebastian in the morning to perform the same
ceremony in the remaining part of the day for Orsino and Viola.
Thus the twin brother and sister were both wedded on the same
day, the storm and shipwreck which had separated them being the
means of bringing to pass their high and mighty fortunes. Viola
was the wife of Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, and Sebastian the
husband of the rich and noble countess, the Lady Olivia.
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