Hello, everybody; ModernDayBard here with a very different sort of fanfic. It's actually an idea I've been playing around with for a while, and the intro I wrote at the start of it all sums it up best. Hopefully this will take me to the end of the semester, and you will enjoy it enough for me to make the rest of the series!
A picture is truly worth 1,000 words, but a master of words can create pictures in our minds that resonate with us our whole lives, enduring through the ages as generation after generation finds themselves in pictures painted only with letters. Such a master was William Shakespeare, and that is why he has outlasted his contemporaries.
Yet English has moved on since his time, helped in great part by the man himself, who coined many of the words we use today, and modern readers often have great difficulty comprehending the rich wordplay replete through every script, sometimes missing even the most basic of plot points.
Thus it rests with the actors and directors to 'complete the picture,' to present the master's works in a way that everyone can understand. They must employ conventions of staging, inflections and tones of voice to convey emotions so that we get the gist, even if we miss some of the particulars. The world of the play must come to life on stage if we wish to draw the audience in.
While we should be wary of forcing onto the playwright meaning he did not intend (such attempts to turn a Shakespeare play into a political statement rarely come across as anything but forced, stilted, or cheesy), the actors must decide their place in the world of the play—who do they know, and how do they feel about the other inhabitants of whatever land the play takes place in?
Here is my attempt at accomplishing the Shakespearean actor's two major goals—make the Bard accessible and create believable characters—with only words on a page. I am not the wordsmith that Mr. Shakespeare was, only an actress describing pictures, giving people backstories I'd give them if I had to portray them. This is my attempt to translate the some of his plays closest to my heart, to share them with you, if you would go along with me…
Welcome to Illyria, a whimsical, fantastical place filled with such eclectic characters and styles, Elizabethan sensibilities but modern tricks of speech, that many an outsider has wondered if he is dreaming, or mad…
…At the Duke's palace, resplendent in exotic finery, the servants tiptoe around their volatile master, humoring him in his melodramatic pursuit of love, but fearing his sudden outbursts of temper…
…At the house of Countess Olivia, several worlds co-exist. There is the slightly American-old-western flavored domain of the lady of the house, ostensibly in deep morning for brother and father, spurning all outside contact and attended by her three ladies in waiting…
…There is also that of Olivia's uncle, Sir Toby Belch, whose steam-punk garb and drunken ways conceal a once-quick mind and a devious nature, as he strings along his 'friend' Sir Andrew Aguecheek—a hopeless idiot, shameless coward, a foppish dresser, but rich enough to make him worth fooling—with the help of Fabian, one of Olivia's servants…
…Bridging this divide, the up-tight Malvolio, head steward to Olivia, and bustling but clever Maria are ever at odds over an old quarrel…
…Around the town between these 'noble' houses, the bowler-hat wearing jester, Feste, panders to both Duke and Countess accompanied by the local musicians in their street-performer's garb…
…And, oblivious to all this, a ship sails on across the water as storm clouds gather…
Cast of Characters:
Viola/Cesario—the heroine of the play, a clever young woman with a quick wit, seeking out a new life with her brother now that their family's fortunes have fallen, leaving them with nothing but a name. She and her twin brother, Sebastian, are sailing to meet one of their father's old acquaintances, hoping a quick arranged marriage with Viola may turn their situation around. The girl is willing, but not eager, often quarreling with her brother, annoyed that he will not seek out some other way.
Duke Orsino—the local noble man of Illyria, and once a great warrior. Since his land has been at peace after the last great sea-war, Orsino has lapsed into egotism and slight narcissism. He fancies himself the world's best lover: faithful, despairing, going through all the right motions and emotions, but his one true concern is being once more the best at his latest pursuit.
Countess Olivia—the closest equal to Orsino in rank, wealth, or egotism, Olivia finds herself not only the object of Orsino's 'affections' but also pursued by the ignoble knight, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. While not interested in either suitor, Olivia enjoys the feeling of power over both, especially the Duke, after so long of being under the authority of her father and brother. She ostensibly remains in morning for her brother, always rebuffing the duke, but always showing enough calculated effort to keep him coming back, and she amuses herself to see how long he will keep this up, reveling in being completely in charge of her own life.
Sebastian—Viola's twin brother, he falls a little short of his sister in wit, but makes up for it with an earnest and open demeanor. He's no fool though, and he knows the quickest cure to his family's situation is to marry Viola off to a rich family friend, at least ensuring his sister shall be well-cared for. Viola's continued insistence that he at least try to find another way feels like her latest attempt to lord her superior intellect over him, and the two have quarreled for most of their journey.
Malvolio—the head servant in Olivia's household, he has worked hard to move up the ranks of her retainers. His singular ambition is to rise above his current social class, a goal that has cost him much, especially in love. Believing he is soon bound to be 'bettered,' he refuses to socialize with the other servants, lording what authority he does have over them, and generally acting like a supreme nuisance and busybody.
Feste—the only one who can rival Viola's wit, he has embraced his place as the jester, cleverly and shamelessly manipulating all who would call him 'fool,' draining their pockets at every turn. He has found a profession where he is paid to insult those giving him gold, so long as he intersperses his barbs with sweet songs and clever word tricks, and Feste is one of the few people in Illyria content with his lot—likely the wisest character in the play.
Sir Toby Belch—Diana's uncle, he was once a great man. But his brain, now thoroughly marinated in alcohol, is useless for anything but childish pranks and conniving money from his dupe, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Most assume there is no bringing him back, but perhaps he is not too far gone, for all the wine Illyria seems to be unable to quench the one faint spark of love he still has.
Maria—a servant to Olivia, it would seem that she, not Malvolio, is the one who keeps everything running smoothly. Maria has a reasonable wit, so is caught up in neither the giggling foolishness of the other female servants, nor the lazy foolishness of the male servants. It is unclear to many observers whether she truly loves Sir Toby, for though she often scolds, she seems to show him more patience than his behavior (and choice of companions) warrant. She has been burned by love before, and is willing enough to join in the pranks when Malvolio is the butt of the joke.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek—a hopeless idiot, shameless coward, a foppish dresser, he is the object of ridicule of most in Olivia's household, though he is unaware of the fact. He actually fancies himself witty, brave, romantic, a good dancer, etc.—delusions that if shattered, would most likely crush him. His only good point is a steady income, which Sir Toby is steadily leeching, squandering on drinks as he pitilessly encourages Sir Andrew's ill-advised pursuit of Olivia.
Antonio—a sea-merchant of moderately large income who has great skill with a blade, Antonio fought for his city against Illyria in the last great sea-war, accompanied by his younger brother, Henry. Henry was killed in retribution after Titus, a nephew to Duke Orsino, lost his leg, and Antonio never forgave himself—his brother being little more than a boy at the time. He also never forgave Illyria, he alone refusing to pay back what he stole during the fighting, earning him Orsino's lasting enmity, and placing him in great peril should he ever be so foolish as to journey to Illyria.
Fabian—typical of many of Olivia's servants, Fabian is content enough with his lot in life, and quite happy doing just the bare minimum to retain his position, spending whatever time he has to himself pursuing his own ends. He's rather fond of his cousin, Maria, so whenever she asks for his help, especially when it comes to pranks, he is quick to lend aid.
Captain—a true gentle giant, he is the captain of the ship that Viola and Sebastian are traveling on, as he knew their family well. A local from Illyria, he is nevertheless well-traveled enough to blend in with more…ordinary locales. He feels sorry for the predicament his passengers are in, especially Viola, so is more tolerant of their bickering then another captain may otherwise be.
Parson—a compassionate fellow, he much prefers doing weddings to doing funerals. (Who wouldn't?) Unfortunately, in Illyria of late, there has been more of the latter than the former, though lately there hasn't been really much of anything to do beyond ordinary services, and he secretly wishes Olivia will accept Orsino's suit, if only for a change of pace.
Musicians— a band of street performers and friends, these fun-loving girls and boys follow Feste from Olivia to Orsino and back, receiving their fair cut of the jester's earnings, bust mostly enjoying the music and life in general.
Officers—two of 'Illyria's finest,' these two often find themselves without much to do, as the only law in Illyria that actively needs enforcing is the one prohibiting duels, and given the Sir Andrew Aguecheek usually weasels out of his duels before they ever happen, most of their job consists of walking around looking intimidating (hard to do when you uniform doesn't fit right). They both long for more excitement, so would take any challenge that comes along quite seriously…if one would ever come around.
Valentine and Curio—two of Orsino's servants. Valentine has served him the longest, so is the best acquainted with his moods and the easiest ways to ride them out. Curio is younger and newer, and a bit taken aback with his boss's…melodrama.
Ladies in Waiting—Diana's closest attendants, the three of these are…well, silly. They enjoy helping Olivia in her girlish pranks, and have a tendency to giggle over and mess with every one of the few handsome faces allowed to cross their lady's threshold.