Shakespeare Moments

Sir Andrew Before me, she’s a good wench.

Sir Toby She’s a beagle true bred, and one that adores me. What o’ that?

Sir Andrew I was adored once, too.

In the play Twelfth Night, a group of Shakespeare’s outrageous rapscallion characters plot revenge upon the righteous  “puritan” steward Malvolio, their traditional enemy.  The leader of the crew, Sir Toby Belch, having won the connivance in the plot of Maria, a charming women of the household, declares to the others what a wily and wonderful wench she is: “She’s a beagle true bred” (high praise, indeed!), “and one that adores me.”

Sir Toby is a scam artist: he has persuaded Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a very foolish knight, to hang out with him, spend all his money for their “cakes and ale,” and other entertainments, while pretending to persuade his (Sir Toby’s) wealthy niece of Sir Andrew’s charms.  Poor skinny, gullible Sir Andrew has no charms, except to a loving audience.  He gives us laughter and delight even as we see him participating in his own downfall.  But in this moment, something surprising occurs.

In the midst of all the laughter and plotting, Toby matter-of-factly and with annoying self-satisfaction declares how much Maria adores him, then tosses it off with “What o’ that?” Which opens the doorway to a favorite moment.

Sir Andrew’s line comes next, and that line is, “I was adored once, too.”

First time that moment opened a new world for me was in Stratford-on-Avon, in 1958, a noteworthy production during one of Michael Redgrave’s seasons there.  Richard Johnson (all these actors later became Sirs) played Andrew.  And that one line, “I was adored once, too,” rang a note so true and poignant that it stopped the play for a time, and sent me out to another universe, seeking in my imagination the time, place and circumstance when the foolish, laughable Andrew was adored.