Twelfth Night: Money matters

It really does …

Through the play money crops up over and over.  It’s a factor in the plot, to a surprising – to me at least – extent.

The Captain tells Viola he saw Sebastian riding the waves clinging to a mast, so maybe, just maybe he survived; and Viola’s response:  “For saying so, there’s gold”.

To me that says a few things.  First, Viola is well off, being used to tipping those who have done her service.  And she was clever enough to keep hold of her purse in a shipwreck.  And unless, as some directors have it, she was washed ashore with a chest of her brother’s clothes, she has to bankroll her new disguise – plus, of course, “I prithee, and I’ll pay thee bounteously, Conceal me what I am”: she will have the Captain on retainer as well.  Sebastian didn’t fare so well, as Antonio feels it necessary to give the lad his purse in case he sees some trinket in the marketplace.  “…Your store, I think, is not for idle markets, sir” – you need to be saving your money for necessities.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek is only present because he’s nicely rich.  It is the second defense of him that Sir Toby puts up when Mary snipes about him.  First is “He’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria” – which can mean just what it says, that, well, hey, look: he’s … tall.  Yeah.  That’s something, isn’t it?  I have also seen that “tall” can mean “upstanding”, but I like the simple what-you-think-it-is version.  Maria doesn’t care, though, so Toby tries a bigger gun: “Why, he has three thousand ducats a year.”  A Venetian ducat is about equivalent to a crown, worth five shillings.  Let’s see …   If 12 pennies … sorry, pence – 12 pence make a shilling and 20 shillings make a pound, and a household servant would earn something like 2 – 5 pounds a year, then that would be 1200 pence per annum for a well-paid household servant, or 480 pence minimum wage.  (I’m sure this is absurd, but reducing the amounts to the lowest common denominator helps for comparison purposes.  Me, at least.)  Sir Andrew’s fortune converted to pence per annum would be 180,000 pence.  Oh.  This website lists the “wages” of a nobleman at being L 1,500 – 3K…. Three thousand ducats equals L 750.  Hm.  That’s not so impressive.  Wait – “Country gentleman: L 50 – L 150.  Well, there you go.  Sort of.

Regardless.  He’s got a few pence, and Sir Toby is happy to help him spend as much of that as humanly possible.  He tells Fabian, “I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong, or so” – oh.  That kind of dear: he’s been an expensive friend.  And indeed, Andrew says plaintively “If I cannot recover your niece, I am a foul way out.” “Send for more money” is Toby’s response.  Twice Andrew shows a flicker of common sense and states his intention to leave … and twice he is talked back into staying.  Maria was right – he’s going to go through his fortune in no time, with Toby’s help, at this rate.

From the Trevor Nunn film:

Chez Olivia

Chez Olivia

Chez Orsino

Chez Orsino

Olivia is wealthy – she has a household, etc, affairs and their dispatch to take and give back – including a fool on her payroll.  She has enough wealth of her own that she is unfazed by two wealthy suitors; she has no need to sacrifice her principles in order to get by.  She  tells Sebastian-as-Cesario and then Orsino that their wedding(s) will be celebrated more elaborately later, as fitting her birth and “Here at my house and at my proper cost”.  She is wealthy – but Orsino is more so (along with older and better educated): “she’ll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit”.  Where she has a full household, he has an estate.  And in the beginning he lets it be known he wants her more than his money – he tells Cesario “Prosper well in this, And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord, To call his fortunes thine.”  In case Olivia thinks he’s courting her to add her riches to his, he sends:

Tell her, my love, more noble than the world,
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands;
The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her,
Tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune;
But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.

He may be self-centered, but he’s not greedy.  Maybe that’s another small point toward the plausibility of Viola’s falling in love with him in three days.

In fact, Twelfth Night is something of a situation of them as has, doesn’t want, and them as doesn’t does.  (Heh – Microsoft had no problem with that sentence.  So much for spell check.)

Olivia tries to tip Cesario for the first message-bearing: “I thank you for your pains: spend this for me”, and that angers Viola (a little in some productions, and quite a lot in others).  The line sounds like “I am no feed-post, lady” – summoning images of something like a post-box, only for insertion of coins.  It’s actually “fee’d post”: lackey paid a fee.  Oh.  Right.  Olivia can’t be blamed, though, really, as Cesario just got finished saying that his parentage is above his fortunes – yet his state is well (he is content) – he doesn’t have a great deal of money, but he was born to better.  “I am a gentleman” – that would be why she should not have deigned to tip him.

It is in money that we are given another clue to why Toby et alia hate Malvolio so very much:

Sir Toby:  Wouldst thou not be glad to have the niggardly rascally sheep-biter come by some notable shame?

So – perhaps he has the Lady’s purse-strings, and holds out on Toby.  Or is in charge of pay raises and won’t give them to those who get in trouble over bear-baitings.  Pinches pennies and doesn’t bring in the best wine?  (I don’t know what to make of sheep-biter (he eats mutton?  I hope?), and the internet is being of no help at the moment.  Hm.)

A little later, in his fantasy role-playing about his future as Olivia’s husband, Malvolio imagines himself enjoying his wealth: “I frown the while; and perchance wind up watch, or play with my–some rich jewel.”  I like the directors who choose to have him at that moment realize that he won’t need to fiddle with something so prosaic as a watch – he will have better trinkets to fondle.   (Considering that I wrote that a little while ago, and that I’ve just been doing a little research into the amulet in Roma, that line is very funny.)

Antonio explains to Sebastian that he’s risking death by coming to Illyria after him (“I have many enemies in Orsino’s court … danger shall seem sport, and I will go”); there was that sea battle against Orsino’s ships, you see, and his actions in that fight mean that any of the duke’s men coming upon him now would be a problem.  This is serious, and Sebastian comes to a logical conclusion.

Belike you slew great number of his people.

But no.

The offence is not of such a bloody nature;
Albeit the quality of the time and quarrel
Might well have given us bloody argument.
It might have since been answer’d in repaying
What we took from them; which, for traffic’s sake,
Most of our city did: only myself stood out;
For which, if I be lapsed in this place,
I shall pay dear.

Nope – it could be that no one died at all in the fight.  What it is, is – Antonio’s side lost, and were required to pay a fee, a fine, a forfeit.  And everyone paid up – except Antonio.  He doesn’t say why – whether he couldn’t or he wouldn’t – but he didn’t, and that’s why Orsino’s men would be very happy to see him, and Antonio not happy at all to be seen.  $$.  Pay dear – out of purse, not blood.

Depending on how Antonio’s affection for Sebastian is played, the scene in which he hands over his purse can be used as an awkward gesture of affection; he doesn’t know quite how else to show his fondness, so – here, go buy something pretty.

Why I your purse?
Haply your eye shall light upon some toy
You have desire to purchase; and your store,
I think, is not for idle markets, sir.

(Something I just noticed: Antonio says “you” here, and and calls Sebastian sir – but when he talks to himself about whether he should follow to Illyria he calls him “thee”.  Interesting.)

So – Antonio gets caught, and, worse, feels he has been coldly, callously betrayed by his friend (or the man he loves, depending).  He is generally being held by a couple of officers at this point, or at least guarded.

This comes with seeking you:
But there’s no remedy; I shall answer it.
What will you do, now my necessity
Makes me to ask you for my purse? It grieves me
Much more for what I cannot do for you
Than what befalls myself. You stand amazed;
But be of comfort.
What money, sir?
For the fair kindness you have show’d me here,
And, part, being prompted by your present trouble,
Out of my lean and low ability
I’ll lend you something: my having is not much;
I’ll make division of my present with you:
Hold, there’s half my coffer.

As said earlier, what ever Viola’s life has been like Cesario is not well off, so this is generous – she is grateful for his intervention, and is kind-hearted.   The purse is a vehicle for the confusion.

The subject of Feste and money is a section unto itself.

The fool and his money

Boy, what a sound. How I love hearing that old money clank. That beautiful sound of cold hard cash. That beautiful, beautiful sound, nickels, nickels, nickels.  That beautiful sound of clinking nickels.

Feste’s greed is played up more in some productions than others; the Fool likes the clink of coins, whether because he needs the money or simply enjoys it is up to the director.  With nearly his every appearance, and with every performance, he is paid for his trouble (or pleasure), and does his best with Orsino and his folk (though not Sir Toby and Sir Andrew) to enlarge each tip.  Olivia does not pay or tip Feste on his first appearance; she is his primary employer, and he is just doing his job.  Not that that stops anyone else in the world today expecting a tip.

Sir Andrew: I sent thee sixpence for thy leman: hadst it?

– Whether the fool has a leman (mistress) is beside the point, I suppose …

Sir Toby: Come on; there is sixpence for you: let’s have a song.
Sir Andrew: There’s a testril of me too: if one knight give a—

(- Feste interrupts, which is indicative of Andrew’s importance)

Testril: a sixpence.

– – Feste does not ever ask his lady’s kinsman or guest for money, I’m supposing due to the consanguinity Toby talks about; he’s on retainer.  Also, he seems to have been with the household a while, and is a playfellow of Toby’s; Feste doesn’t ask his friends for tips.

Rich dukes, on the other hand …

Duke Orsino:  There’s for thy pains.
Clown: No pains, sir: I take pleasure in singing, sir.
Duke Orsino:  I’ll pay thy pleasure then.
Clown: Truly, sir, and pleasure will be paid, one time or another.

And their servants …

Viola: Hold, there’s expenses for thee.
Is thy lady within?
Clown:  Would not a pair of these have bred, sir?
Viola: Yes, being kept together and put to use.
Clown: I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus.
Viola: I understand you, sir; ’tis well begged.

And those he thinks are their servants …

I prithee, foolish Greek, depart from me: There’s
money for thee: if you tarry longer, I shall give
worse payment.
Clown:  By my troth, thou hast an open hand. These wise men
that give fools money get themselves a good
report–after fourteen years’ purchase.

Malvolio’s niggardliness does not survive the trauma of what is done to him:

… Good fool, some ink, paper and light; and convey what I will set down to my lady: it shall advantage thee more than ever the bearing of letter did.

Desperation is a great purse-opener.

The Duke is generous, and the fool pushes it:

Thou shalt not be the worse for me: there’s gold.
But that it would be double-dealing, sir, I would you could make it another.
O, you give me ill counsel.
Put your grace in your pocket, sir, for this once, and let your flesh and blood obey it.
Well, I will be so much a sinner, to be a double-dealer: there’s another.
Primo, secundo, tertio, is a good play; and the old
saying is, the third pays for all: the triplex,
sir, is a good tripping measure; or the bells of
Saint Bennet, sir, may put you in mind; one, two, three.
You can fool no more money out of me at this throw:
if you will let your lady know I am here to speak
with her, and bring her along with you, it may awake
my bounty further.
Marry, sir, lullaby to your bounty till I come
again. I go, sir; but I would not have you to think
that my desire of having is the sin of covetousness:
but, as you say, sir, let your bounty take a nap, I
will awake it anon.

Damn, he’s good.

ETA:  Sheep-biter – One who practices petty thefts.  Oh, okay.

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2 Responses to Twelfth Night: Money matters

  1. This is a really good discussion of the main points. I’m playing the part of Feste in a production and have set myself the task of imagining precisely what money he might be receiving during the play.

    2.3 a sixpence each from Sir T and Sir A (though Sir T’s is advanced by Sir A)
    2.4 a measured shilling from Orsino (who doesn’t double it)
    3.1 An unexpected half a crown from Cesario. S/he doubles it to a crown, to bring a Cressida.
    4.1 An angel (10s) from a open handed Sebastian. It’s Antonio’s money. Feste goes off saying he wouldn’t give tuppence to be in one of Sir T, Sir A or Fabian’s coats – he has rarely felt so well off and can more than afford a posh coat for himself or a new ukulele.
    4.2 The contents of Malvolio’s purse 4s 6d – if you are right and he is the keeper of Olivia’s purse I’m assuming he doesn’t have her petty cash on him – it’s in a locked box in the house.
    5.1 A shilling from Orsino which is doubled but not tripled.

    So over the play he is up 23 shillings and sixpence. A fortune. Feste’s board at Olivia’s is maybe worth a groat a day to him 4d. You’d think he might stick around for the potentially lucrative matrimonial celebrations. But if Olivia turns him out at the end he is going to be ok for quite a while. If she doesn’t, he may nevertheless choose to go on a bit of spree as he can afford it. Or to settle down with his leman (if he has one).

    Flush with cash is he more reckless? Fabian’s response to the exposure of the letter trick on Malvolio is prudent. Feste’s is not.

    Was he left money by Olivia’s father and only returns in 1.5 because he has got through it?

    If we think of the play as peopled by characters who are in some way stuck in a rut and of Feste as one catalyst for change, it is very satisfying to track how he himself is freed from the shackles of poverty by the collective contributions of the other characters.

  2. stewartry says:

    I love this! I’m so glad you commented! Break a leg, and enjoy the Fooling.

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