A story originally inspired and borrowed from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted from my own short stage piece, also entitled Malvolio. Enjoy!
Allow me to take you back in time, back through over a century of war, of innovation, revolution and wonder. Allow me to take you back to the year eighteen eighty six and to a place tucked away just off the high street of Bethesda, North Wales. Bethesda was and still is a slate mining town but in those days it was also a town of dirty, sinful hovels and the place I take you now was said to have been one of the seediest of them all.
We pass down a gloomy alley as far a gloomy building where the paint is peeling and then through an old green door into a room as gloomy as the alley we have stepped from and the building we have stepped into. As our eyes grow accustomed to the gloom we begin to see others, others who are supping strong beer or smoking exotic tobaccos at tables and others who are seducing pretty serving ladies bustling around in revealing red dresses, passing drinks to the already drunk and relighting the pipes of the already intoxicated. In the middle, staring at us as we enter, is a huge and sour faced beefcake of a man. We’ll ignore him for the moment and move to the bar where my good friend Mr Festé Hodge pours drinks on behalf of the desperate and the downtrodden. My friend, welcome to the Illyrian Gentlemen’s Club; a bar now lost in time and all but forgotten but alive again for one night only, for our own benefit and entertainment.
Hodge pours us a glass of the house ale, a brown liquid that looks better than it tastes, and he points us to three of the bar’s more interesting characters. The sour faced beefcake of a man we met on the way in is the doorman, Augustus Malvolio. Few around here like him and he is arrogant, opinionated and inflated by hot air. Tonight, Hodge assures us, we shall see him rent asunder and humiliated, the hot air released for all in the establishment to see. Over in the far corner, slumped drunk in his chair and looking as though his blubbery frame might fall from it at any moment is the Ilyrian’s most valued customer. He is only the most valued, I must add, because he spends the most money. In that exact same chair from the hours of opening to the close you will find that self same Tobias Mendley Belch, Toby to his friends. Observing him from the far side of the room with a disgusted interest is a young man who, according to Hodge, has never set foot in this parlour before tonight. We do not yet know his name but Hodge advises us to keep a careful eye on him before giving a knowing wink.
A door at the far end of the room opens and in waltzes the proprietor, Orsino Braithwicke, a man shrewd in both business and life regarded as one of the most eligible bachelors in all of Wales. And our way he comes, dancing around the serving girls and the tables and a disgusted Malvolio, dancing to imaginary music. He reaches the bar, presses himself against it, throws his head back and then cries aloud;
‘If music be the food of love then please… I want some more!’ More? ‘More music! Give me excess of it so that my love for the fair Olivia would weary and so starve like one of these poor wretches who so often frequent my establishment.’ Poor man. He is much mistaken for that, as I am sure you know, is almost certainly not the way that love works. He’s going about being unrequited in the wrong way too. One should be dignified in being cast aside by a maiden so supposedly fair. A man should walk away with his held high and not dwell upon the situation. ‘Then my friend I must enquire as to how I might go about capturing this fair maiden for I can do none of these things which you suggest and yet I also cannot live with the agony of this unrequited love.’ May I suggest the hunt? The Hart will keep your mind away from thoughts of the fair maiden. Mr Braithwicke, in his response lurches with a pathetic melancholia. ‘Alas, the Hart will not keep such thoughts away when she has so villainously stolen my own.’ Then there is but one solution, Mr Braithwicke. The opiate! Hodge reckons there is nothing better for easing the pain of bad thoughts. ‘I quite agree my friend,’ Mr Braithwicke admits sadly. ‘Tomorrow I shall go next door and follow your advice but tonight there is still much work to be done.’ He bids us all a good night for the moment and departs, slowly at first but as he comes half way to the door his feet begin to shuffle and for the rest of the way he again dances to his imaginary music.
But who is this fair Olivia I hear you ask? She is over yonder, with Mr Belch. She is the finest of the fine in these parts, the best at her job and the prettiest of the pretty. She’s also the most buxom which I think helps a great deal in her profession. What say we watch her for a while? Perhaps we can find a way to solve Mr Braithwicke’s conundrum.
Belch is misbehaving and as we observe he drunkenly pinches Olivia’s bottom. She jumps in shock and playfully pushes him away. He laughs.
‘Do behave yourself Mr Belch,’ she instructs merrily.
‘Alas my pretty I can do no such thing… Will you not give an old man such as one’s self at least some pleasure before he passes away in his sleep as will inevitably happen before the crow calls at dawn?’ He reaches out to kiss her but she moves aside and he falls flat on his face.
‘You are drunk Mr Belch. It’s those bleedin’ cockerels that call at dawn and more curse ‘em for it.’
‘Then god damnit wench if you won’t give me one last pleasure at least fill me another glass afore my throat becomes so dry that it cracks like the sands of the Sahara.’ There’s a glass already before him and Olivia pushes it into his hand, shaking her head. Belch looks astounded.
‘I say… Witchcraft!’ he astounds. ‘My dear you are certainly a very special kind of whore’ Olivia is shocked and most displeased at this comment.
‘Now that’s enough Mr Belch. You know Mr Braithwicke doesn’t like people using the word whore in here. We are courtesans! If you want a whore then go down the road to the Queen Elizabeth!’ As she turns and walks away to some less coarse customer Belch calls after her.
‘Well you most certainly have the nicest bottom of any wench in the county.’
Let us not leave Belch yet my friend, for look, there is more. Malvolio is prowling towards him, his eyes aglow with hatred. He does this every evening when Belch begins to grow rowdy and raucous after a day of heavy drinking.
‘I believe, sir, that you are drunk beyond your capacity,’ he tells him.
‘Nonsense,’ Belch roars. ‘I know my own capacity and I am nowhere near it.’ As if to prove it he stands up, staggers and sits down again. Then he lets forth a gaseous and loud burp. ‘And that, sir, is why they call me Belch!’ he declares. Malvolio is not impressed by this.
‘Sir… I am insisting that you leave the establishment this instance.’
‘Never. It is never time to leave when there is alcohol to be caressed and women to be drunk!’
‘If you do not leave now, sir, I shall have you escorted from the premises.’
‘Hah! I’d like to see you try you old goat.’
‘Very well. You leave me no choice. I shall return with the proprietor momentarily.’ He stalks away, that same gleam of hatred in his eyes as when he first approached Mr Belch.
‘Go shake your ears,’ Belch slurs after him.
Quick… Look away. Belch is approaching the bar. Do not let him see that you were watching him. Oh lord he is running. That is not a pretty sight. All the more reason to look away.
‘Do any of you fine folk by any chance have ink and paper?’ My dear Mr Belch why ever do you need such things? ‘Why to humiliate that damn cad Malvolio of course. I am going to make him believe that the bounteous Olivia is infatuated with him.’ He laughs. A stranger, another customer, approaches us from behind.
‘That is most interesting sir. I have observed such a scheme before so am I right in presuming that you intend to humiliate this cad by way of a letter?’
‘Quite so stranger, quite so,’ Belch smiles, pulling this man close towards him. ‘May I have the pleasure of your name sir? I do believe I have not seen you in these parts before.’
‘Indeed you have not sir. I am but a visitor to these shores and my name is Aguecheek… Dr Andrew Aguecheek.’
‘Welcome to the Illyrian club sir. I am Belch by name and nature. The fine fellow behind the bar is Mr Hodge and I forget the names of these other good folk. I wonder… Would you perhaps wish to assist with one’s plan to humiliate a certain cad?’
‘Most certainly sir. I have more than dabbled in the realms of romance in my time and the results of your… your experiment… will be of interest to me.’
‘Excellent. Most excellent indeed! And Mr Hodge sir, will you also lend your services?’ Hodge agrees. ‘Then play on my friend and pour us a glass of your finest vintage whilst you‘re at it.’
Let us leave them to their scheming for a while. You recall the young man Hodge pointed to us earlier? Well now it seems that the fair Olivia is about to attempt her magic on him. See, she is gliding to his table. He does not react as she approaches and lays herself, seductively, across his lap.
‘Hello there good sir… What can I get for a strapping young lad like yourself this evening?’
‘Not a drop. Thank you madam,’ the young man replies politely. His voice sounds too high pitched to be his real voice and Olivia is clearly not expecting this as she sits up, both confused and alarmed.
‘How old are you lad? Sounds to me like your gonads haven’t had a good test run yet.’ She moves her hand towards his genitals but he moves it back again before she can get a good grip.
‘No madam. They have not.’ His response is crisp and curt and Olivia treats it with her most seductive smile.
‘Well I can soon sort that for you. Let’s get down to business and I’ll make a man out of you lad!’ The response of the young man is again crisp and curt.
‘Madam, as much as I would love to caress your poontang on this fine evening I am afraid I have not the time. I am to see Mr Braithwicke concerning working matters and as such I think any business regarding your aforementioned poontang should be avoided for the moment.’ Olivia backs away just as Malvolio re-enters the bar.
‘Watch that lad Malvolio,’ she warns him. ‘I sense he may be one of them.’
‘One of them mistress?’
‘Yes… You know… One of them… Like the oddly dressed fellow who died in that very seat not a few months back. The pitch of his voice is too high and I am sure that when I felt between his legs there was nothing but empty space!’
‘I shall watch him as you bid, mistress,’ Malvolio bows as she heads for the door on the far side of the bar.
Malvolio looks around. It is growing late and in all our observances we have failed to notice that in the last few minutes the bar has emptied. The pretty serving girls have gone away and the drunk customers flitted home to their wives. Only ourselves and the young man remain. Hodge stands at the bar, writing a letter, and beneath him, out of Malvolio’s sight, lurk Belch and Aguecheek. Malvolio’s eyes fall on the young man and when he has finished his observances he looks to the door where Olivia is now speaking to Mr Braithwicke, pointing the young man to him. ‘Sweet mistress,’ Malvolio says to himself, unaware that we are listening, ‘Sweet mistress how is it that you also fail to notice that the boy has breasts. Small ones… But still breasts all the same!’ He does? Look closer. Does he? He does! As Malvolio says, they are small but still breasts all the same. That is most curious.
Malvolio departs and Mr Braithwicke has crossed the floor to the young breasted man.
‘I presume sir that you are Cesario, here to apply for the position of my assistant?’ The man stands up, moves around the table so he is standing face to face with Mr Braithwicke, he is a great deal shorter, and he bows.
‘I am indeed Cesario, sir. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.’ Mr Braithwicke circles him, observing him as ourselves and Malvolio have just done.
‘How old are you exactly, Master Cesario?’
‘Nineteen and a half sir.’
‘And yet you do not have the manly voice required to woo a woman like every other boy your own age has.’
‘In fact, if I may be so bold as to say it, you have a rapturous feminine quality about your person.’
‘Many have commented on this fact before you sir. No doubt many will afterwards.’ A strange light has come into Mr Braithwicke’s eyes. He leans closer to Cesario.
‘What company do you prefer boy? Men or women?’ Cesario is offended by this statement.
‘Most certainly women sir! I have, in fact, kissed several women in my life.’ Orsino laughs.
‘Your mother doesn’t count Cesario. Neither does Aunt Vanessa if you get my drift. Go and wait in my office lad. It is down the hall on the right. I shall interview you further there for it is less wretched than this bar and more private.’ Again, Cesario bows and leaves by the door on the far side of the bar.
Mr Braithwicke, rather than following, now approaches ourselves.
‘Did you notice anything peculiar about that chap I was talking to just now?’ Apart from breasts and a feminine quality Mr Braithwicke? Not a thing! ‘Yes. I noticed those too. I find him most perplexing.’ Really? In what way? ‘Well… I find myself no longer pining for the sweet juices of mistress Olivia but instead for a boy and one who is no less than half of my own age. It is most disagreeable to me.’ Ahh… But love, is love, is love… If you understand my drift. ‘What say you?’ I say that there are no unnatural forms of love. Even those which some deem to be demonic to human nature are entirely natural. Mr Braithwicke nods. ‘I see. Well… If it is nature…’ He shakes our hand and leaves by the door, following Cesario.
Malvolio returns moments later. Belch lifts his head from the bar and beckons us to get behind. We do and he pulls ourselves, along with Hodge, down with him. Then he takes the letter Hodge has been writing these last few minutes, screws it into a ball and throws it at the unsuspecting doorman. Malvolio is disgusted and picks it from the floor with a snap of his long fingers. He reads it for a moment and then smiles to himself.
‘I should doubtless say that this letter is for me. It is addressed to A.M and I am the only denizen of these parts with that particular set of initials. I am… Augustus Malvolio!’ Aguecheek sniggers as Malvolio again scans the page. Then he again smiles. ‘Why this is the hand of the fair Olivia! I would recognize those avaricious curves anywhere. Her C’s… Her U’s… Her T’s!’ Aguecheek and all of us are confused by this and we wonder what he means until Aguecheek comes up with a solution. He doesn’t tell us though, only Belch and Hodge, who laugh.
Malvolio reads the page.
‘My dearest and most beloved A.M. I pray that this letter finds its way to you as I have wanted to tell you something important for an awfully long time. The truth is that I love you and spend my every waking moment with thoughts of your manly, muscular body caressing the inside of my thighs. I really fancy the pants off you. Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. A.M, you cannot imagine the desire I have for you to thrust your greatness upon me. I wish to stroke your manly…’ He stops reading and presses the letter to his chest, looking around to make sure that nobody is watching or listening. The fool doesn’t think to check behind the bar. He continues. ‘My dearest you will recall the oddly dressed gentleman who passed away in our establishment some months back. It would gladden my heart if you were to emulate his style. Seeing you in such a get up would light a fire in my soul that only a true lover could extinguish. I am naught but a seedy whore who is riddled with bramble-vag but I want to crush myself against you in the mad rampages of passion. My heart stops when you look at me and I long for your body… Until we meet again my love…’
He is enraptured, he is enchanted. He clutches the letter to his chest with a dreamy smile. Belch is so ecstatic that he hugs Aguecheek.
‘It’s worked. By Jove it’s worked. Ha ha. The old fool!’
‘Sweet Olivia,’ Malvolio yearns. ‘I will do anything for love and I almost certainly will do that!’
As the door on the far side of the bar closes we all emerge. Belch shakes Hodge by the hand and dances back around to the other side.
‘Hodge… A glass of your finest to celebrate the humiliation of the cad Malvolio!’
‘Aye,’ Aguecheek joins. ‘A toast to a play well performed.’ But as Hodge is quick to point out, it is not over yet. We have still to see the final humiliation and that, I am assured, shall be the finest part.
Cesario now returns from his interview with Mr Braithewicke and he approaches the bar. He speaks directly to Hodge.
‘Mr Hodge… My name is Cesario. Mr Braithwicke has instructed me to locate mistress Olivia for he wishes to speak to her at once.’ Belch laughs.
‘Does he indeed. And what pray tell does he wish to speak to her about?’
‘I know not.’ Cesario speaks to him in a tone that suggests displeasure, disapproval. It is a tone that suggests anger.
‘A question for you boy,’ Aguecheek proposes. ‘Mistress Olivia. Would you?’
‘As I explained to herself earlier, now is not an appropriate time.’
‘You do not then change your mind like a girl changes clothes sir?’
‘Indeed I do but not on this occasion.’
She, Olivia, the object of so many desires, re-enters and Cesario immediately approaches.
‘Mistress Olivia… What a pleasure it is to see your fine bosom again. I am afraid, however, that we cannot gaze upon your presence for long as Mr Braithwicke wishes to speak to you on a matter of some urgency.’ Olivia snorts.
‘Does he indeed? Well he can wait. I’m busy working right now. Isn’t that right Mr Belch?’ She nudges him and both laugh.
‘It is indeed my sweet,’ Belch slurs in a horny fashion. Olivia looks about the bar.
‘And where is that wretch Malvolio? Should he not be ensuring the security of the premises?’ There is a subversive glance between the three conspirators; Hodge, Aguecheek and Belch. Cesario bows to her.
‘As newly appointed assitant to Mr Braithwicke it is my duty to ensure the safety of the premises in Mr Malvolio’s absence.’
‘Well aren’t you the little gentleman?’ Olivia squeezes, smitten by Cesario’s polity. ‘What’s your name kid?’
‘I am Cesario, born of Nottingham and Lincoln where my family had small premises and estates.’ I notice as he says this he is looking at Belch, as if expecting a reaction. There is none as Belch has become besotted with an empty pint glass.
‘Do you like me Cesario? Do you want to touch the sweet lips that only those with the privilege are allowed to see?’
‘Madam… Although nothing would give me greater pleasure than to place myself between those walls of flesh which you refer to as sweet lips, I am afraid I must decline.’ Belch is stirred from his adorations by shock.
‘Are you so insane that you would cast aside as buxom a wench as this lad?’ Cesario reacts with impudence.
‘I may be insane sir but it is fair to say that you are drunk. And from what I overheard you discussing earlier with these gentlemen you have conspired to do this lady a great injury.’
‘Now what does he mean by that Mr Belch?’ Olivia puts her hands to her hips.
‘Boy… You have gone too far. I should lay my hands around your neck and…’
Re-enter Malvolio. And good lord! The way he is dressed would be utterly scandalous to the usual society of eighteen eighty six but this is the Illyrian and here it is merely regarded as strange. Our modern eyes are more accustomed to the sight but even we might be shocked by a man suddenly entering the room in that fashion. He is, in short, dressed as if he might be playing a part in The Rocky Horror show. He wears nothing but a red velvet corset, fishnet stockings and knee high boots.
‘How now, mistress Olivia,’ he says licking his lips.
‘Malvolio? Why are you dressed in that odd fashion?’
‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and other will have it thrust upon them. I know of your desires and I wish to fulfil each and every one in turn.’ Olivia is understandably confused.
‘My desires? What do you know of my desires Malvolio?’
‘I know of your desire to crush yourself against me in the mad rampages of passion!’
‘Malvolio this is most unbecoming of you.’
‘Is it lady? I do not care if you are a seedy whore with nothing to offer me but an infection of bramble-vag…’ She slaps him, right across the face. He pulls back, confused, as Mr Braithwicke stumbles onto the scene.
‘Malvolio? Why are you dressed in that ridiculous fashion?’ Malvolio bows.
‘Mr Braithwicke sir. I am dressed in this manner at the behest of mistress Olivia.’
‘I made you do no such thing. How dare you!’ She slaps him again, harder and Cesario steps between Malvolio and Mr Braithwicke.
‘If I may be so bold as to explain, sir?’
‘Go ahead young Cesario. If indeed you can explain this strange behaviour!’
‘Well sir… To begin with I did not come here to apply for the post of your assistant. I am not Cesario, as I have until this moment claimed to be. The real Cesario is reclining in the opium den next door with money I gave him some hours ago.’ Mr Braithwicke stares at him, more shocked than he was at seeing Malvolio.
‘Why the devil would you do such a thing? Explain yourself boy. If you are not Cesario then who are you? And what has this to do with Malvolio’s missing screw?’
‘I am here… Mr Braithwicke, because of this man… Tobias Mendley Belch!’ Belch’s eyes widen and pop from their sockets. ‘It is he who is responsible for this humiliation of this poor wretch.’
Belch shies away.
‘Do not turn away from me you drunken lout for you have a great deal of explaining to do.’
‘Explain Belch!’ Aguecheek demands. ‘Who is this man who outs our plan?’ Belch clutches his empty pint glass as though it is a teddy bear.
‘It is no man. It is my wife of eighteen years and a day whom I, in my drunken state, have failed to recognize.’
‘You have indeed failed to recognize me sir for I am your much neglected wife. I am Mrs Viola-Maria Belch! I came here to out your drunkeness for all the world but I instead find you concocting ludicrous plans to humiliate this poor cur.’ Malvolio pushes her out of the way, eager for his chance to get his hands on Belch at last.
‘So… Belch! The letter was a fake? Mistress Olivia does not wish for me to lie naked in her bed!’
‘Indeed not Mr Malvolio. I mean no offence but such a thing is repulsive to me. And begging your pardon for saying so at such a time, Mr Braithwicke sir, but I would rather have your kind self lie naked in my bed.’ Mr Braithwicke is, shall we say, pleasantly surprised.
‘Is that indeed so?’
‘Indeed it is sir. I have been suppressing my feelings for some time due to my position here. But following the events of this evening I cannot do so any longer. I must confess them in full so that anything resembling this madness does not happen again.’ Mr Braithwicke looks unusually happy at this.
‘Most excellent. You may confess your feelings later.’ He turns back to Malvolio. ‘Now what was this letter?’
Malvolio hands it over and Mr Braithwicke reads it to himself whilst we all watch and wait for his response. He is calm when he does speak.
‘So the purpose of this rather drunkenly crafted letter was to humiliate Malvolio?’ Aguecheek nods.
‘Indeed sir. But must I say it was all the idea of Mr Belch. I was merely interested by the results.’
‘I do not serve this humiliation well sirs,’ Malvolio rages. ‘I will make sure all three of you conspirators burn in hell forever more!’
And with that he is gone. And I think we too should leave, return to our own time and allow Mr Braithwicke and Olivia, Mr and Mrs Belch, Dr Aguecheek and Mr Hodge to tie the loose ends of this mess. Mr Belch, as much as he is a valued customer, will not be allowed to return to the Illyrian. His wife shall spend the remainder of her days attempting to return him to being a respectable member of society. Dr Aguecheek shall return to wherever it was he came from and life at the Illyrian shall return to normal for the time being. Soon it shall be no more for one night not long after our visit it shall be consumed by flames, set alight by some vagabond. And from what we have seen, would you finger any other culprit but Augustus Malvolio?
If you enjoyed this short story then I have plenty more to offer you. Why not check out my releases page for all the latest books and short stories? You’re bound to find something to whet your whistle if you’re looking! Also, if you know any Shakespeare aficionados pass this story along to them and watch their eyes bulge at the sacrilege!