Maria carried a clerical cap and gown and a false beard. ‘No, come on, please,’ she implored Feste. ‘Put on this gown and this beard to make him believe that you’re the curate, Sir Topas. Get on with it. I’ll call Sir Toby in the meantime.’
She ran off to find Sir Toby, leaving Feste with the items. Well, he would put them on and disguise himself in them. He wished he were the first to wear clerical garb to disguise deceit. He slipped the gown on – it was very long. He wasn’t tall enough to look the part nor skinny enough to be taken for a dedicated scholar but, he supposed, to be thought of as an honest man who balances his books is as good as saying that he was a cautious man and a great scholar. Ah, here were the conspirators.
Sir Toby bowed exaggeratedly. ‘God bless you, Mister Parson,’ he said.
Feste nodded gravely at him. ‘Bonas Dies,’ he said in the quavering voice of a frail old man. ‘As the old hermit of Prague, who never used pen and ink, said to a niece of King Gorbuduc – “that that is, is”: so I, being Mister Parson, am Mr Parson, because what is ‘that’ but ‘that’ and ‘is’ but ‘is’?’
They stood near the entrance of Olivia’s house. There was a guardhouse with a square hole with bars in the door, in which Sir Toby had locked Malvolio.
‘To him, Sir Topas,’ said Sir Toby.
Feste went and stood beside the door. ‘You in there, I say! Silence in this prison!’
‘The knave does a good impression,’ whispered Sir Toby. ‘He’s a good rogue.’
Malvolio’s voice came, echoing out of the darkness. ‘Who’s calling?’
‘Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic.’
‘Sir Topas! Sir Topas! Dear Sir Topas, go to my lady.’
Feste jumped back. ‘Get out of him diabolical fiend! How you’re tormenting this man! Can you talk of nothing but ladies?’
Sir Toby and Maria clung to each other, working hard at stifling their laughter. ‘Well said, Mister Parson,’ mouthed Sir Toby.
‘Sir Topas,’ came the echoing voice. ‘Never has a man been so wronged! Dear Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They’ve imprisoned me here in hideous darkness.’
‘Shame on you, lying Satan! I’m calling you by the most modest terms because I’m one of those gentle men who would treat the devil himself with courtesy. Are you saying that place is dark?’
‘As hell, Sir Topas.’
‘Why, it has bay windows as transparent as shutters and the windows on the south-north side are as bright as ebony and yet you complain that the light is obstructed?’
‘I am not mad, Sir Topas. I’m telling you, this house is dark.’
Feste tutted. ‘Madman, you’re mistaken. I say there is no darkness except ignorance, in which you are more bogged down than the Egyptians were in their fog.’
‘I’m telling you, this house is as dark as ignorance, the ignorance that’s as dark as hell, and I’m telling you that no man has ever been so abused. I’m no more mad than you are. Test me with some penetrating question.’
Feste paced before the guardhouse door and stroked his beard. ‘What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild birds?’
‘That the soul of one’s grandmother might possibly inhabit the body of a bird.’
Feste grunted. ‘What do you think of his opinion?’
‘I think nobly of the soul and in no way agree with his opinion.’
Feste turned. ‘Farewell,’ he said. ‘Remain in darkness. You’ll have to hold the opinion of Pythagoras before I’ll certify you sane. And be careful about killing a woodcock in case you displace the soul of your grandmother. Farewell.’
Malvolio’s voice, crying in desperation, ‘Sir Topas! Sir Topas! followed him as he went to where Sir Toby and Maria waited. Tears rolled down Sir Toby’s cheeks.
‘My most exquisite Sir Topas,’ he gasped, embracing the jester.
‘Yes, I’m good at this kind of thing,’ said Feste.
‘You could have done it without your beard and gown. He couldn’t see them,’ said Maria.
Sir Toby sighed and became businesslike. ‘Go to him in your own voice and come and tell me how you find him’ He took Maria’s arm. ‘I wish we were rid of this silliness. If he can be conveniently set free I hope he will be because I’m in such trouble with my niece that I can’t pursue this hoax to its end safely.’ He nodded at Feste. ‘Come to my room in a while.’
Sir Toby and Maria left and Feste started whistling. He went back to the guardhouse door and started singing. ‘Hey Robin, jolly Robin, Tell me how your lady is…’
‘Fool!’ yelled Malvolio.
‘My lady is really unkind…’
‘Alas, why is she so?’
‘Fool, I say!’
‘She loves another… Who’s that calling hey?’
‘Dear fool, if you want to do yourself a favour in my eyes get me a candle, and pen and ink, and paper. As I am a gentleman I’ll live to show you my gratitude for it.’
‘Mister Malvolio!’ Feste expressed astonishment.
‘Yes, dear fool.’
‘Dear me, sir, how did you come to be mad?’
‘Fool, there never was a man so notoriously abused. ‘I’m as sane, fool, as you are.’
‘Only as sane as me? Then you are indeed mad if you’re no saner than a fool!’
‘They’ve imprisoned me here, kept me in darkness: they send ministers to me. Asses! And do everything they can to drive me out of my mind.’
‘Be careful what you say: the minister is here,’ said Feste. Then in his Sir Topas voice he said: ‘Malvolio, Malvolio, may heaven restore your wits. Try to sleep and abandon your pointless bibble-babble.’
‘Sir Topas!!! Malvolio’s voice was desperate.
‘Don’t talk to him good fellow,’ said the Sir Topas voice. ‘Who I sir?’ in Feste’s voice ‘… not I sir! God be with you, good Sir Topas.’ ‘Yes indeed, Amen,’ in Sir Topas’s voice. Feste waved: ‘I will sir, I will.’
‘Fool, fool, fool!’ screamed Malvolio.
‘Oh dear, sir, be patient. What do you want, sir? I’m in trouble for speaking to you.’
‘Dear fool, help me with some light and some paper. I’m telling you, I’m as sane as any man in Illyria.’
‘I wish you were, sir.’
‘By this hand I am. Dear fool, some ink, paper and light. And take what I write to my lady. It will be more to your advantage than ever delivering a letter ever has been.’
‘I will help you to it,’ said Feste. ‘But tell me the truth. Are you really mad, or are you pretending?’
‘Believe me, I’m not. I’m telling you the truth.’
‘No, I’ll never believe a madman till I see his brains. I’ll get you light and paper and ink.’
‘Fool, I’ll reward you at the highest level. ‘Go now, I beg of you.’
Feste went bounding off, singing:
I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I’ll be with you again,
In a trice
Like to the old Vice
Your need to sustain:
Who with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wr\th.
Cries, ah, ha! To the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad,
Adieu, goodman devil.