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9 of Cups - Sir Toby Belch

Dramatis Personae: Sir Toby Belch; Maria; Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Roman à clef : Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby; Lady Mary Vere; Philip Sidney.

Text & Context: ​The scenario depicted here is the "cakes & ales" scene, just before Malvolio's arrival. Sir Toby is fully in his cups. As Twelfth Night's Lord of Misrule, Sir Toby's excesses are sanctioned; he is the very champion of excess and revelry. 

 As such, he is Malvolio's opposite. And as Malvolio's later incarceration and ridicule recasts our feelings toward him, so too Toby's later debauches grow flatulent and excrescent. He abuses the hospitality of his niece, Olivia. For his own distraction, he engineers a duel between Sir Aguecheek and Caesario. He ends by stabbing Aguecheek in the back, betraying the antipathy underlying their relationship from the start, and seeping into the final fabric of the play like an oil stain on a table cloth. 

Subtext: In Sir Toby Belch can be seen the author's brother-in-law, Peregrine Bertie, a mischief-maker and soldier of Elizabeth's court. De Vere's sister Mary had been lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and her marriage to Bertie was raucous and disapproved of by both families. In Maria can be seen Mary de Vere, as in Aguecheek can be seen Philip Sidney, Bertie's one-time friend with whom he later had a falling out. Sidney also famously had a falling out with the author, set to be resolved by a duel that the Queen herself intervened to prevent. Though the marriage was fractious, the Earl of Oxford developed a friendship with his brother-in-law, Lord Willoughby, some say basing Petruchio's character on him as well as Sir Toby's. Peregrine Bertie - Petruchio Belch. Recall how, in Maria's first scene, she is greeted: "Bless you, fair shrew." Mary de Vere was known as a difficult person. As for seeing her in The Taming of the Shrew's Kate, Sir Thomas Cecil, having witnessed the newlyweds fighting, wrote: "[Lady Mary] will be beaten with that rod which heretofore she prepared for others." 


 Lord Willoughby attended the Danish court on a diplomatic mission in 1582, and while there visited with Tycho Brahe at his castle, Uraniborg. The Rosencrantz's and Guildensterns were both prominent families in Denmark at the time; Brahe had both names in his family, and at a state function Lord Willoughby noted both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were in attendance.

Intertext: Staffs 4 OrsinoQueen of Staffs ViolaCrowns 2 Feste; Crowns 4 Malvolio; Cups 5 Olivia.

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