Sir Andrew in Our Bosom: 
Memories of Adoration
Written by Elizabeth Brunner, 1997, 
for English 431 at Cal Poly under Professor Steven Marx

       Painted from the rich palette of Rembrandt and glossed by the moment when alcohol turns despondent, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew watch scheming Maria's retreating figure.  Ruddy-faced Toby praises this beagle of a wench and boasts of her adoration. Andrew responds with a faint noise, trapped between a sigh and a laugh.  Andrew pauses, face slightly downturned, and the scene pauses with him. A gentle frown, a wistful "Oh," the stuttered repetition of "I" and then finally the line: "I was adored once too" (II.iv.181). 
      These words drawl slowly, accompanied by the shifting wrinkles of Andrew's Pekinese face in bare emotion. Toby ignores the needed tenderness and presses for more money instead.  But my attention remains immersed in Sir Andrew Aguecheek's expression of vulnerability and past-tense hopes.  In the 1980 BBC production of Twelfth Night, director John Gorrie emphasizes this single line through careful pacing and choreographed facial expressions -- a choice which parallels my own fascination with Andrew's simple declaration. 
      Similarly, Virginia Woolf praises Andrew's five-word line: "We feel that we hold him in the hollow of our hands; a novelist would have taken three volumes to bring us to that pitch of intimacy" (80).  I share her sense of cradling Andrew, comforting him with the warmth of maternal hands or embracing him to my bosom, whispering false encouragement that he might be adored yet again in the future.  And by extending this sympathy, I comfort myself. 
       Sir Andrew's words trigger fears that our own prime has long since faded, that our most love-worthy self lingers decades back, and that our accomplishments fail to meet our once foreseen promise.  Shakespeare uses awkward, bumbling Andrew to voice the dread often lurking beneath surfaces.  When I stand at the mirror, inspecting clothes which no longer fit, my thoughts roam to "I was thin once."  When the College Composition student complains that high school teachers never marked failing grades  on her essays, she means "I was smart once."   When Valentine's Day finds us alone with some inane television show, we remember "I was courted once."  But comparisons to past glories must not be spoken aloud; the present suffers too much when weighed against what once was and what might have been. 
      Hearing Andrew voice such a sad claim makes us uncomfortable.  Critic Harry Levin squirms, suspecting that the pampered fool will launch into some "namby-pamby case history" about long-lost love (165).  J.B. Priestly explains that we each own "a little Sir Andrew Aguecheek" hidden in our subconscious, "giggling and gaping, now strutting and now cowering, pluming himself monstrously at one word and being hurled into a fit of depression by the next"  (12).  Bringing this internal troll to stage center for public mockery exposes our private -- and likely foolish -- nostalgic longings.  In fact, scholar Leslie Hotson offers an etymological connection between adoration and foolishness.  Renaissance courtiers used the phrase "to dor someone" or "to give someone the dor" as "slang for the jest," associated with the Dutch word for fool, een door (100).  Hotson discovers the pun in Sir Andrew's line: "I was a-dor'd once too" (100).  No, we cry back to Andrew, you continue to be dor'd.  Although universal, your aches and doubts become foolish when so visible.
      To place "adoration" in the past tense requires scooping greedy fingers into our hearts, straining out remembered scorn or malice, and plucking forth near-buried fondness. Such bloody self-examination makes us cling to the era of feeling beloved, even while we remain painfully aware that the unloved months outnumber. 
Works Cited
Hotson, Leslie.  "Illyria for Whitehall."  The First Night of Twelfth Night.  1957.  Rpt. in Twelfth Night: Critical Essays.  Ed. Stanley Wells.  New York: Garland, 1986.  89-105.
Levin, Harry.  "The Underplot of Twelfth Night."  Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times. Oxford: 1976.  Rpt. in Twelfth Night: Critical Essays.  Ed. Stanley Wells.  New York: Garland, 1986.  161-9.
Priestly, J.B.  "The Illyrians."   The English Comic Characters.  1925. Rpt. in Twelfth Night: Critical Essays.  Ed. Stanley Wells.  New York: Garland, 1986.  1-16.
Woolf, Virginia.  "Twelfth Night at the Old Vic."  Collected Essays.  1966.  Rpt. in Twelfth Night: Critical Essays.  Ed. Stanley Wells.  New York: Garland, 1986.  79-82.


Author: Elizabeth Howell Brunner
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