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HER C'S, HER U'S AND HER T'S

Malvolio. By my life, this is my lady's hand. These be her very C's, her U's and her T's; and thus makes she her great P's. It is, in contempt of question, her hand. Sir Andrew. Her C's, her U's and her T's; why that?

(Twelfth Night, ii, 5, 95)

The Shakespeare reader will here recognize an old friend. This cabalistic combination of letters has withstood the attacks of all the commentators, and all we may know about it now is that it is either “purposely meaningless,” or else, if there is a meaning, Shakespeare buried it so deep that no one may ever unearth it.

A critic familiar with Shakespeare's method ought to be able to decide at once, even though he could not solve the crux, that the author is here dealing with a definite meaning. In the first place, he has made these three letters the subject of particular dramatic action. Malvolio, coming down the garden path and picking up the letter which the humorous conspirators have put there, is himself the one whom we are expecting to see made a fool of —“a contemplative idiot” as the mischievous Maria explained in getting up the plot. But just at the moment when we are all prepared to laugh at Malvolio as he maunders over the

meanings of the letter, we are taken by surprise. From the box-tree where they are hiding, there bobs up one of the conspirators themselves with the query of “why that?” Even before the pompous Butler himself is entrapped, one of the conspirators is so struck by something that he falls into the trap.

This sudden turning of our attention, so contrary to the direction in which we were looking for the fun, signalizes these letters to our mind; and Aguecheek's "why that?” is virtually a question for the audience to consider. In the second place, it will be observed that there are four letters. But Sir Andrew pays no attention to one of them; he is interested in the other three. This shows mental action on Sir Andrew's part; the three letters have a particular meaning to him else he would not jump at them and let the other go by the board. Shakespeare did this purposely; he included the superfluous letter just to this end. It is his psychologic mechanism for showing particular mental action on Sir Andrew's part with regard to a meaning. And the "why that?” directs it specifically to the attention of the audience. Thus we see that the three letters are made the subject of a little separate dramatic study to give them the emphasis of action; and after this emphasis on the mind the cue is given that there is a meaning intended.

Such should be our a priori theory, as critics.

But the Elizabethan spectator would need no theory. The letters have significance in the fact that they spell cut. And if we have followed the play with live interest in every word, we will see that this word is the very one which would be calculated to catch Sir Andrew's attention and arouse his superstitious fancy. The senile Sir Andrew is spending all of his time and much of his money in trying to get the rich Countess to wife — she who was supposed to be the author of the letter. He had finally despaired and had decided to give up and go home when Sir Toby prevailed upon him to stay; and the last thing Sir Toby said to him in the scene where we last saw them,

was

“Send for money, knight; if thou hast her not i’ the end call me cut.

This tremendous declaration, as I have said, was Sir Toby's final word to Sir Andrew when we saw them last; it comes at the end of the scene. And there is but a short scene between that and their present appearance on the stage. The word, therefore, boding failure to win her, and being deliberately spelled out of the letter, would naturally engage Sir Andrew's attention. The human mind is just that superstitious. It had been impressed on his mind in connection with the Countess, and these first letters from her supposed epistle could hardly help spelling the word to him.

“Cut,” if it meant the same in Shakespeare's

day as it does on any farm today, refers to an animal that has been desexed. We see this in “Ist Henry IV,” where the Carrier says, “beat Cut's saddle and put a few flocks in the point,” the name evidently referring to a gelding. For such a superannuated and harmless old chap as Sir Toby to swear by this word to the aged suitor who was even more senile than himself, was funny in the first instance. Some Shakespeareans, as Clark and Wright, seem to understand “cut” as referring merely to a bob-tailed horse, or to a dog in like condition. But the dictionary, because of the wellknown and long established horseman's usage, includes the other. However, whatever we may accept for the meaning, it was the tallest oath Sir Toby knew how to swear, the most reflecting on his much-prized manhood; and the Elizabethan audience, well versed in all such allusions, would hardly need to be hit on the head to see the meaning in it. They would only need to have their attention directed to it particularly; and this Shakespeare did by making it the centre of an ingenious and diverting piece of dramatic by-play. When we consider the surprise of the audience in having their attention directed in the very opposite quarter to that in which they were expecting to find the “idiot,” and imagine Sir Andrew bobbing up with this superstitious inquiry, and remember what "cut” would signify as used by an old sporting gentleman like Sir Toby, whose

failing was to imagine himself as being still in the hey-dey of his virility, the whole combination was calculated to make the audience split its sides with laughter.

While this is but the explanation of a trifling comedy allusion, the management and method of the dramatic incident is as deep as any in more serious scenes; it shows Shakespeare's practice of keeping regard for what would naturally be in a character's mind and having the event result from inner action. In Leontes' puzzling soliloquy, which I explained as the turning-point of “Twelfth Night,” we saw that frequently the speech and action of a character is but the outcropping of inner action - the words we are expected to see through. This is essentially the same, as indeed, are a large proportion of these supposedly meaningless passages.

The reader will now ask — What is the meaning of the letters M. O. A. I. as read by Malvolio? We might as well inquire what what was the meaning of the P which Sir Andrew did not bother about. We should remember that none of this has any meaning in itself. The C. U. T. only has a meaning as it appealed to something already in Sir Andrew Aguecheek's mind. The other puzzle serves its purpose for the "contemplative idiot” Malvolio to puzzle over; and as Shakespeare has put no emphasis on it nor signified a cue, we are not supposed to bother about it. But, by

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