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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: June ::
Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0590  Friday, 23 June 2006

[1] 	From: 	John W. Kennedy <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 12:44:47 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?

[2] 	From: 	Conrad Geller <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 18:57:43 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?

[3] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Friday, 23 Jun 2006 13:10:38 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 12:44:47 -0400
Subject: 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?

Paul E. Doniger <
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 >

 >In most productions that I have seen of the play, Sir Toby remains
 >unrepentant through the end. His final words are usually delivered
 >as rather harsh comments on the ignorance of Sir Andrew. However,
 >something rather curious suggests to me that there is another way to
 >interpret these lines (and consequently Toby's character). In 5.1.204
 >(Arden edition), Toby's line is written: "Will you help? An ass head,
... ;" however, the First Folio is written: "Will you helpe an Ass-head 
  , ... ."
 >
 >Now, I realize that just about every editor since Rowe has added the 
question
 >mark, assuming a compositor's error, but I wonder if it isn't possible 
that
 >Shakespeare meant Toby to refer to himself as the asshead, and not Sir
 >Andrew. After all, since at least his interrupted duel with Sebastian 
(if not
 >even earlier), he seems far out of his usual role as lord of misrule. 
He is
 >concerned about being out of favor with Olivia, and we soon find out that
 >he married Maria (ostensibly because of her maneuvering the jest against
 >Malvolio), probably before this scene. He also, even earlier, offered to
 >"have mercy" on Malvolio. Earlier in 5.1, he said he hates a drunken 
rogue.
 >Could he be referring to hi Subject: Re: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: 
Redemptive
or Not? myself as well as Dick Surgeon?

An interesting thought, but it seems to have several problems.

First, the entire line is:

   Will you helpe an Asse-head, and a coxcombe, &
   a knaue: a thin fac'd knaue, a gull?

A suddenly reformed Sir Toby might be believed to condemn himself as "an 
Asse-head, and a coxcombe, & a knaue", but what of "thin fac'd knaue," a 
description most unbefitting any Sir Toby I have ever seen, or "a gull", 
which seems rather inapposite.

Second, even if one were to let "thin fac'd" and "gull" pass, it is a 
remarkably short and vague speech to contain so wholesale an anagnorisis 
and peripeteia.

Third, have we not already had enough of the Tragedy of Malvolio? Must 
we now superadd to it the Tragedy of Sir Toby Belch? Must we eternally 
be "trying to munch whipped cream as if it were venison"?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Conrad Geller <
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Date: 		Thursday, 22 Jun 2006 18:57:43 +0000
Subject: 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?

Your suggested interpretation certainly seems well within the 
possibilities of text (even leaving punctuation aside). My only cavil 
would be about the general atmosphere, which seems to me uniformly 
cruel. Malvolio's exit, for example, shows that he has learned nothing 
of value. In general terms it's a play about discovery, not redemption.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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 >
Date: 		Friday, 23 Jun 2006 13:10:38 -0600
Subject: 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0585 Toby Belch: Redemptive or Not?

Does Toby change, and more specifically, does he call himself "an 
Ass-head"?  To the first part of the question, I say maybe (Toby does 
start worrying he's gone too far and wishes he "were well rid of [his] 
knavery").  To the second part, I say, "I doubt it."

In the Riverside the lines in question read:

Andrew: I'll help you, Sir Toby, because we'll be dress'd together.
Sir Toby: Will you help? -- an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a 
thin-fac'd knave, a gull!

The Folio, as Paul Doniger, points out has no break after Toby's "help"; 
it reads: "Will you helpe an Asse-head, and a coxcombe, & a knaue: a 
thin fac'd knaue, a gull?"

I like the Folio's question mark at the end, instead of an exclamation 
point (though apparently a question mark was sometimes used for 
exclamations).  But I find it hard to read the line as self-criticism.

The problem is that, if Toby is calling himself an ass-head, he also 
seems to go on to call himself a coxcomb, knave, THIN-fac'd knave, and 
gull.  And "thin-fac'd" almost certainly means Andrew, not Toby. 
There's no indication that Toby is switching the object of his insults 
after the first "knave," let a lone immediately after "ass-head."

For him to be doing that we'd have to read the lines as meaning 
something like "Will you [Sir Andrew] help [me, who am] an ass-head and 
a coxcomb and a knave--[YOU, who are not only a knave like me, but] a 
thin-fac'd knave, a gull?"

I think that's a stretch.  The switch in objects has to be inferred; 
there's nothing to signal the switch; and there's no time really for the 
switch to be made, unless the actor pauses between the two "knave's." 
Even if he does that, the switch would have to be signaled by gesture or 
inflection, and I can't think how that could be done clearly or 
persuasively.

And if Toby's calling Andrew a knave and gull, what would keep him from 
directing the other insults at his "friend" as well?  In any case, Toby 
doesn't seem in a very repentant mood.

The two uses of "knave" make better sense if both refer to Andrew.  The 
second "knave" seems to me to lift the line to a climax: you, Andrew, 
are not only a knave, but a THIN-FAC'D knave and a gull.

Despite the missing break after "help" in the Folio, the traditional 
interpretation makes more sense to me, by which I mean reading the line 
as saying: "Will YOU [Sir Andrew] help [me], [you who are] an ass-head, 
etc.?"

Bruce Young

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