“Orinso asks Viola (Cesario) to try to swoon Olivia to like him…”

You may think at first that my student was writing about Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but the character-name “Orinso” suggests something more in the soap-opera line…

All right, yes: she was writing about Twelfth Night.  And I’m willing to assume, because the other names are correct, that “Orinso” is merely an o’typo—although that play has been through a number of strange variations at the hands of students, including one who seems to have thought it was an episode from The Morte d’Arthur.

The student error this sentence really reminds me of is a lovely misuse of the word “gander” as a transitive verb—I invite you to read my discussion of it, which may persuade you, as it has persuaded me, to adopt the error as part of your own colorful verbal armory.

I think I would have liked the sentence here better if it had ended after the ninth word: “Orinso asks Viola (Cesario) to try to swoon Olivia.” “Swoon” can be a noun (“a partial or total loss of consciousness…a state of bewilderment or ecstasy…a state of suspended animation,” says Webster) or a verb (“to faint…to become enraptured…to float or fade”). But, as Webster assures us, “swoon” is an INtransitive verb; that is, it takes no object. I suppose a writer could get away with writing “She swooned a swoon of joy,” but I can’t think of anything else one could swoon. Still, picturing Cesario/Viola trying to swoon Olivia is rather charming; perhaps it would involve putting a swooning spell on her? In my student’s mind, perhaps there could have been a vision of the comely Viola-in-Cesario-disguise standing before an Olivia fainting with rapture. I’d be willing to buy that as an explanation for the first nine words.

But she goes on. “To swoon Olivia to like him”? What is in her mind? Does she mean Cesario is to try to put a spell on Olivia to like Orinso? (Really, I have to apologize. I should be calling him “Orsino,” since I have confessed that I believe “Orinso” was bad typing rather than bad thinking—but I’m really, really getting a kick out of pretending Shakespeare named a character “Orinso.”) Anyway, Cesario trying to put a spell on Olivia to like him: could that be the intention?

No way of knowing. And of course there’s a little more. Here’s the whole sentence:

“Orinso asks Viola (Cesario) to try to swoon Olivia to like him and that’s when it really starts.”

Is this statement a companion piece to another, long-ago, student’s comment that “In Adam and Eve this is the first time man and woman have been together and right away there is trouble”? So young they are, and so jaded.

Does she mean that the play really starts when Orinso makes this difficult request of Viola? Or does she mean the attraction of Olivia to Viola? or the fun starts? or the trouble? Well, something really starts, anyway.

Let it be a lesson to us all. When we try to swoon people into doing things, we start something. And there’s no predicting how it will all turn out.

Happy New Year!

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

7 responses to ““Orinso asks Viola (Cesario) to try to swoon Olivia to like him…”

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