Tag Archives: “Twelfth Night

“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!


“The feeling of love is one that is shared by everyone…”

We can begin with this beginning. Unimpeachable observation, at first glance. Of course you’d think he was being paid by the word—that’s the only hypothesis that can excuse the number of featherbedders in this statement. “The feeling of love”? “is one that is”? Why not “everyone has felt love” or “everyone has been in love”? We also have to query, if not fully question, the implication that “love” is a single and clearly defined “feeling,” a universal experience…and the possible further implication that everyone shares this feeling with everyone else. So maybe the statement isn’t that unimpeachable after all. And maybe there’s worse to come?

“The feeling of love is one that is shared by everyone at some point of their lives, which may lead to frustration and anger.”

Huh? Well, the “at some point of their lives” does suggest that everybody isn’t feeling love for everybody else all the time, so that’s a help. I WILL object to “their” (plural pronoun to refer to the singular pronoun “everyone”= number-agreement error!), although I know this is a hopeless crusade of mine. But, typing with appropriately clenched fists, I will say that generally the sentence up to the comma is clear enough.

But then comes the adjective clause. Adjectives must either abut their nouns/pronouns or sit on the other side of a verb of being from them. So, what noun does “which” abut? “Some point of their lives”? If the adjective clause modified that, first of all it wouldn’t use a comma because it was limiting or specifying the point at which everyone shares the feeling of love: at a point that might lead to frustration. Surely my student didn’t mean to assert that love comes only at bad or dangerous moments.

We might consider the “which” clause as a modifier for a concept previously expressed albeit not in noun form, a structural maneuver routinely acceptable in colloquial speech or writing. Does my student mean, then, that the fact that everyone shares the feeling of love may lead to frustration or anger? I suppose it very well might, for a person who has not yet shared the feeling and fears he or she never will—or someone who has just been unceremoniously dumped by the object of his or her affection. I have to confess that I, even I, have been unceremoniously so dumped, and have considered writing poison-pen letters to everyone in that day’s newspaper’s “Engagements” section. Or perhaps he’s suggesting that the “at some point” is frustrating or angering—love coming only once, or love being so fleeting, or the arrival of love being so unpredictable.

Or maybe he’s just against love, the “which” referring to that first noun phrase, “the feeling of love.” Sooner or later he’s going to experience that infuriating feeling of love, dammit!

I may be the only person on earth (aside from my student) who knew what he meant. He meant to include an adjective after “of” and before “love.” But didn’t. The sentence wasn’t the first one in his essay, and maybe by then he had grown tired of typing the adjective, or felt safe in assuming that the reader no longer needed to have it spelled out. I knew what word was missing because I knew what the topic of his paper was: unrequited love. See how that one little addition fills the whole sentence with a logic or reasonableness that had been completely missing before?

Couldn’t such a wordy sentence have been persuaded to make room for just one more? Or if not, couldn’t he have sacrificed “is one that,” making ample space with some left over?

He might also have availed himself of my universal draft-reading recommendation: Ask someone else to read your draft, and choose someone who respects you but isn’t blinded to your imperfections by love. (That policy excludes mothers, fathers, grandmothers, uncles, dogs, sweethearts, and adoring siblings…) As long as he wasn’t at that moment sharing the feeling of love with everyone, he should have been able to find somebody…if he had thought to look.

Publicity photo by Kevin McNair for my friend Lucy’s production of the ultimate Unrequited Love play, Twelfth Night. In July, by The Players at Putney Gardens, Booth Memorial Park, Stratford, CT.