Saturday, 11 November 2017

Sir Andrew's Astronomy


Twelfth Night has always been my favourite of Shakespeare's plays. It is a grown up, mature, version of Shakespeare's earlier Comedy of Errors. The play ends well for most of the characters except for Malvolio (although Orsino sends Fabian to placate him off stage) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Ague was the Tudor term for Malaria so Sir Andrew is thin faced has lanky hair and is tall and slim. He is the Stan Laurel to his companion Sir Toby Belch who is rotund and could be Oliver Hardy. A more modern coupling would be The Blues Brothers!

Sir Andrew is a fool and knows himself to be a fool. He has an income of 3000 Ducats a year (about £500,000 a year in today's money) and Sir Toby manages to fleece him for 'two thousand strong' (about £1 million) before cruelly spurning him towards the end of play. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Sir Andrew (Act 2 Scene 3 "I was adored once too.") but in truth he will be better off in the long run without the company of the parasitic Sir Toby who although fine company at times is ultimately very unkind to him. 
In Act 2 Scene 3 Sir Andrew says
"By my troth, the fool has an excellent breast. I had rather than forty shillings I had such a leg,
and so sweet a breath to sing, as the fool has. In sooth, thou wast in very gracious fooling last
night, when thou spokest of Pigrogromitus, of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus

'twas very good, i' faith. I sent thee sixpence for thy leman: hadst it?"
Feste, the fool in Olivia's court, is actually wise and it is Sir Andrew who is the clown. He has either misquoted Feste or has mistaken the nonsense spoken in jest by Feste for great wisdom.  Shakespeare made up the words Pigrogromitus, Vapians, Equinoctial and Queubus so that Sir Andrew sounds like a charlatan pretending to be an astrologer. The Tudor audiences would have been familiar with fake astrologers taking money from the unwary and would have undoubtedly found this very funny.


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