Smiles that reveal, Smiles that conceal

This article analyses the dramatic functions of the smile in Shakespeare’s plays as a facial gesture which can either reveal what a character is thinking, or conceal feelings. It is at its most theatrically complex in Twelfth Night as a thematic and structural element, and Malvolio’s smiling is the most extended example.


Increasing interest has been shown linking emotions and physiology in the early modern period (Paster), and not surprisingly, the face is seen as a key indicator of expressiveness. Blushing, laughing, weeping (Steggle) and other physical symptoms have been examined in some detail, but smiling has so far eluded attention. Sybylle Baumbach in Shakespeare and the Art of Physiognomy provides valuable scaffolding concepts and insights, coining terms such as “face readings” and “facial rhetoric”. The approach seems broadly confirmed by the subtitle of Richard Saunders’ book published in 1653, Physiognomie and Chiromancie, “signal Moles of the Body, fully and accurately handled, with their natural-predictive Signflcations”, an early modern equivalent of facial rhetoric or semiotics of the face. Baumbach shows that “misreading” the face is just as frequent amongst characters in Shakespeare, as correctly interpreting motives “given away” by visible behaviour. As King Duncan warns, facial gestures are notoriously unreliable: “There’s no art I To find the mind’s construction in the face” (Macbeth 1.4.11-12),  and the politician Octavius Caesar in Julius Caesar is well aware that “Some that smile, have in their hearts, I fear, I Millions of mischiefs” (4.1.5 0-5 1). Such knowledge can be used cunningly by a character like lago, who, in Jeremy Lopez’s words, “encourages Othello to look at non-verbal things – facial expression, gesture, laughter . . .” (73), in order to deceive, and to alert the audience to the deception as it is occurring:

Here he comes.

As he [Cassio] shall smile, Othello shall go mad; And his unbookish jealousy must construe

Poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures, and light behaviours Quite in the wrong.     (4.1. 98-102)

More recently, Penelope Woods in a wide-ranging essay, “The Play of Looks: Audience and the Force of the Early Modern Face”, has offered a sophisticated analysis of reciprocity between players and playgoers in “reading” facial expressions. Theatre


© 2015 R.S. White

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historians like these have not dealt with smiling, but this contribution is to a field which they have generated.

In more lightweight vein is Angus Trumble’s A Brief History of the Smile. This entertaining book, written for a general audience by an art historian, grew unpromisingly out of a lecture given at the invitation of a conference of dentists and maxillofacial surgeons It draws attention to the fact that these days the smile is considered a matter of “surface”, a “cosmetic” accessory. Trumble’s book is more anecdotal than analytical, but he does suggest some overarching categories: smiles can signify lewdness, desire, mirth, wisdom, deceit, and happiness, he suggests – although there is of course a broader range of emotional expressiveness that could be cited, such as smiles of mockery or derision (the “smirk”). We can smile through tears like Cordelia, or in a spirit of sadism, cunning, seduction, friendliness, pity, sarcasm, disbelief, embarrassment, adopt the enigmatic “Mona Lisa” smile, or heed Lily Allen’s deliciously vindictive song refrain When I see you cry, it makes me smile Guillame-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) claimed to have discovered through electro-physiology a way scientifically to prove whether a smile was genuine (“the Duchenne smile”) or not. Apart from the obvious social difficulties in wiring up somebody in order to confirm, it is questionable whether he was in fact analysing a smile as an emotional response or simply locating a muscle spasm in the face. The rictus or fixed smile is equally ambiguous

because it can also denote not pleasure but a grimace of pain, or even rigor mortis. The unfortunate titular character in Victor Hugo’s novel L ‘homme qui nt (The Man Who Laughs) is an even more extreme case, as his mouth has been literally slit to make him look like a laughing clown To these can be added the gormless and vacuous kind nailed by Baudnllard

“smile and others will smile back . . . Let this emptiness, this profound indifference shine out spontaneously in your smile”, or the conventionally obligatory sort scorned by W C Fields start off every day with a simple smile, and get it over with We find an early modem

equivalent in the advice offered by George Pettie s translation, Civil Conversation (1586)

To smile upon euene man is rather a signe of a vaine mmde then of a cheerefull countenance (Oxford English Dictionary, smile v 2a) Lewis Carroll ‘s Cheshire Cat has

become, among other things, a sign of the expansive politician’s smile which can mean

anything at all, and be used as a sneering weapon an engaging Idistraction suggesting

universal amiability, or an intimidatory tactic against an over-solemn opponent (Parker). After

centuries of neglect, the closely observed smile was spectacularly recovered in the twentieth

century discovery of the movie close up However, I suggest that this very invention of

technology may ironically have drawn us to mistake the nature of the device in early modem

drama for a modem one based on motivation psychology and inwardness of character, all

of which can be questioned A social anthropologist and linguist Anna Wierzbicka, has come close to suggesting that smiling may not tell us anything meaningful about an emotional state because it is an example of a truism

that some “facial expressions” are indeed “social signals” which have an identifiable meaning that renders irrelevant whether it is voluntary or involuntary, false or sincere no matter what a smiling person actually feels or wants a smile as such never means I feel something bad now it always means I feel something good now The feeling behind it is irrelevant what matters is how it is received by others (Wierzbicka 177)

It is a moot point as to whether the examples from Shakespeare prove or disprove this

conclusion, and to test it would fuel another paper (Wierzbicka 177) My aims are more

modest here, to exemplify the range of significations and theatrical functions of

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references to the smile in Shakespeare’s works, and to explore one particularly notorious smile, Malvolio’s

When I looked up Shakespeare in Trumble s index I found only three tiny items, each simply naming Malvolio, and I found nothing of significance in the bibliography. So, I am now about to provide my own chapter on Shakespearean smiling, and although Malvolio will be given an honourable place, he will by no means be alone There are pleity of examples to illustrate the sheer diversity of references in Shakespeare. We find Trumble’s categories illustrated in Macbeth ‘s mocking bravado “swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn” (5.7.30). We find erotic desire in what Mars taught Venus in Venus and Adonis, “To toy, to wanton, daily, smile, andjest” (106); mirth in Puck’s “Ijest to Oberon, and make him smile” (2.1.44), or the perverse task imposed on Biron at the end of Love ‘s Labour’s Lost, “to enforce the pained impotent to smile” (5.2.789); wisdom, perhaps, in Duke Senior’s equanimity in the face of the winter wind, “I smile and say ‘This is no flattery. These are counselors 1 That feelingly persuade me what I am” (As You Like It 2.1.10-11); accusations of deceit in Claudius and a happiness at least longed for by lovers, fill of tears, full of smiles” as Rosalind describes (3.2.395). Trumble also emphasizes the frequent ambivalence of smiling and here again he could have found ample evidence in Shakespeare The whole play King Lear treads in an emotional territory of “mixed emotions” rather than simply ambivalent ones, hovering between tragic pessimism and the promise offered by romance Edgar describes his father’s death in these terms, [his flawed heart] Twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, I Burst smilingly (History Scene 13 196), mirroring the Gentleman’s description of Cordelia’s divided state of patience and sorrow:

. . . You have seen

Sunshine and rain at once; her smiles and tears Were like, a better way. Those happy smilets, That played on her ripe lip seemed not to know

What guests were in her eyes, which parted thence, As pearls from diamonds dropped. In brief,

Sorrow would be a rarity most beloved,

If all could so become it.

(History Scene 17.18-25)

Shakespeare seems to have been intrigued by such conflicted moods and refers to them quite often – as in Richard II ‘s ‘As a long parted mother with her child I Plays fondly with her tears, and smiles in meeting, I So, weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth (3.2.8-10), a moment described by the Duke of York as His face still combating with tears and smiles, I The badges of his grief and patience (5.2-32-33). A specific meaning is withheld from us to explain Falstaff’s reported final moments, but the smile takes us into enigmatic but affective territory in the intimacy of the moment in the Hostess’s description: “for after I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers’ end, I knew there was but one way. For his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a babbled of green fields (Henry V 2.3.11-13). It seems to be the wan smile of dementia. Not so much ambivalent or mixed in mood but a downright shocking reversal of instinct is Lady Macbeth ‘s juxtapositioning of the innocent baby and her own deadly resolve, in her declaration that she would while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck ‘d my nipple from his boneless gums, I And dash ‘d the brains out (1.7.56).

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The smile – in theory

There are a few questions I will raise now but not linger on. First, what exactly was a smile in the early modern period? The work on the smile in eighteenth-century French culture by Colin Jones suggests that the only polite smile was practised without opening the mouth. To reveal the teeth was to give away one’s low breeding, or lust, or even insanity, and until after the French Revolution “decorous artistic conventions . . . forbade the open-mouthed smile to all but the poor, the insane, and the emotionally hyper-aroused” (Jones The Smile Revolution, 175). This will become, at least tentatively, a discussion point in the case of Malvolio, as we shall see, although not otherwise in Shakespeare that I can detect. However, we should sound a cautious note that there is some speculation involved here, lest further research should reveal that there was a clear and exclusive distinction drawn between the fixed smile and the mobile laugh, although to modem eyes the one can easily and ambiguously morph into the other. Paintings seem to confirm the protocol, as we find in portraits of the high-born not showing their teeth, but a peasant such as the one in Dürer’s well-known engraving “Peasant Woman” (1505)” has no such inhibitions, and nor has Frans Hals’s “Gypsy Girl” (1628-30). Courtesans could give away their profession, as unmistakably in Gerard von Honthorst’s “Smiling Girl, A Courtesan Holding an Obscene Image” (1625), where the expression looks like a smile rather than a laugh. However, we do not see teeth in the smiles of well-bred adults, such as Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” amongst a host of other examples of less celebrated, posed, aristocratic portraiture The evidence of early images also suggests that children were allowed to show their teeth, although growing up must have involved maternal lectures about the impropriety. This is visible in Sofornsba Anguissola s Lucia, Minerva and Europa Anguissola Playing Chess (1555), where the onlooking mother (or nurse) and older sisters smile indulgently with their lips closed, while the child in the middle is open-mouthed, as we see also in the boy depicted in Frans Hals s Three Children with a Goat Cart (1620) Admittedly it is difficult to find Renaissance portraits of the insane, presumably because the subject itself may have been of less commercial value to painters than potentially paying patrons At least one of Leonardo ‘s sketches in Studies of Grotesque Faces is a likely candidate, showing in profile a wild haired and wild-eyed, leering man Meanwhile, the gap-toothed man in Quentin Massys “III-Matched Lovers” (1520-25) is an eloquent speaking picture of almost demonic lust, while in the background an equally salacious jester smirks with his tongue visible Even the woman here shows a barely repressed row of teeth, as though she is trying unsuccessfully to stifle her smile of sexual desire. Jones mentions the change in more modem times to The Great American Smile”, an invention no doubt of toothpaste manufacturers dentists and film stars (Jones French Dentists and English Teeth , 88) Today anything goes, and even royalty has no shame in showing their teeth in smiles

Other early modem writers seem to be more formulaic in their uses of smiling than Shakespeare, for example, describing fortune as smiling, or juxtaposing rather simple contrasts, such as smiling and frowning as, respectively, indicative of happiness or its opposite Shakespeare was not above using such platitudes for certain characters – Kent’s Fortune good night smile once more turn thy wheel’ (Tragedy 2 2 164) and Richmond’s repetition

Smile heaven, upon this fair conjunction, That long have frown’d upon their enmity,

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Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace, With smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days. (Richard 1115.8.20-21, 33-34);

However, in general, his usages are more complex and interesting than this, as I hope the examples above have already confirmed, with more to come.

Third, I distance myselt from Charles Darwin’s assumption in The Epeion of The Emotions in Man and Animals (1899) that the smile, like laughter, is an involuntary and spontaneous sign of pleasurable emotion. As we shall see, it may be, or it may not, depending on context and character, andjust as often as it is, it isn’t. The best we can say, as Keith Oatley does, is that it is the witness who “evaluate[s] the smile as a gesture of affection”, supporting Wierzbicka’s contention of social instrumentality, although Oatley implies that a smile can raise speculation as to motives: “someone else seeing the smile might evaluate it differently, and say: ‘Why is she always flirting?” (Oatley 42-43). The emotional meaning behind a smile is how we evaluate it, no more and no less. The smile is not an emotion in itself and if it happens to reveal an emotion this is always contextually situated and subject to doubt, an example of Coleridge’s frustrated observation: “I may not hope from outward forms to win I The passion and the life, whose fountains are within” (“Dejection: An Ode’ 11 45-6) Coleridge was, after all, the first person to put on record a question about Jago’s putative inwardness, only to conclude that in this aberrant case the character acts from “motiveless malignity”. It is arguable that the notion of the search for a hidden life was a Romantic invention, and largely Coleridge’s own. There may in fact be no passion, life or fountains within the smile at all. Oatley goes on to suggest that the emphasis on the witness’s evaluation destroys any belief in the universality of emotions, and that instead “The human system of emotions is the map of our values”, not of something externally verifiable, nor an unambiguous emotional gesture The smile differs also from the blush The latter is an involuntary externalization of some emotion, whatever it may be The feelings behind a blush are constantly evaluated and interpreted by onlookers, often contradictorily as in the case of Hero in Much Ado, whose blush signifies guilt to some, innocence to others, while in Perdita it is seen as a sign of bashfulness. Smiling, however, can be faked, paradoxical, or vacuous Certainly in Shakespeare’s world, evaluations of smiling as a sign of pleasure or affection are constructed at the witness’s peril, often literally, as the fate of Richard Ill’s victims testifies.

Smiling assassins

It was Chaucer in The Knight’s Tale who imagined “The smylere with the knyf under the cloke” (36, 1. 1998), and not surprisingly Shakespeare has several examples. Pondering the Ghost’s words, Hamlet turns his mind from his mother to his uncle, taking a note in his commonplace book:

0 villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables,

My tables – meet it is I set it down

That one may smile and smile, and be a villain. At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.


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Here, at least in Hamlet’s understanding, is an explicit recognition of Duncan’s sage adage about the treacherous and fallible nature of presuming to “read” faces: “there’s no art I To find the mind’s construction in the face”. Claudius’s is the smile anatomized by Burton as smiling “with an intent to do mischief’ amongst “those counterfeit, composed, affected, artificial and reciprocal, those counter-smiles [which] are the dumb shows and prognostics of greater matters, which they most part use, to inveigle and deceive”, which he pithily nominates the”grin of the tiger (Burton III II II in) To believe the Ghost’s words necessarily makes Hamlet disbelieve his uncle’s demeanour, confident that he sees through the bland and avuncular exterior to something villainous and hypocritical concealed behind the smile Paradoxically Claudius is caught in a double bind logic, damned if he does smile but damned if he doesn’t, and unable to control the various interpretations. Donalbain in Macbeth also knows about smiling villainy, even among close relatives: “There’s daggers in men’s smiles. I The nea’er in blood the nearer bloody” (2.3.139-40). Doubting outward behaviour leads Hamlet to adopt a notion of duality which, more and more, becomes his mode of reading character in reading or evaluating behaviour as hinging on an easily feigned discrepancy between what is revealed and what is not. He says that his own outward signs of grief are not the full story of his feelings: “I have that within which passeth show” (1.2.85) and he taunts Guildenstern (and Polonius) with his own inscrutability and resistance to being “read” let alone manipulated: “You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart of my mystery (3.2.352-53). His own pretence of antic disposition (1 5 173) which he instructs Horatio not to betray by any social signals or ambiguous giving out (1 .5. 179) is a strategy of evasion not dissimilar from the smile of Claudius, and so is his constant deflective use of wit to pre-empt attempts to trap him into giving himself away. However, these are also skills especially honed by actors playing fictional personages and not, I suggest again, what we would call psychological insights They may be intended not as observations about “human nature” but the practicalities of acting on the Globe. Motives and feelings can easily be feigned by an actor, not only when playing a villain but even the virtuous Desdemona, I am not meny, but I do beguile the thing I am by seeming otherwise” (Othello 2.1.125-26), a case in which smiling dissimulation can refer both to the character’s mood and demeanour and also the male actor s beguiled gender.

The smiles of Gloucester, soon to become Richard III, although equally malicious, differ from Claudius’s:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,

And cry “Content” to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions.

(Richard Duke of York [3 Henry Vi] 3.2.182-85)

However, here there is something different, and more complex, going on First in this speech at least, Gloucester confirms that he takes positive relish and glee in assassination “I can smile and murder whiles I smile”. Hazlitt, who writes so perceptively on the character of Richard as played by Kean, notices that “The courtship scene with Lady Anne is an admirable exhibition of smooth and smiling villainy”. But in apparent contradiction, in his next play Gloucester/Richard confides to the audience his inability to play such a part with ease, and he reveals in fact a deep insecurity about his self-presentation:

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Because I cannot flatter and speak fair,

Smile in men’s faces smooth deceive and cog Duck with French nods and apish courtesy,

I must be held a rancorous enemy.

(Richard III, 1.3.47-50)

If we ghould need evidence to show that Shakespeare is often happy to aerific chrctr

consistency for a contextual truth to the scenic moment, and that notions of character consistency may not even have been a priority for him, then the discrepancy between these statements will serve Gloucester at this moment sees himself as a plain man’ who cannot afford to be transparent in his malicious motives but who also cannot find in himself the will to conceal them. He despises the courtiers around him, something that Hastings notices ominously They smile at me, who shortly shall be dead (Richard III, 34107)

Smiles and the actor’s profession

Ironically, it is the shortly to be dead7 Buckingham who finds courtly counterfeiting not only congenial but a necessary part of a politician’s armoury:

Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian, Tremble and start at wagging of a straw, Speak, and look back, and pry on every side Intending deep suspicion; ghastly looks

Are at my service, like enforced smiles, And both are ready in their offices

At any time to grace my stratagems.

(Richard N, 3.5.5-11)

In Buckingham’s words “counterfeit the deep tragedian” the obvious theatrical analogy is to the actor, and not an appeal to psychological inwardness. Meanwhile, Richard claims he does not use “stratagems” to achieve his ends, and his is the smile of schadenfreude and even sadism rather than simple deceit – a perversely “honest” smiling, unlike Claudius’s and Lady Macbeth’s feignings. The latter is a practitioner of her own advice to her husband, inadvertently proving Duncan’s point that one can – and must – “act” in all circumstances:

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men May read strange matters To beguile the time Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,

Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t.


The advice is not only that of a wife to her ingenuous husband but of a dramatist to his actors, delivered in the same spirit as Hamlet’s instructions to the actors not to “saw the air lago may not do much smiling himself, but he is an expert reader and exploiter of others gestures and evaluations Preparing to question Cassio about Bianca in order to inflame the concealed Othello, he explains to us:

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He, when he hears of her, cannot restrain From the excess of laughter.

Enter Cassio

Here he comes.

As he shall smile Othello shall go mad And his unbookish jealousy must conster

Poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures and light behaviours,

Quite in the wrong.


– followed, perhaps with an ingratiating smile, by “How do you now, lieutenant?” Once again, the relationship of dramatist and actors operates. lago does not even need to choreograph in order to create his desired theatrical effect, as he knows that a predisposed witness will “conster” (construe) the scene without prompting. We do not need to invoke a model of inward/outward psychologizing, but a contemplation of more technical aspects of the acting profession.

Baumbach (above) points out the obvious but often overlooked fact that on Elizabethan stages, spectators would be closer to the actors than in a proscenium arch theatre. Those in the pit were virtually eyeball to eyeball. Under such conditions actors would inevitably have been more conscious of their faces being closely scrutinized, and they tried, as Gloucester puts it in 3 Henry VI “to frame [their] face[s] to all occasions” (3 Henry VI [Richard Duke of York] 3.2.185),  with expressive subtlety and flexibility. Under these conditions not surprisingly, the dramatist builds into the words of his plays cues and clues to the actors, and also draws attention at a thematic level to multiple aspects of facial expressions, whether as expressive of something within or as withholding emotional information hence my title smiles that reveal, smiles that conceal

The subject of the smile on stage leads us into Shakespeare’s experience as an actor as well as writer for the theatre The overarching concept of decorum has been anticipated already in Gloucester’s frame [the] face to all occasions”, but other factors were in play as well Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern in Shakespeare in Parts show that the dominant unit in early modem drama was not the Act, or the scene (as Emrys Jones argued), and certainly not the character” in the sense of a fictional character invested with an unrevealed, inner identity – but instead, the actor’s “part’,”within the discipline and exigencies of the theatre As anti-theatrical critics alleged at the time, deception was endemic at all levels of the actor’s profession down to basic things like doubling of parts, changing clothes in order to change personation a single part requiring self disguise or change of gender, playing not characters nor even roles at all, but scripted parts, and other tricks to make audiences suspend disbelief and accept a patent falsehood At the same time the actor would have to work out what tone to adopt from his interlocutors’cue statements (Woods passim) We need no recourse to post Romantic ideas of buried motives and hidden psyches to see in action the playwright’s element of calculated deception In this context, references to the smile can take on multiple functions, many of them based on cues, signals about an actor’s part and overt stage directions Dessen and Thomson ‘s remarkable work of scholarship, A Dictionary of Stage Directions in English Drama 1580-1642, lists 15 occurrences of smiles and about 40 laughs in non Shakespearean plays, and because public mockery recurs in both categories, it would seem there is no necessary difference between the two, except perhaps in degree of openness (Dessen and Thomson 204, 128). Devils seem to have a preference to laugh,

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while others smile, but the contexts can evidently be the same. There are no stage directions involving smiling or laughter in Shakespeare’s plays, but several “embedded” signals. Hamlet imputes lewdness to Rosencrantz in his reproof, “man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so’ In Love Labour s Lost, Biron describes Boyet as keen to impress by his smile, to “[show] his teeth as white as whales bone” (52.332-33), perhaps a sign that, if the norm had been a reluctance to show teeth, it was out of embarrassment at their colour and appearance. In King Lear, Kent, disguised as Caius, faces his persecutors: “. . . Such smiling rogues as these, … Smile you my speeches, as I were a fool?” (History of King Lear 7.80); and Richard II describes the populist Bolingbroke as “Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles” (Richard 11 1.4.27). Olivia’s “Why dost thou smile so and kiss thy hand so oft?” (Twelfth Night 3.4.30-31) is an obvious example, and perhaps when the ghost ofBanquo appears, seen at least by Macbeth and perhaps visualized by the audience either physically or in their imagination: “Horrible sight! Now I see ’tis true, I For the blood-baltered Banquo smiles upon me . . .” (Macbeth 4.1138-39). There are more smiles on Shakespeare’s stage than meet the eye.

Malvolio’s smile

Smiles can also take meaning from, and contribute to, the ethos and pathos of a play as a whole, and to show this we return to the second most famous smiling person in cultural history after the Mona Lisa, Malvolio. As Indira Ghose points out in her splendid book Shakespeare and Laughter: A Cultural History, Twelfth Night splices two different kinds of comic plots in a way typical of Shakespeare, but effected more seamlessly in this play than in others. The two are thematically linked through a preoccupation with narcissistic self-love afflicting not only Malvolio, who is ridiculed, but also Orsino and Olivia, who are, somewhat unjustly, rewarded with lovers. “The play epitomizes”, Ghose writes, “the shift in the early modem stage from the scurrilous humour and comic malapropisms of clowns such as Lance or Dogberry to the intellectual wordplay of a wise fool” (Ghose 109), or in other words, from physical farce to sentiment. In the play’s terms, there is on one side the broad comedy of the gulling of Malvolio, whose very name announces his anticomic ill-will as one set up to be laughed at rather than with (until Charles Lamb saw it otherwise two centuries later). On the other hand, we have not only the love plots but also Feste’s vision of the shortcomings of his society, which would be more visible outside Illyria, in a less protected world “where the rain it raineth every day” (5.1.388). John Lyly in his Prologue at the Blackfriars to Sappho and Phao distinguishes between the types of comedy, in seeking to arouse “inward delight, not outward lightness, and to breed, if it might be, soft smiling, not loud laughing” (71). The different responses signalled are essentially between the “smiling” mode of romantic comedy whose origins lie in romance, and “laughter” provoked by more robust effects. Drawing an inference from the paucity of references to “smiling” in Matthew Steggle’s exhaustive study of laughing and weeping in the drama, it does seem that the two were considered different. As some confirmation, John Bulwer in Athomyotomia provides in remarkable detail (over almost 40 pages) the facial muscles and gestures involved in laughter, while not once mentioning the smile (Bulwer 104-42) even as synonym He does, however, say that in laughter the Lips are so distended and contracted that they discover the Teeth”, a symptom which, as surmised, appears to be absent from the early modern smile, at least in polite society.

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The subtitle, “What You Will”, gives latitude to the audience in “evaluation” of Twelfth Night. Whereas. critics are prone to read plays with a hindsight view from the ending, yet for audiences the action advances through time, sequentially, from beginning to end, “moment by moment” in the title of Gary Taylor’s book, and part of the effect depends crucially on the gradual disclosures. What emerges from a less end-stopped reading is that Twelfth Night begins, more acutely than any other romantic comedy, with some characters suffering from genuine grief. Orsino strikes a melancholy note in his opening lines, and . although hindsight reveals that he is not truly grief-stricken but suffering from an unrequited and misguided love, yet the initial mood is sombre, driven by a musical refrain that “may sicken, and so die” (Twelfth Night 1.1.3). We hear immediately from Valentine that the object of Orsino’s desire is in no mood for love, for Olivia is mourning for a dead brother, picking up precisely the tone of sudden darkening that occurs at the end of Love Labour s’ Lost when the Princess (now Queen) hears of her father’s death: “A heavy heart bears not a nimble tongue” . . . “I understand you not. My griefs are double” (5.2.729, 744). Almost immediately we meet another woman who, so far as she knows, has also lost a beloved twin brother in a shipwreck, envisaging that he is in Elysium while she is in Illyria. Like Olivia, Viola and her brother, again like the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost, can surely be forgiven for feelings of tragic loss. As it unfolds, the narrative curve of Twelfth Night enacts the banishment of grief in this society’s world and to this extent its pattern is the reverse of that in its book end Loves Labours Lost, which begins in celebratory fashion and ends with grief (which need not tempt us into claiming Twelfth Night as the long lost Loves Labours Won as it came a little late for Meres s record) The high-water point of the mood of mourning comes with a paradoxical smile in Viola’s reference to the emblematic patience on a monument smiling at grief’ (2.5.114). The image so struck Shakespeare that he came to re use it in dramatizing old-fashioned romance, when Pericles says to his as yet unrecognized daughter, Yet thou dost look I Like patience gazing on kings’ graves and smiling I Extremity out of act (Pericles 21.16-18). Barbara Freedman writing on Twelfth Night specifically, interprets the oxymoron psychoanalytically, as a response of emotional transference or repression (23 1). However this may be, the moment signals the turn towards a tonal shift at the very centre of Twelfth Night—just as the clock strikes to upbraid [Olivia] with the waste of time” (3.1.129), and she decides Why then methinks’tis time to smile again” (3.1.125). The new mood is effected through Malvoho s bizarre change and particularly his smiling. Olivia at first reproves him – smil st thou? I sent for thee upon a sad occasion (3.4.17). Before questioning his incongruous behaviour, she likens her own feelings to his, by adverting to Burtoman analysis of melancholy as being caused equally by imbalances of gloom and merriment, as the sight no doubt makes her smile too though in mirth I am as mad as he, I If sad and merry madness equal be” (3.4.14-15). The very weirdness of the steward’s transformation jolts his mistress into a kind of verfremdung (alienation) effect in her conflicted emotional state. A structural transition in the play turning on paradoxes in “Smiling at grief’ and “sad and merry madness” marking the onset of a new movement.

The way that the play “cheers itself up” from this point on proceeds entirely at the expense of Malvoho, and is effected through the agency of Sir Toby and Maria, who seem to have grown weary of the funereal and melancholic atmosphere Aguecheek pointedly asks shall we set about some revels?” (1.3.133), and Maria later picks up the impulse, “If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me” (3.2.64-65). The stitches of laughter dissolve the tears of grief, and in some ways the deception of Malvolio is dramatically equivalent to “Pyramus and Thisbe” or “The Nine

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Worthies” in their respective plays, the comic interlude of Lyly’s “loud laughing” that dissolves one mood and sets up another in preparation for the full romantic closure.

Although those cross-gartered yellow stockings have received much attention, yet Malvolio’s smiling and how it is “evaluated” has not, despite the fact that it struck the stage eye-witness John Manningham as especially memorable:

A good practise in it to make the Steward beleeve his Lady Widdowe was in love with him, by counterfeyting a letter as from his Lady in generall termes telling him what shee liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling his apparraile & e and then when he came to practise making him believe they tooke him to be mad (Bullough 269)

The forced smiling may have been added by Shakespeare as an afterthought in the postscript to Maria ‘s faked letter “If thou entertainest my love, let it appear in thy smiling, thy smiles become thee well therefore in my presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee (2.5.169— 72), to which Malvoho responds, Jove, I thank thee I will smile ” (2.5.172). Maria predicts her mistress’s response and he will smile upon her, which will now be so unsuitable to Olivia ‘s disposition, being addicted to melancholy as she is, that it cannot but turn him into a notable contempt” (3.1.192-99). The ruse works as she suggests:

He does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the

Indies     I know my lady will strike him If she do he’ll smile and take ‘t for a great favour.


The “new map with the augmentation of the Indies” is Edward Wright’s, which was published in the year in which the play may have been performed (1600), the first map constructed along lines that are now known as Mercator ‘s Projection The phrase smile his face into more lines” suggests it is not the mouth being described but the countenance distorted by unaccustomed wrinkling, which may well be the primary meaning However, it is obviously the lips which define the smile, and the “lines” may include visible teeth In this image the range of islands on the map can be seen as the likeness of a lopsided smile with higgledy-piggledy ‘uppers and lowers”, looking like a set of randomly placed teeth What this may cue is that Malvoho is not smiling with closed mouth in his customary and loftily condescending gesture of the “familiar smile”, which he customarily quenches with an austere regard of control in addressing Sir Toby, but rather he is leering open-mouthed, presuming on a lover’s intimacy and equality. He is also displaying not only that he is of a lower social rank than either Olivia or her kinsman, a mere steward, but also insane, “tainted in ‘s wits (3.4.13) as Maria observes It is, then, his smiles that condemn him to a dark cell, taunted as mad by the disguised Feste Allison Hobgood in her analysis of this scene does not analyse the smiles but she does hypothesise an equally telling facial rhetoric, a blush of shame (149).

In the terms of my title, Malvolio’s smile has multiple dimensions, both revelatory and concealing – it can display his class origins, and also reveal to the world what we know he has fantasized about already in soliloquy, his mistress’s infatuation for him It is self-love which prompts this assumption, but in this he is no more misdirected than Orsino s and Aguecheek s amorous hopes for a woman who has roundly declared she will not love them, or for that matter Olivia ‘s blighted desire for Cesario and at least up until the final moments, Viola’s for Orsino. Malvolio may be the one accused of insanity (apart from Feste’s quibble that “the lady” is mad), but he is in truth one among many in this play’s

Shakespeare 145

vision of love’s illusions. However, the smile equally conceals Malvolio’s “austere regard” of lofty contempt and condescension, which is his leading trait The public reaction to the smile may have surprised even the actor himself, prompted only by the cues in the letter he has read, into a sort of brave self-control in the face of baffling ridicule.

Malvolio’s revenge

Smiling is obviously part of a signifying system, but as we have seen there is no constancy about what, or even how, it signifies. Generations of thinkers have used this kind of material to construct theories of emotions and behaviour based on a duality of an observed “surface” and an imagined “depth”, a link between the visible and the invisible, but unlike (say) weeping, the smile does not necessarily operate in this way. The variability of possible interpretations can turn virtually any curl of lips and sparkle of eyes into an enigmatic “Mona Lisa smile”, depending not only on context but surmise, conveying complacency, warm affection, or mischief. It exists on some shadow line between revealing an emotional state or concealing it, and its frequent social function can turn on this kind of ambiguity in evoking responses that may be hostile or contagiously good natured. Vestiges of older “readings” may still exist, as in certain circumstances a smile can be construed as so inappropriate, callous, or lacking in sympathy or empathy that it makes viewers suspect some mental illness. Then we have the photograph where a person is told to smile no matter what their feelings may be Interpreting the smile – cosmetic in more ways than one – is at best a guess at natural-predictive SignijIcations or an evaluation of what may lie behind beyond or within or may not be there at all All we have are words written by a dramatist for actors – his shadows – to speak, often in ignorance of their own roles in the pattern Shakespeare took his craft so seriously that it seems to have become the way he saw the world, a metaphor that explains language and social behaviour in terms of often blind role-playing, self -fashioning and deception

Smiling, at once disarmingly immediate and meaningful and yet disarmingly elusive, brings us up against some problems raised in Susan Sontag ‘s influential essay, Against Interpretation”, in which she laments our excessive stress on content” at the expense of a really sharp, loving description of a work of art Her main paradigm for a work of art is the photograph – significantly, given her relationship with Annie Liebowitz – a medium in which the posed smile is almost universal, no matter what the emotional circumstances Sontag begins her essay with Oscar Wilde ‘s epigram, ‘It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”, and ends with her own In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art (10) She goes on, The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible”, which might suggest a caution to literary critics looking for inwardness’ and “subjectivity” in Shakespeare’s theatre, at the expense of what an audience clearly sees Malvoho, tricked against his will and yet remaining perversely true to his will, instructed to smile but persecuted for obliging, turns the game on his tormentors spoiling their comic ending with his threat “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you His smiles are fabricated but not craftily calculated, they do not ingratiate, deceive or willfully conceal They reveal something of his feelings although it is not clear exactly what They are guilelessly true to his intentions, but ludicrously false to the situation His threatened future revenge for the trick, which was intended merely to entertain an audience, may take on an extra textual dimension, as his suffering is a reproach not only to Maria, Toby, Aguecheek and Fabian, but also to us in the wider audience, and critics who would read so much into a smile – the whole pack of us, in fact.

  1. S. White




I am grateful to Penelope Woods for generously reading and astutely commenting on a draft of this article.


This work was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the study of emotions  (grant number CE1I0001O11)


Note:  This essay was originally delivered as a plenary lecture for the British Shakespeare Association conference at Lancaster University, 24-26 February 2012, whose theme was “Shakespeare Inside-Out: Depth – Surface – Meaning”. I thank the BSA and especially Alison Findlay for the invitation.



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Shakespeare, 2016) Routledge Vol. 12, No. 2, 148-160, F Taylor &FrancisGroup

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OK Al, sock it to us.......

Smiles that reveal, Smiles that conceal


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