In the earliest mention of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"; John Manningham's Diary:

A good practice in it [was] to make the Steward believe his Lady . . . in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his Lady in general terms, telling him what she liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, &c., and then when he came to practice making him belive they took him to be mad.

What is meant by "came to practice" here?

2 Answers 2


The construction of English was slightly different in Shakespeare's day and we must also account for the needs of his meter, but essentially it means

when he came to [put those things into] practice

Where the 'things' are the gestures and modes of dress that he had been led to believe 'she liked best in him'.


One of the secondary cluster of meanings of "practise" (or "practice") listed in, say, the Oxford English Dictionary, is "to deceive", "to plot", "to trick", and so on; a "practic" was used as an associated noun: "a lie", "a plot", "a deception". A "practical joke" is a joke based on a deception.

So "came to practice" can mean "started lying".

  • 2
    I don't think this can be right, because "he" must be Malvolio (the steward to Lady Olivia), and the business described must be act 3 scene 4 (where Malvolio behaves as prescribed in the forged letter and is taken to be mad), but nowhere in this scene can he be said to start lying. Feb 13, 2019 at 13:22

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