1

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?

3

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'.

-1

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. – Gareth Rees Feb 13 at 13:22

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