"Some men are born mediocre...."

Malvolio courts a bemused Olivia
Public DomainMalvolio courts a bemused Olivia
These words and those that follow are a paraphrase of a famous passage from Act II, scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night. The original speech, written by Maria and read by Malvolio in a letter that he thinks has been written to him by his employer, the beautiful but cold Olivia, goes: “… some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

Maria and her confederates, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, want to play a joke on Malvolio by making him think Olivia loves him and hopes he will declare his love for her, which is as far from the truth as possible. This illustration of Malvolio courting his boss after having read the bogus letter is an engraving by Victorian R. Staines, inspired by an 1859 painting by Daniel Maclise (1811-1879).

By substituting “mediocre” in all the places where “great” appears in the original passage, Heller turns it on its head.