Here's a puzzle about a character's name that will interest detectives or dedicated Shakespeareans -- and perhaps only the most dedicated of Shakespearean detectives.
As everyone knows, the "heroine" and dominant figure in Twelfth Night is an audacious, sensitive, and intelligent young lady to whom Shakespeare gave the name Viola. It is Viola who, shipwrecked on the Illyrian shores, disguises herself as a man, enlists herself as a servant to Duke (or Count) Orsino, whom she rapidly comes to admire, and is then dispatched by Orsino to woo in proxy his beloved, Lady Olivia the recalcitrant. Viola has the misfortune, while in mannish guise, to provoke Olivia's romantic interest. The complications that arise from these mistakings take five amusing acts to resolve. But it's Viola's play, from first to last, and there is no question about her identity or her name.
Viola first comes on stage in the second scene of the play. The stage direction in the 1623 Folio is unambiguous. Enter Viola, a Captaine, and Saylors. In the speech headings throughout the play, Viola regularly appears as Vio., just as Maria is Mar., Clown is Clo., and Malvolio is Mal. There is but one exception to this practice -- and here begins the mystery. In the middle of Act 2, scene 5, Viola comes as ambassador to Olivia but the stage direction reads, inexplicably, Enter Violenta. Who is Violenta, what is she? Inasmuch as Viola's name has been and will continue to be Viola, how did it happen that just this one time she comes to be called by a similar but very different name? The most likely explanation is that it's a mere slip -- either an error of the compositor who set the Folio line, or an error of the scribe who made a fair copy of Shakespeare's manuscript, or of W. S. himself, nodding over his quill and inkhorn.
But for Shakespeareans, "Violenta" is most interesting name. While the playwright created no characters named Violenta, there was one time when he came very close to doing so. The near-Violenta almost appears in All's Well That Ends Well, the play that is printed in the Folio just before Twelfth Night. In All's Well, Helen, who is obsessed with Bertram, pursues her absconded and disloyal husband to Florence. There she discovers that Bertram has been wooing a woman called Diana. But Diana was not originally conceived as Diana. She had a momentary and evanescent pre-existence as Violenta. Enter old Widdow of Florence, her daughter, Violenta and Mariana, with other Citizens." So says the stage direction, but in the scene that the s.d. introduces, there is no Violenta. No person of that name says a word. In her stead there appears a Diana (or Dia.), whose entrance onto the stage is unannounced. Diana appears where Violenta was heralded. Clearly Shakespeare changed his mind.
It is therefore clear that the Folio compositors were working with a holograph that preserved Shakespeare's first thoughts. Diana, the o-so-pure maid whom Bertram cannot conquer, was orignally intended to be Violenta, who, it is reasonable to infer from her name, would have repelled the young seducer's advances not with virtue but with shrewishness. Later, when Shakespeare altered his conception, Violenta turned into the mirage or ghost who both is and is not present in All's Well.
The Violenta of All's Well can therefore be understood as a first pass at Diana. But what possible explanation is there for the substitution of Violenta for Viola in Twelfth Night? It's a hard question, and the not-entirely-satisfactory but best answer is that the typesetter who worked on both of these plays (Compositor B, so-called) carried the name from one play to the other. Let us suppose that he had just set "Enter... Violenta" in All's Well when he resumed work on Twelfth Night. There he encountered the abbreviation "VIo." and, the longer name still reverberating in his mind, expanded Vio. to Violenta.
That's the end of the story. But there's a fascinating postscript. When, in All's Well, Bertram makes his move on Diana, there's this exchange (including the introductory stage direction):
Enter Bertram, and the Maide called Diana.
Ber. They told me that your name was Fontybell.
Dia. No, my good Lord, Diana.
Fontybell? Beautiful fountain? It would seem that Diana/Violenta once had still another name. Or that Shakespeare wants us to think so.
"They told me that your name was Fontybell" is a pure, lovely, and haunting line of poetry, but it's unrelated to anything else in the play. It's a free-standing mystery, utterly without explanation.