The whirligig of time
I was one, sir, in this enterlude—one Sir Topas, sir, but that's
all one. "By the Lord, fool, I am not mad." But do you remember?
"Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal? And you smile
not, he's gagg'd." And thus the whirligig of time brings in his
Malvolio:Twelfth Night Act 5, scene 1, 372–378
I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you.
For being such a wet blanket, Malvolio has been duped and subsequently tormented by the revelers who congregate at the house of the lady Olivia [see AN IMPROBABLE FICTION]. Here, the clown Feste explains and excuses his role. Because Malvolio once complained to Olivia about the fool's foolishness, calling him a "barren rascal," Feste took on the role of the churchman Sir Topas, who is called in to "cure" Malvolio of his "madness"—the improbable behavior the revelers had driven him to. Feste's last word on the matter is "And thus the whirligig of time brings in his [its] revenges"; he means something like "you reap what you sow." "Whirligig"—originally a top or any rotary device—becomes in this phrase a metaphor for time, which whirls misdeeds back on the perpetrator [compare FULL CIRCLE]. "Whirligig" also lent a name to a contemporary machine for punishing thieves. This elaborate contraption seems to have resembled a large hamster's treadmill, with a hatch in the cage which could be opened to drop the victim into water.