From Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1-3. If music ... die. If music be, as they say, that on which
lovers best like to feed their passion, continue to play (for the
hunger of love is strong upon me); give me even excess of that
food, so that the desire, cloyed by that excess, may become sick,
and in time may die; cp. T. G. iii. 1. 219, 20, "O, I have fed
upon this woe already. And now excess of it will make me surfeit";
Oth. ii. 1. 50, "Therefore my hopes, not surfeited to death.
Stand in bold cure." Appetite, desire; but not, as frequently in
Shakespeare, sensual desire.
4. it had ... fall; it had a lingering cadence, it died away
softly; fall, what in R. II. ii. 1. 12, is called "music at its
close"; cp. also Bacon, Adv. of Learning, ii. v. 3. 33 (Wright's
edition), "Is not the trope of music to avoid a slide from the
close or cadence," etc., and H. V. i. 2. 182.
5. south. most modern editors retain 'sound,' the reading of
the folios, and explain it as referring to the sweet murmur of
the breeze, the effect being put for the cause. As I cannot
believe that Shakespeare would, under any figure of speech, talk
of a "sound stealing and giving odour," I accept, with Dyce,
Pope's emendation "south." The strongest objection urged
against that emendation is that Shakespeare always represents
the south wind as baneful. This is true, though in R. J. i. 4.
103, speaking of the quarter from which the south wind
blows, he calls it the "dew-dropping south," certainly not
with any idea of its being baneful. But even if Shakespeare
has elsewhere given the south wind a bad character, there seems
no reason why he should not in this instance refer to another
characteristic, the capacity which, from its warmth, it has of
taking up and conveying odours. In support of Pope's emendation, Steevens quotes Sidney's Arcadia, Bk. i., from which he
supposes the thought may have been borrowed by Shakespeare; "...more sweet than a gentle south-west wind, which comes
creeping over flowery beds," etc. Staunton says that if 'south' is to be read, it must be taken "as south, sowth, or sough, is used
in the North to signify the soft whispers of the breeze," and quotes Dunbar, Maitland's Poems, "The soft south of the swyre
[i.e. hollow], and sound of the stremes," etc.
7. no more, let the music cease.
9. quick, sensitive, sprightly, nimble, and so, full of swift
change; the literal sense is 'living,' 'moving.'
10-4. That ... minute: insomuch that though thy capacity of
receiving (ideas) is as vast as that of the sea (in receiving its
tributary streams), nothing finds entrance into that capacity
(there), but, however great its worth, however high its pitch, it
swiftly loses much of that worth, swiftly falls to a lower level;
abatement is to be contrasted with pitch, low price with validity.
For validity = value, worth, cp. A. W. v. 3. 192, "Whose high
respect and rich validity Did lack a parallel." Pitch is generally
taken here in the technical sense of the height to which a hawk
rises before swooping, as in H. II. i. 1. 109, "How high a pitch
his resolution soars," but, considering the context, the metaphor
may be from music. Coleridge, in his poem "Love," stanza 1,
speaks similarly of the capacity of love:
"All thoughts, all passions, all desires,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame."
14. so full ... fancy, so full is love of constantly changing
images; cp. M. N. D. v. 1. 5, "such shaping fantasies": fancy,
love; but also with the idea of fancifulness, capriciousness, as is
shown by high-fantastical (i.e. supremely fanciful, capricious) in
the next line.
15. alone, beyond everything else; cp. A. C. iv. 6. 30, "I am
alone the villain of the earth."
16. go hunt, for this almost redundant use of 'go,' which
is very frequent in Shakespeare, cp. e.g. Temp. i. 2. 301-3,
ii. 1. 190. The more common colloquial expression still in
use of 'go,' joined to the following verb by 'and,' is also
found in Shakespeare, e.g. W. T. iii. 2. 205, "If word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see."
18. the noblest ... have, so I do hunt the hart, I, i.e. my
desires pursue my heart which is the noblest part of me; cp.
J. C. iii. 1. 207, 8, "O world, thou wast the forest to this
hart; And this, indeed, O world, the heart of thee."
20. Methought ... pestilence. I follow Capell and Delius in
regarding this line as parenthetical.
22, 3. And my ... me. The allusion is to the story of Actaeon,
a celebrated huntsman, trained in this art by the centaur
Chiron. One day, when out hunting, he saw Artemis, daughter
of Zeus and Leto, bathing with her nymphs, and was changed
by her into a stag, in which form he was torn to pieces by his
fifty hounds on Mount Cithaeron. The idea has been supposed
to be borrowed from Daniel's fifth sonnet (1594), in which occur
"Which turn'd my sport into a hart's despair,
Which still is chac'd while I have any breath,
By mine own thoughts, sett on me by my faire;
My thoughts, like hounds, pursue me to my death."
Fell, cruel, fierce; A.S. fel, fierce, dire.
24. So please ... admitted, if I may be pardoned for saying so,
I was unable to gain admittance to her presence: so ... lord, an
apologetic preface to a statement: for might = could, was able,
see Abb. § 312.
25. But from ... answer: but brought back this answer from
her handmaid. 'To return an answer' is more commonly
used of the person who sends it, but also by Shakespeare of
the person who brings it, e.g. i. H. IV. iv. 3. 106, "Shall
I return this answer to the King?"
26. The element ... heat, the outer world (lit. the air and sky
around and above) itself till it has been warmed by the sun
during seven annual revolutions, shall, etc. heat is generally
taken here as a past part. (see Abb. § 342); the Camb. Edd.
think it is more probably a subs., and read "seven years' heat."
27. at ample view, openly and unveiled; for at see Abb. § 144.
28. cloistress, one who inhabits a nunnery, a nun; 'cloister,'
more commonly used for the enclosed walk beneath the upper
story of monasteries, convents, colleges, etc., but also for the
buildings themselves, or any place of religious seclusion, from
Lat. claustrum, an enclosure.
29. round, around; adv.
30. With ... brine, salt tears that are annoying to the eyes; cp. A. W. i. 56, "'Tis the best brine a maiden can season her
praise in": season, i.q. keep fresh, in the next line.
31. A brother's ... love, her love for her dead brother; brother's, obj. gen.: would keep, desires to keep.
32. remembrance, a quadrisyllable; see Abb. § 477.
33, 4. of that ... pay, so finely, sensitively, organized as to
pay; see Abb. § 277, and cp. Lear, i. 4, 290, "my frame of
nature": but, merely.
35. How, with what ardour: golden shaft, from Cupid's
quiver; Delius quotes Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, "That causes love is all of gold, with point full sharp
and bright: That chaseth love is blunt, whose steel with leaden
head is dight."
37-9. when ... king. If the reading is right, this probably
means, When the organs of her being, the thrones of all noble
thought and feeling, which (sc. the organs) constitute her rare
perfection, shall be occupied by one and the same king, viz.,
love. Staunton would read, "With one self king — her sweet
perfection," taking "perfection" to mean her husband, that
which renders woman perfect. This sense of the word he illustrates by two passages from poetry of the period, but a better
illustration than either of them may be found in Pt. ii. of Marston's Antonio and Mellida, iii. 2. 12, 3, "I have read Aristotle's
Problems, which saith that woman receiveth perfection by the
man." Dyce objects that the epithet 'sweet' is opposed to such
an interpretation; but this objection would fall to the ground if
the one self-king be explained as 'Love' (not as a husband),
which, having overcome all rivals, now reigns alone. It seems
also to support such an interpretation that the words These
sovereign thrones are already appositional to liver, brain, and
heart, and that such a double apposition as is involved in taking
Her sweet perfections in the usual way is very unlikely. The
'liver,' as the seat of love, is frequent in Shakespeare. For self,
see Abb. § 20.
40. Away before me, lead the way, precede me.
41. Love-thoughts ... bowers. Thoughts of love can have no
more sumptuous and befitting couch than when entertained
beneath the overhanging shade of trees and flowers; cp. A. W. i. 2. 49, "His good remembrance, sir, lies richer in your
thoughts than on his tomb." ... bower, properly means a chamber, thence used
generally of a shady recess formed by trees and shrubs.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1889. Shakespeare Online. 20 Dec. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/twn_1_1.html >
Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is consumed by his passion for the melancholy Countess Olivia. His ostentatious musings on the nature of love begin with what has become one of Shakespeare's most famous lines: "If music be the food of love, play on." It is apparent that Orsino's love is hollow. He is a romantic dreamer, for whom the idea of being in love is most important. When Valentine gives him the terrible news that Olivia plans to seclude herself for seven years to mourn her deceased brother, Orsino seems unfazed, and hopes Olivia may one day be as bewitched by love (the one self king) as he. Fittingly, the scene ends with Orsino off to lay in a bed of flowers, where he can be alone with his love-thoughts. Later in the play it will be up to Viola to teach Orsino the true meaning of love.
Did You Know? ... Shakespeare's complex sentence structures and use of now obsolete words lead many students to think they are reading Old or Middle English. In fact, Shakespeare's works are written in Early Modern English. Once you see a text of Old or Middle English you'll really appreciate how easy Shakespeare is to understand (well, relatively speaking). Read on...
Did You Know? ... The action of Twelfth Night takes place over three days. In the First Folio the play is divided into acts and scenes, but no list of the dramatis personae is included. For that we have the dramatic poet Nicholas Rowe to thank. Rowe was instrumental in the evolution of Shakespearean scholarship.