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Twelfth Night

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[ Enter DUKE ORSINO, CURIO, and other Lords; Musicians attending ]
DUKE ORSINOIf music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity10
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
CURIOWill you go hunt, my lord?
CURIOThe hart.
DUKE ORSINOWhy, so I do, the noblest that I have:
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!--20
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me.
How now! what news from her?
VALENTINESo please my lord, I might not be admitted;
But from her handmaid do return this answer:
The element itself, till seven years' heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine: all this to season30
A brother's dead love, which she would keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
DUKE ORSINOO, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain and heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and fill'd
Her sweet perfections with one self king!
Away before me to sweet beds of flowers:40
Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.

Next: Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1

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 the lines,

"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. < >

What's Happening?

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.

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