In Love and Agony

What picture of love/lurve is presented in the opening scene of 12th Night. How is this picture reflected in the language choices Shakespeare makes.

From the very first line of the play, an interesting and alternative opinion about love is presented by Orsino. The first line, “If music be the food of love, play on,” gives the reader the idea that Orsino is a romantic and is often misquoted for this reason. In the second line, the idea about love is subverted when he continues with, “give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and die!” This paints a very different picture of love, portraying it as something that Orsino does not want to feel. Instead of asking the musicians to play on for the beauty of the sound, Orsino wants them to play so much that he is sick of the music which is a metaphor for love and the quest to find it. Shakespeare uses an easy to understand metaphor allowing the audience to get a very clear picture of the way Orsino feels about love as it is vital knowledge for the events to come. The instant subversion of love from the positive to the negative provokes thought from the audience about the subject of love as well as capturing their attention and curiosity.

The choice to use poetry rather than prose is highly important to note when examining the opening of Twelfth Night. By starting the play with a poetic speech, Shakespeare is able to immediately gain the audience’s attention as well as depict to them an idea of the tone of the play. More importantly, poetry is known as the language of lurve which is what the play, at its core, is about. The association between poetry and romance is always prevelant within Shakespeare’s plays but the way it is used in this scene is particularly interesting. The use of poetry against love rather than encouraging it is, once again, a subversion of it’s usual role. The subversion of roles continues throughout the play so the fact that it is introduced through the opening poetry is highly effective.

Shakespeare also uses contrast to demonstrate the enormous extent of Orsino’s disinterest in love. He describes his encounter with love stating that “it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound/ that breaths upoin a bank of violets,” using imagery associated with beauty as well as enjambment to create a romantic flow. To contrast this, the following lines, “Enough; no more./ ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before,” are sharp and abruptly end this flow, similar to the sudden change of mind about love and the feeling becoming negative rather than positive.

Love in Twelfth Night, as portrayed in the opening scene, is an overall agonising experience. Love is depicted as tempermental as it can change from beauty to pain in an instant and suddenly; what was once desirable is wanted no longer. In fact, Orsino wants nothing to do with love at all. The unique use of subversion, poetry and imagery construct this painful depiction of love which is a highly fitting opening for the play.

2 thoughts on “In Love and Agony

  1. michaelgriffith1 says:

    An excellent critical entry!! Tamara…
    Again a bit of simple editing to do to make it perfect!!!
    *Please attend to editing your work carefully. Here is what I have picked up:
    * In the secondline, = In the second line,
    * gain the audiences attention= gain the audience’s attention [‘s or s’ – Apostrophe- if there is a meaning of ownership ( the boy’s apple/ the boys’ apples) then you need an apostrophe. See But don’t use apostrophe s for normal plurals!!!]
    * what the play, at it’s core, is about. = what the play, at its core, is about. [it’s=it is [this is one of those odd exceptions in the English Language where the normal use of ‘s for possessive case or ownership has been upstaged.]

    * what the play, at it’s core, is about. = ditto: its
    * it can change from beauty to pain in an instant and suddenly, what was once desirable is wanted no longer.= it can change from beauty to pain in an instant and suddenly; what was once desirable is wanted no longer. [two close sentences need either ; or . to separate them]


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