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Twelfth Night, or What You Will Love Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #1

If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die. (1.1.1-3)

When Orsino speaks of feeding his "love" for Olivia with music in the play's famous opening lines, the Duke aligns erotic desire with a kind of gluttonous craving for food. Desire isn't something to be fulfilled or satiated in a healthy, loving way. Rather, the Duke says he must kill off his "appetite" for love by bingeing and "sickening." Yuck. This not only alerts us to Orsino's disturbing (and somewhat ridiculous) ideas about love, but also shows us how erotic desire is linked to violence and self-indulgence in Twelfth Night.

Quote #2

O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence.
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me. (1.1.20-24)

Critics often note that this is one of the most telling speeches Orsino delivers in the play. When a servant invites the Duke to go hunting, Orsino responds with a speech about the way he felt when he first laid eyes on Olivia. Orsino plays off of Curio's invitation to hunt for "hart" (male deer) and also draws on the myth of Acteon, a hunter who was transformed into a deer when he stumbled across Diana bathing. According to the myth, Diana further punished Acteon by setting the hunter's own hounds upon him.

OK, so what? Well, it's important to note that in the Duke's version of the Acteon myth, he becomes the hunted "hart" (a pun on "heart") and his desires are like the "cruel hounds" that chase him/his heart. Notice anything weird about this scenario? Basically, Duke Orsino reveals that he (or his desire) chases after himself in this bizarre little fantasy that has absolutely nothing to do with Olivia (the woman he claims to love). Olivia is pretty much an irrelevant excuse for Duke Orsino to listen to moody music and conjure up erotic fantasies about himself. What to make of this? Well, aside from the fact that Orsino is totally self-absorbed, this is good evidence that the Duke isn't so much in love with Olivia as he is in love with the idea of love.

Quote #3

O, 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 killed the flock of all affections else
That live in her; (1.1.35-39)

Here again, Orsino reveals a skewed vision of desire. The first thing to note is that Orsino has a hard time wrapping his brain around the idea that Olivia isn't interested in him. He is also completely dismissive of the notion that Olivia could love so intensely a (dead) brother. Of course, Orsino does recognize Olivia's capacity for "love," but he mistakenly believes that she will somehow channel all of her energy into a relationship with him.

It's also interesting to note that the Duke uses another violent metaphor to describe the act of falling in love as a kind of violent piercing of the flesh (by Cupid's arrow or, "golden shaft"). Just for fun, we can also compare this passage to other moments in the play where love is associated with hunting, which can also involve the use of arrows. See 1.1.2 (discussed above) and also where Olivia compares herself to an animal, or "prey" (3.1.8).

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