William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night

Good timing – in a few days we are going to celebrate the anniversary of the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night, in the Inns of Court on February 2, 1602.

The play opens with the famous line “If music be the food of love, play on”. This line comes from Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, who is unhappily in love with a local aristo named Olivia. He asks his musicians to keep on playing because, logically, if music is the food of love, then if he listens to a lot of it, his love is going to gorge on it and die of overeating, so to say. But he finds that his favourite tune on second hearing is not as pleasant as the first time round. Orsino reflects sadly on the spirit of love, which is so “quick and fresh” that it gets bored with everything in a minute. I wonder why he does not extend it to his obsession with Olivia, who has just told him through a messenger that she intends to wear mourning after her dead brother for seven years. Surprisingly, this attracts Orsino to her even more – if she loves her brother so much, how much would she love her husband? He goes off to the garden to think in the appropriately flowery setting about his love.

In the second scene we meet Viola, freshly shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria and also mourning the death of her brother in the storm. But there is some hope because one sailor claims he saw Sebastian tying himself to a mast and drifting upon the surface of the sea. She then gets some info on here whereabouts – she’s in Illyria, ruled by Orsino, still a bachelor but in love with Olivia.

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