Wiliam Shakespeare – Twelfth Night (ctd.)

Back at Orsino’s court, Orsino asks Cesario to sing for him this melancholy song he liked so much last night, but another courtier, Curio, steps in to say that this song was in fact sung by Feste and he should be called. Many years ago I heard a lecturer arguing that the version of Twelfth Night we have now was hastily redone when the voice of the boy actor who played Viola started to break, so that’s the reason why in this play, which is so full of song and music, every time Viola is asked to sing somebody or something prevents her from it. Before Feste is found, Orsino engages in a conversation with Cesario about love. Cesario admits he may be in love a little bit, but of course it’s Viola who is really in love with Orsino, so when Orsino presses Cesario for details – “What is she like? How old is she?”, Cesario answers she is “of [Orsino’s] complexion” and Orsino’s age. Then Orsino engages in a bit of double-standard talk, saying that she is too old for Cesario, because women should be younger than their husbands, both because they adapt then more easily to men and it’s easier for them to keep their husbands interest, because men are more fickle in love and women’s beauty fades sooner.

Feste arrives, sings a very affecting song about a lover who died of unrequited love and is tipped by Orsino, who then dismisses him very politely. Feste in his farewell speech criticizes Orsino equally politely for being inconstant (“thy mind is a very opal”). I am not sure whether it’s because Orsino tells him to leave after just one song (but Feste is a servant, he should be accustomed to be told to come and go as his employers please) or whether it’s a foreshadowing of Orsino’s transfer of affections. Orsino sends Cesario once again to Olivia with a gift, asks him to tell him that he loves her for herself, not her riches, and again tells him not to take no for an answer. “But”, says Viola, “you have to accept she may just not to be into you. Imagine a lady would love you as much as you love Olivia, what would you tell her?” Orsino pooh-poohs it, saying that no woman can love as much as he does, because no woman’s heart is so big. (He is kind of contradicting himself, as just a few lines earlier he said something opposite.) Women’s love is like appetite, residing in the palate and easily sated, while man’s love resides in his liver. Cesario argues with that, saying that he had a sister (meaning of course Viola herself) who fell in love with a man and never told her love to anybody but just pined away. When curious Orsino asks whether she died of love, Cesario answers evasively “I am all the daughters of my father’s house/And all the brothers too, and yet I know not.” Poor Viola!


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