Twelfth Night – Scene 1 annotations
IllyriaDuke Orsino enterswith his lordsOrsino is in love beautiful Lady Olivia. Refuses to hunt and orders musicians to entertain him while he thinks about his desire for Olivia. His servant Valentine reminds him that Olivia does not return his love or even listen to the messages he sends her. We learn from Valentine that Olivia is in mourning for her brother, who has recently died. She wears a dark veil, and she has vowed that no one will see her face for another seven years She refuses to marry anyone until then. Orsino, obsessed with the woman who keeps refusing him, wants only to lie around on beds of flowers, listening to sweet ...view middle of the document...
Viola decides that, in that case, she will disguise herself as a young man and seek service with Duke Orsino instead. When she promises to pay him well, the captain agrees to help herthey go off together in order to find a disguise for her.
Act I, scenes i–ii
Viola’s plan for disguising herself in Act I, scene ii introduces one of the central motifs of the play: disguise and the identity confusion related to it. Similarly, Orsino’s mournful speech in Act I, scene i lets us know that the play will also concern matters of love: emotion, desire, and rejection. Put together, the two scenes suggest the extra twist that is the hallmark of Twelfth Night: mistaken gender identity. Twelfth Night is one of the plays referred to as Shakespeare’s “transvestite comedies,” and Viola’s gender deception leads to many romantic complications.
The opening lines of Twelfth Night, in which a moping Orsino, attended by his servants and musicians, says, “If music be the food of love, play on,” establish how love has conquered Orsino (I.i.1). His speech on this subject is rather complicated, as he employs a metaphor to try to establish some control over love. He asks for the musicians to give him so much music—the “food of love”—that he will overdose (“surfeit” [I.i.2]) and not be hungry for love any longer. Orsino’s trick proves too simple, however; while it makes him tire of the music, it fails to stop him from thinking about love.
Orsino also makes a comment about the relationship between romance and imagination: “So full of shapes is fancy / That it alone is high fantastical” (I.i.14–15). This comment relates the idea of overpowering love (“fancy”) to that of imagination (that which is “fantastical”), a connection that is appropriate for both Orsino and Twelfth Night as a whole.
In the Beginning of this scene, the play repeatedly raises the question of whether romantic love has more to do with the person who is loved or with the lover’s own imagination—whether love is real or merely something that the human mind creates for the sake of entertainment and delight. In the case of Orsino, the latter seems to be true, as he is less in love with Olivia herself than he is with the idea of being in love with Olivia. He claims to be devastated because she will not have him, but as the audience watches him wallow in his seeming misery, it is difficult to escape the impression that he is enjoying himself—flopping about on rose-covered beds, listening to music, and waxing eloquent about Olivia’s beauty to his servants. The genuineness of Orsino’s emotions comes into question even further when he later switches his affections from Olivia to Viola without a second thought; the audience then suspects that he does not care whom he is in love with, as long as he can be in love.
Meanwhile, Viola’s decision to disguise herself as a young man in order to find a job seems somewhat improbable. Surely this elaborate ploy isn’t necessary; even if Orsino only hires young men, there...