Back to: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Table of Contents
The very first dialogue in the play says, “If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.” Here, we understand Shakespeare’s very basic though regarding excess.
Anything found in excess loses its importance including love. Orsino further gives examples of slow music and fragrance of violets and how they are so good in the beginning but when they exceed than enough, they stop being sweet.
Spirit of love is also fresh and quick in the beginning but it can not withstand its own capacity. Its excess falls into “abatement and low price.”
Olivia is mourning the death of her father and brother when the play begins. She is supposed to not marry anyone for at least seven years. It shows us the convention of mourning in that Elizabethan society.
When Orsino summons Feste, he sings, “Come away, come away death, And in sad cypress let me be laid. Fly away, ﬂy away breath, I am slain by a fair cruel maid. My shroud of white, stuck all with yew, O prepare it! My part of death, no one so true Did share it. Not a ﬂower, not a ﬂower sweet On my black cofﬁn let there be strown. Not a friend, not a friend greet my poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown. A thousand thousand sighs to save, Lay me, O where Sad true lover never ﬁnd my grave, To weep there.”
This song shows the preoccupation of the dramatist with death. Apart from this, Viola’s early feelings of Sebastian’s loss in the shipwreck provides a tone of death to the play.
The confusion that comes from the love triangle between Olivia, Orsino, and Viola is very much maintained by the constant reference to dreams and madness in the play. It adds to the confusion between the real and the false appearance.
When Sebastian appears in the end and Olivia thinking of him as Cesario behaves with that kind of familiarity, he is bewildered and says, “Or I am mad, or else this is a dream. Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep; If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!”. Sebastian shouts after a while that “are all the people mad?”
The confusion of identities, deceptions, and subvention of what’s normal brings the characteristic of madness to the play. The theme of madness is shown in the play through illusions which is always on the edge of madness.
Twelfth Night shows great sympathy and place for characters and situations which has to do with so-called foolishness. When Olivia speaks in the favor of Feste, he replies that “thou hast spoke for us, Madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool.”
The play shows us how Feste legitimizes foolishness as a mask of wisdom. Feste as a fool actually demonstrates wit. He is not a fool but professionally employed to act so.
But there are other instances of foolishness such as Olivia’s foolish declaration of mourning for the death of her father and brother. The aggressive and excessively forward manhood displayed by Orsino is also an instance of foolishness. Twelfth Night reveals how the normal is actually foolish when perceived in its truth.