Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night, or What You Will Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition. VIOLA
And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown'd: what think you, sailors? (1.2.2)| Twelfth Night is full of literary references, including allusions to Shakespeare's own dramatic works. For example, the play's shipwreck plot involving the separation of twins echoes the plot of Shakespeare's earlier play, The Comedy of Errors, in which the identical Antipholus brothers are separated at sea and eventually reunited. This idea, however, was borrowed from other writers like Plautus. Does this mean you can't understand or enjoy Twelfth Night if you haven't read all this other stuff? No way – you can totally master the play without being a Plautus expert. It's just good to keep in mind that Shakespeare is working within, borrowing from, and constantly revising a pretty rich literary tradition. VIOLA

prithee, and I'll pay thee bounteously,
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I'll serve this duke:
Thou shall present me as an eunuch to him:
It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service. (1.2.10)|
Viola's disguise draws our attention to the circumstances of Shakespeare's transvestite stage. "Viola's" role was played by a boy actor, cross-dressed as a young woman, who disguises herself as a boy, "Cesario." We can never know how each member of Shakespeare's audience responded to this, but we can certainly think about how we interpret this transvestite comedy, which challenges us to rethink our ideas about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine." |

Twelfth Night, or What You Will Love Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition. ORSINO
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)|
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. ORSINO

O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence!
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me. (1.1.2)|
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 listening to moody music and conjuring up erotic fantasies about himself. What...
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