Orsino is the first character we encounter in the play. Orsino is the Duke of Illerya, he is in love with a woman called Olivia who also holds a high position in Ilerya. Because of this Shakespeare asks the question is this true love or the formal courtly Elizabethan love encountered in that period of history.
In Act 1, Scene 1, the whole scene opens with an extended metaphor to love. Music is the metaphor. “If music be the food of love, play on.” From this quote it becomes apparent to the audience that Orsino is in love with the idea of love. He longs for what it shall bring. Orsino wants to be so immersed in the music, for it to completely fill his mind so there is no room for it, so that he will eventually tire of it ”The appetite may sicken and so die” It appears that Orsino wants to be almost intoxicated by love, to be drunk with it. The text is written like waves of emotion there are its high and lows “Tis not so sweet as before” Like the waves of intense emotion or in other words like that Orsino wants to feel. The swelling of the text after a dramatic pause suggests the swelling of emotions. Halfway through the stanza there is a dramtic pause after “Oh spirit of love how quick and fresh art thou!” the text then changes pace and becomes more mellow and thoughtful quote here ………like the swelling of emotions.
Curio then enters and asks if he would like to go hunting: “Will you go hunt my lord” Orsino does not hear and asks “what Curio” Curio replies “The hart”. The hart is a dear, a dear in a hunt is pursued. This is imagery that relates to Olivia – someone that he must pursue and catch. There is the idea of the ‘thrill of the chase’ and this can be related to the thrill of the hunt which relates to the swell of emotion that Orsino is feeling. However, the metaphor of the hunt here also has a many layers of meaning. In the hunt, there is the idea that you may not catch your prey – it may escape you because it is stronger, quicker, more superior to you –as Olivia is to Orsino. Then there is the idea that when you do catch your prey, you kill it – pierce it through – like the heart being pierced – like Cupid’s arrow which is a traditional image of love.
Through history and indeed in Shakespeare’s works such as Romeo and Juliet where both protagonists actually die for their love, we find that love can be cruel, unpredictable, torture and dangerous. Although in this scene Orsino talks of love that is ‘sweet’ that is overwhelming like the heady smell of ‘a bank of violets’ it can also be stifling to him: “Enough, no more; tis not so sweet as before” There are many contrasts to Orsino’s feelings abot love which fits with the idea of the ups and downs of emotions. Love may be stifling, but it is also pure and cleansing: “Methought she purged the air of pestilence;” Even though there are troubles in getting to your goal it is well worth it. Like in Hamlet “whether tis nobler in mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take arms against a sea of troubles”
As the text progresses it seems to the audience as he continues to wallow in self pity that he enjoys the attention an the idea of being so madly in love he can not function without it. The idea of Orsino’s love can in some ways be seen as his imagination fabricating this elaborate lust for Olivia purely for his entertainment. “So full of shapes is fancy, that alone is high fantastical” This is strengthened when at the end of the play on learning that indeed his male companion is actually a woman infatuated with him, he immediately switches his affection on to Viola because love is so close and easy to grasp.
Act 1 scene 5 reaches its climax when Viola against all courtly manners and traditions bursts into Olivia’s private quarters demanding an audience. “The honorable lady of the house, which is she?” Olivia at this point is in mourning for her brother who has recently died and is not permitting an audience to anyone especially those who come from Orsino’s court intent on whooing her. And in comes Viola/Cessario. What even permits Cessario this audience is the pure daring and audacity at which he delivers this speech which she then abandons to talk about her own feelings of love and affection that are plaguing her mind on Orsiono. Viola to some extent is caught of guard.
Viola manages to make Olivia open up to her partly because she is a woman going though her own personal problems including her own personal love for Orsino so she can relate to her. “If I did love you in my masters flame with such a suffering, such a deadly life, in your denial I would find no sense; I would not understand it.