Ann Barton said “Lovelorn Orsino is not a figure of fun. The verse he speaks at the beginning of the play is seductively beautiful: intense, metaphoric and imaginative” To what extent do you agree with this view of the presentation of the character of Orsino?
The presentation of Duke Orsino emphasises the dominant theme of love in Twelfth Night. He can be interpreted in different ways. There is debate as to whether Orsino represents the beauty and truth of love as a heroic lover, or as a stock comic character of a foolish lover, used as a convention to emphasise his ‘feelings’ to create humour for an audience. The opening hyperbolic speech of the play is given by the Duke himself. instantly suggesting the importance of his character, highlighting what he says. The three key themes are introduced in the opening line of the play, “If music be the food of love play on.” Orsino can be presented here, in a positive light, immediately developing a connection between actor and audience. The language Orsino uses is fluent and beautiful, as he describes that “appetite may sicken, and so die”, holding connotations of Orsino’s desire for love, not necessarily for a particular lover. Metaphoric descriptions suggest that he needs to be fed with passion, though too much passion may harm him and cause a death. Here is a typical comic convention; where death is mentioned, though never occurs. Following on, an appealing metaphor is captured through the descriptions of “breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor” holding strong imagery of a beautiful meadow of violets. On a second reading, it’s possible to link the idea of unknown, unrequited love for Viola, as ‘Viola’ and ‘Violets’ may have a subtle language connection. Alliteration of “it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound” appeals to the senses and follows along with the beauty of love that is captured through Orsino’s metaphoric speech. Mid-way through Orsino’s intense speech, the mood suddenly changes,...
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