“If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor. Enough; no more.
’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.”
-Twelfth Night : William Shakespeare
The opening lines of the play contain some of the finest imagery used by Shakespeare. But the imagery is used merely to construct hyperbole intended to make fun of a romance pursued by Orsino for its own sake. Here is an entire drama of Elizabethan romance with all its trappings ,notably music. Music may be the food of love. Love does not happen by itself but is nurtured carefully by its staple food of music , by creating an ambiance for such romance to flourish. Love needs the food of music and so music should be played on to its excess. But music should not become the central passion but merely be played to an excess so that it quickly sickens and dies.
Apparently Orsino is not a music afficionado. If played continuously it becomes a surfeit and sickens to its death. Music is but a tool for romance and should not be allowed to become the leitmotif of the story. Orsino is merely building up his romance and has to follow the prevailing conventions for it . That strain again! Thank God, it has a dying fall. And beautiful like the sweet sound that breaths upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odor. Music is but a soft sound breathing on a bank of violets, desired not for the melody of such a sound but for the odor it gives to and takes from the violets. Love is what the Duke pursues, the fragrance of a romance, the giving and the taking.
Orsino now gets into love proper.He addresses the spirit of love , quick and fresh ,that receiveth like the sea ,notwithstanding the joiner’s capacity. Nothing enters there without losing its form and shape. Like the sea that goes on ,irrespective of the countless streams and rivers that enter it,losing their shapes and their price.
“so full of shapes is fancy/that it alone is high fantastical” –Love receives within itself so many forms and is itself a fancy that is so high fantastical. Orsino’s love is mere fancy with no solid base and he is himself not sure about it. That is why he needs props like music.
If music be the food of love play on. If. But not too long .. Just that much which makes you sick of it and you go on to other things. Just the thing for a love novice .
(also found on the Shakespeare page)