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Exploring Figurative Language in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Jul 4, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jul 4, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Use of Figurative Language by Shakespeare

At the begging of the play, Twelfth Night, Shakespeare commences with a statement in which the character Orsino equates music with food. Orsino says,

“If Music be food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die (1.1.1-3).”

He makes these comments at his castle while listening to songs played by his musicians. Orsino Duke of Illyria is hurt by Olivia’s failure to reciprocate his love thus wishes for anything that would get rid of that feeling after getting satisfying it. Therefore, he dreams that if music would feed his emotional desires so he would like excess of it so that in the long run he would be disgusted, and his infatuation for Olivia would go away as a result. The metaphor compares love to the human body and music to food that nourishes love enhancing its growth and development. The comparison of music to food communicates the characters’ foolish fantasies concerning the emotional desire of love, their longing to fulfill that feeling as well as the lines they are willing to cross in their quest to achieve satisfaction in relation to the feeling of love. The metaphor further illustrates the author’s ideas regarding misguided infatuations that blind characters to the reality of experiencing love that is the major idea in the plot of the play.


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The association of music with food that nourishes love suggests that the character, Orsino, is hungry for love. He is further portrayed to be desperately in need of fulfilling his emotional desires other than being loved back as he appears to appreciate the notion of being in love more compared to the lady Orsino thinks he loves. Therefore, the metaphor communicates his ignorance and naivety concerning the subject of love. Orsino’s drive to experience love and extinguish the pain associated with it makes him delusional as he entertains impossible, crazy imagination concerning factors that foster the growth of love. For instance, he thinks listening to excess music would fill his appetite- emotional desires for Olivia- and eventually let him off the hook as implied by Shakespeare (1. 1. 1-3).

The linking of music to food associated with enhancing growth and development of love communicates the unhealthy over yearning of deep emotional desires that drive the parties involved crazy to the point of deviating from their daily activities. Orsino seems to have lost interest in indulging in activities he used to take pleasure in participating in since he declines an invitation to go hunting (Shakespeare (1.1. 20-24); instead driven by the powerful force of love, Orsino shifts his focus to thoughts that would fill his desire excessively and spare him the pain of being rejected by Olivia. Thus the metaphor implies the decline of Orsino to foolishness by the unfamiliar feeling of love as he seems to focus a lot on his obsession since later in the scene he ends up in bed nursing his infatuation with love fantasies.

The author’s association of music with food of love at the begging of the play aids in communicating the theme of love depicted throughout the play and highlights the plot. The metaphor further hints on the characters’ fallacies concerning the notion of being in love that drives them into foolish acts that they are barely conscious of or aware. For instance, Malvolio ends up being isolated by Olivia, who considers him insane after being misled into attempting to declare his love for her as implied by Shakespeare (3.4. 25-29). It also touches on the uncontrollable pain associated with the feeling of love since Osirino’s desire to quench his hunger for love with music seems to be triggered by Olivia’s disinterest in him.

Moreover, it hints on the impulsive measures the characters undertake to experience the feeling of love and stay close to their loved ones. For instance, Viola tugs along with her ridiculous ploy to stay close to her love, Orsino, as indicated by Shakespeare (1.4.7) while fully aware of his interest in Olivia. In a nutshell, the association of music with food of love exposes the characters’ misconception concerning idea of falling in love and exploits the possibility of finding closure as they finally come to terms with the reality when they find love they had been desperately searching for.

Some characters nurse the idea of satisfying their yearning for passion asserted by their tendency to cling to misplaced beliefs that gives them the hope of being loved or experiencing love. For instances, Olivia seems to be have fallen in love with by Viola’s (Cesario) words other than her personality as she could not tell the difference between Viola and Sebastian. Olivia appears to cling to the appealing sound of Viola’s (Cesario) words probably because they helped nourish her emotional desires thus echoes the metaphor.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, W. Twelfth night, or What you will. New Haven: Yale UP, 1954. Print.

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