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Twelfth Night


[Enter DUKE ORSINO, VIOLA, CURIO, and others]
DUKE ORSINOGive me some music. Now, good morrow, friends.
Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song,
That old and antique song we heard last night:
Methought it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times:
Come, but one verse.
CURIOHe is not here, so please your lordship that should sing it.
DUKE ORSINOWho was it?10
CURIOFeste, the jester, my lord; a fool that the lady
Olivia’s father took much delight in. He is about the house.
DUKE ORSINOSeek him out, and play the tune the while.
[Exit CURIO. Music plays]
Come hither, boy: if ever thou shalt love,
In the sweet pangs of it remember me;
For such as I am all true lovers are,
Unstaid and skittish in all motions else,
Save in the constant image of the creature
That is beloved. How dost thou like this tune?
VIOLAIt gives a very echo to the seat20
Where Love is throned.
DUKE ORSINOThou dost speak masterly:
My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye
Hath stay’d upon some favour that it loves:
Hath it not, boy?
VIOLAA little, by your favour.
DUKE ORSINOWhat kind of woman is’t?
VIOLAOf your complexion.
DUKE ORSINOShe is not worth thee, then. What years, i’ faith?
VIOLAAbout your years, my lord.
DUKE ORSINOToo old by heaven: let still the woman take29
An elder than herself: so wears she to him,
So sways she level in her husband’s heart:
For, boy, however we do praise ourselves,
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm,
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women’s are.
VIOLAI think it well, my lord.
DUKE ORSINOThen let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent;
For women are as roses, whose fair flower
Being once display’d, doth fall that very hour.
VIOLAAnd so they are: alas, that they are so;40
To die, even when they to perfection grow!
[Re-enter CURIO and Clown]
DUKE ORSINOO, fellow, come, the song we had last night.
Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain;
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
And the free maids that weave their thread with bones
Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.
ClownAre you ready, sir?
DUKE ORSINOAy; prithee, sing.50
ClownCome away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;60
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!
DUKE ORSINOThere’s for thy pains.
ClownNo pains, sir: I take pleasure in singing, sir.
DUKE ORSINOI’ll pay thy pleasure then.
ClownTruly, sir, and pleasure will be paid, one time or another.71
DUKE ORSINOGive me now leave to leave thee.
ClownNow, the melancholy god protect thee; and the
tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for
thy mind is a very opal. I would have men of such
constancy put to sea, that their business might be
every thing and their intent every where; for that’s
it that always makes a good voyage of nothing. Farewell.
DUKE ORSINOLet all the rest give place.
[CURIO and Attendants retire]
Once more, Cesario,
Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty:80
Tell her, my love, more noble than the world,
Prizes not quantity of dirty lands;
The parts that fortune hath bestow’d upon her,
Tell her, I hold as giddily as fortune;
But ’tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in attracts my soul.
VIOLABut if she cannot love you, sir?
DUKE ORSINOI cannot be so answer’d.
VIOLASooth, but you must.
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love a great a pang of heart90
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d?
DUKE ORSINOThere is no woman’s sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention
Alas, their love may be call’d appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt;
But mine is all as hungry as the sea,100
And can digest as much: make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.
VIOLAAy, but I know–
DUKE ORSINOWhat dost thou know?
VIOLAToo well what love women to men may owe:
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
DUKE ORSINOAnd what’s her history?
VIOLAA blank, my lord. She never told her love,110
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat, like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.
DUKE ORSINOBut died thy sister of her love, my boy?
VIOLAI am all the daughters of my father’s house,120
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.
Sir, shall I to this lady?
DUKE ORSINOAy, that’s the theme.
To her in haste; give her this jewel; say,
My love can give no place, bide no denay.

Next: Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 4

From Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan.

1. good morrow, good morning; from “M.E. morwe, … which again is from the older morwen, by loss of the final –n; and morwen = Mod. E. morn” … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

2. but, merely.

5. recollected, has been variously explained as ‘studied’; ‘recalled’; ‘repeated as composers often prolong the song by repetitions’; ‘picked’; ‘refined’; ‘trivial’; ‘gathered with pains, not spontaneous.’

8, 9. that should sing it, who would have to sing it, whose office it would be to sing it, if he were here; see Abb. § 324.

12. about the house, somewhere in or near the house.

13. the while, for the time being, till he is found.

17, 9. Unstaid … beloved, variable and flighty in all impulses of the mind, except as regards the image of the loved one ever present in the mind; the sentence is not strictly logical as a constant image cannot be included among motionsskittish, “formed from the verb to skit, a Lowland Scotch word meaning ‘to flounce, caper like a skittish horse,’ Jamieson” (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).

20, 1. It gives … throned. It echoes to the life the feelings of the heart in which love sits enthroned; cp. i. 1. 38, above; Oth, iii. 3. 348, “Yield up, O Love, thy crown and hearted throne“; R. J. v. 1. 3, “My bosom’s lordsits lightly in his throne.”

22. masterly, most skilfully; with full mastery of the subject; for the suffix –ly with nouns, see Abb. § 447.

23. My life upon ‘t, I would wager my life that, etc.

24. Hath stay’d … loves; has dwelt lovingly upon the looks of some one; favour, personal appearance.

25. by your favour, playing upon the two senses of the word, kindness, and personal appearance; for by, which originally meant ‘near,’ see Abb. § 145.

26. complexion, looks; nowadays the word is used in the more limited sense of the colouring of the face.

29. still, ever, always.

30. so wears … him, when such is the case she accommodates herself to him as clothes accommodate themselves to the figure by being worn.

31. So sways … heart, when that is the case she “exercises an evenly balanced influence” (Wright) in her husband’s affections; the metaphor seems to be from the spirit in a level.

34. More … worn, more full of longings and caprice, sooner lost and worn out, effaced; for worn, in this sense, cp. ii. H. VI. ii. 4. 69, “These few days wonder will be quickly worn,” Dyce follows Hanmer in reading ‘won’ for worn.

35. I think it well, I am well assured of that.

36. thy love, she whom you love.

37. Or thy … bent, or your love for her will not continue what it was; a metaphor from a bow which if bent tight too long will snap the string and fly back to its original shape; cp. M. A. ii. 3. 232, “it seems her affectionshave their full bent,” i.e. are stretched to the utmost, are intense.

39. display’d, fully opened out.

40. And so … so; that is true indeed, and it is a pity it should be so; cp. Haml. ii. 2. 97, 8, “’tis true ’tis pity; And pity ’tis ’tis true.” In perfection, applying not only to the blown beauty of the rose, but to the full loveliness of a woman when married to a man worthy of her, Cowden Clarke sees a corroboration of ‘perfection’ (in the sing.) in i. 1. 39, above.

41. To die … grow! To think that they should die at the very moment when they reach their full perfection!

43. plain, simple.

44. spinster, like ‘webster, etc., is feminine from its termination, –ster.

45. And the free … bones, and the light-hearted maidens, who, etc.; this “describes the lacemakers who formerly used bones for pins in setting out the pattern of their work. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s Scornful Lady, v. 2. among the accomplishments of a cood housewife it is said, ‘she cuts cambric at a thread, weaves bone lace, and quilts balls'” (Wright).

46. Do use, are wont; we no longer employ use = accustomed, in the present tense: it is silly sooth, it is plain, artless, truth.

47. And dallies … love, and trifles lovingly with the theme of innocent love.

48. Like the old age, as the old and simple times were wont to do.

51. Come away, sc. with me.

52. sad cypress, as Shakespeare uses cypress for the tree of that name, which was used as an emblem of mourning, and for the wood of that tree, out of which chests were often made, it is doubtful here whether he intended a coffin covered with cypress boughs or a coffin made of cypress wood.

55. My shroud of white. ‘Shroud,’ though now used only for garment in which the corpse is dressed, originally meant any garment or covering; “closely allied with ‘shred,’ … the original sense was a shred or piece of cloth or stuff, a sense nearly retained in that of ‘winding sheet'” [another name for shroud] … (Skeat, Ety. Dict.). As both white and black crape are made, the shroud here may be made of that material: stuck … yew, with sprigs of yew all about it; the yew, like the cypress, is used as an emblem of mourning, and both trees were of old planted in churchyards.

57, 8. My part … it. “No one so true as I did ever take part in death’s tragedy” (C. Clarke).

60. black, may refer either to the dark wood of the cypress, or to the covering of the coffin with black cloth which was and is common.

61. greet, meet my dead body at the grave to pay the last tokens of regard; ‘greet’ to salute, from A.S. gretan, to approach, visit, address.

63. A thousand … save, in order to prevent innumerable sighs being wasted over my grave, lay me, etc.

65. lover, for the sake of the metre, some edd. alter this to “love”; find, may find; subjunctive.

67. thy pains, your trouble; the Clown pretends to take the word in the sense of suffering.

70, 1. and pleasure … another: and sooner or later, pleasure (i.e. indulgence) will be requited by pain, will have to pay the penalty of pain.

72. Give … thee. A polite and ingenious way of saying ‘excuse my asking you to retire.’

73. Now … thee; now may the god of melancholy take you under his protection.

74. doublet, a doublet was an inner garment, a double to the outer one, but is also used for a coat generally; taffeta is a thin glossy silk stuff, with a wavy lustre, and changeable taffeta, what is now called ‘shot silk’ (C. Clarke), i.e. silk in which the colours are so ‘shot’ in the loom that they vary to appearance according to the light in which the silk is seen, in this respect it resembles the opal, to which the Clown compares the Duke’s mind. Cowden Clarke thinks that the variable hues of the Duke’s mind as seen here and in the opening scene of the play harmonize with the subsequent facile transposition of his fancy from Olivia to Viola: but the restlessness with which the Clown charges him in wishing one minute to be sung to, and the next to be left alone, seems to be nothing more than the restlessness of all lovers.

75. of such constancy, i.e. of so little consistency: put to sea, go to sea.

76, 7. that their … where; that they might find occupation in everything, and scope for their thoughts everywhere; might, in the constant change of scene and circumstance, always find something to divert their restless fancy.

77, 8. for that’s … nothing, for it is such constant change that ever lends a charm to a voyage of no settled purpose; for the emphatic it, see Abb. § 227.

79. give place, retire and leave us alone.

80. Get thee … cruelty: betake yourself to that lady so supreme and unrivalled in her cruelty. Somewhat similar are Demetrius’ words when, speaking of Helen’s hand, he calls it “This princess of pure white,” iii. M. N. D. iii. 2. 144: cruelty, abstr. for concr., as in i. 5. 269.

81. the world, people in general.

82. Prizes … lands, values not the property she owns: dirty, in the double sense of what is mere dirt to him, i.e. valueless, and of what is made up of dirt, i.e. earth, soil. Wright observes that “like Osric, in Hamlet, Olivia was ‘spacious in the possession of dirt,'” i.e. landed property.

83, 4. The parts … fortune. Tell her that I pay as little heed to the gifts that fortune has bestowed upon her as I do to fortune herself, i.e. pay no heed to, care nothing about, them.

85, 6. But ’tis … soul. But that which does attract my soul is the wonderful beauty with which she has been adorned by nature; that miracle … gems, is a hendiadys for that miraculous and unequalled gem, sc. her beauty; to ‘prank’ is to deck out, cp. W. T. iv. 4. 10, “and me, poor lowly maid, Most goddess-like prank’d up,” Cor. iii. 1. 23, “For they do prank them in authority.” For the sentiment, cp. A. Y. L. i. 2. 44, 5, “Fortune reigns in gifts of the world, not in the lineaments of Nature.”

87. But if … sir? But if she says she cannot love you, what am I to say or do then?

88. I cannot … answered. I refuse to take such an answer: Sooth, in truth.

89. Say that, suppose that.

90. as great … heart, love as strong and as painful.

92. must she …answer’d? Surely she must take that for an answer; must be contented with it. Cp. M. V. iv. 1. 42, “But, say, it is my humour; is it answer’d?” i.e. is not that sufficient answer.

93-5. There is … heart; no woman’s breast is strong enough to hold out against such heart-throes as my passionate love stirs up in me; cp. A. C. i. 3. 16, “the sides of nature Will not sustain it.” For the inflexion in s, preceding a pl. subj., see Abb. § 335.

95, 6. no woman’s … much; no woman’s breast is large enough to hold so much love; for the omission of as after so, see Abb. § 281: they lack retention, they are incapable of loving steadily for any length of time.

97-9. Alas, … revolt; the love of women may be more fitly called appetite that is quickly subject to surfeit and revolts against the food which had before been so pleasant to it. The words No motion (i.e. impulse) …palate (i.e. taste) are parenthetical. Most edd. retain ‘suffer’ of the folios and explain, “The love of women, etc., who suffer …revolt,” may be called, etc. But the fact that the Duke immediately afterwards contrasts his appetite as never suffering surfeit, etc., with that of women seems to show that that refers to appetite, and consequently that we must have the singular verb. The final s might easily be omitted before surfeit. The Duke’s speech here contrasting so completely with what he had said above, ll. 33-6, indicates the restlessness of his mind.

101. compare, as a subs., is frequent in Shakespeare.

103. And that … Olivia, and that which I bear to Olivia, hold as a debt due to Olivia; cp. A. W. iv. 5. 12, “I could mot have owed her a more rooted love.”

107. had a daughter loved, had a daughter who loved; for the omission of the relative, see Abb. § 244.

110. A blank, i.e. her history is a blank, there is nothing to tell of the consequences of her love.

111. like … bud, cp. K. J. iii. 4. 82, “But now will canker sorrow eat my bud, And chase the native beauty from his cheek.”

112. damask cheek, her cheek which in its mixture of red and white rivalled the damask rose; the ‘damask rose,’ of a pale red colour with a very sweet smell, is supposed to have been brought from Damascus by the Crusaders or some of the early travellers in the East: in thought, in brooding over her love; cp. Haml. iv. 5. 188, “Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself She turns to favour and to prettiness.”

113. And with … melancholy. Shakespeare attributes to melancholy the effect which it produces upon those subject to it. So, in M. V. i. 1. 85, 6, he speaks of a man creeping “into the jaundice By being peevish,” whereas in reality it is the jaundice that produces the peevishness.

114, 5. She sat, … grief, she sat smiling at grief, like a figure of patience on a monument. Without the comma at sat, the sense would be she sat like a figure of patience on a monument smiling at another figure of grief, which is almost ludicrous.

116. say more, are more plentiful with our protestations of love.

117. Our shows … will, our display of love is greater than our persistency, fixedness of purpose: still, ever, always.

120, 1. I am all … too: an indirect way of leading the Duke to believe (while her statement was literally true) that her sister died of love: and yet … not, said more to herself than to the Duke, she still trying to buoy herself up with the hope that her brother may have been saved.

122. that’s the theme, that is what should be the subject of our conversation as it is ever of my thoughts.

124. My love … denay, my love can know no withdrawal, can endure no refusal; for give place, cp. 1. 80 above, where it is used in the literal sense of the phrase: denay, an old form of deny = denial. Dyce compares Fairfax’s translation of Tasso’s Gerusalemme, “Of mild denaies of tender scornes.”


How to cite the explanatory notes:

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night Or What You Will. Ed. Kenneth Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1889.