How is food used as a motif throughout the play, and how is it used to advance the plot?
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The play opens with an image of sensuality as music being “the food of love” but it focuses on excess and surfeit. Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy and its title draws us to the mid-winter festival, where the usual restraints are lifted and we are all, like Feste, “allowed” to be fools. The play is a romantic comedy and that means that the audience look through the distorting mirror of comedy and see our own follies exaggerated. Orsino is wallowing in his own self-pity, deluding himself, as the food image suggests. At the other end of the scale, Sir Toby is wallowing in his own excesses of “pickled herrings” and wine. His early misbehavior, over-indulging in food, prepares the audience for his later, graver misbehavior in his treatment of Malvolio. But this is a mid-winter festival and we can all sympathize with a little self-indulgence. What we cannot forgive are the killjoys, like Malvolio, who deny us our “cakes and ale.”
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