How might one analyze, line-by-line, the following love speeches in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: 2.2.18-26 and 33-41 and 3.1.152-164?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Various of the “love speeches” in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night can be analyzed not only in terms of the meter they use but also in terms of the other literary devices they employ. Consider, for instance, the following lines of the speech by Viola in Act II, scene 2. In the following quotation, the stressed syllables boldfaced and the unstressed syllables are not:

Viola. I left no ring with her: what means this lady? 
Fortune forbid my outside have not charm'd her! 
She made good view of me; indeed, so much
That sure methought her eyes had lost her tongue
For she did speak in starts distractedly. 
She loves me, sure; the cunning of her passion 
Invites me in this churlish messenger
None of my lord's ring! why, he sent her none
I am the man: if it be so, as 'tis
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.

Other features of this passage include the alliteration of “Fortune forbid,” the assonance of “I am the man,” the paradoxical and metaphorical phrasing of “her eyes had lost her tongue,” and the enjambment involved in the smooth movement from “passion” to “Invites.”

A passage later in the same speech can be similarly analyzed:

How will this fadge? my master loves her dearly; 
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me
What will become of this? As I am man
My state is desperate for my master's love
As I am woman,—now alas the day!— 
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe
O time! thou must untangle this, not I
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!

The word “monster” is an example of a metaphor; “she . . . seems . . . me” exemplifies assonance; “am man” combines assonance and alliteration; and “time” seems to involve personification. Note the absence of enjambment here.

Finally, similar analysis can be performed on the following exchange between Olivia and Viola:

  • Olivia. Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide
    Do not extort thy reasons from this clause
    For that I woo, thou therefore hast no cause
    But rather reason thus with reason fetter, 
    Love sought is good, but given unsought better.1395
  • Viola. By innocence I swear, and by my youth
    I have one heart, one bosom and one truth
    And that no woman has; nor never none
    Shall mistress be of it, save I alone
    And so adieu, good madam: never more
    Will I my master's tears to you deplore.

The most prominent feature of this passage, unlike the earlier ones, is the heavy emphasis on rhyme. One notices also the heavy emphasis on the repetition of “reason” and “one,” as well as the balanced construction of the last line of Olivia’s speech and the first line of Viola’s.  More alliteration appears, for example, in “never none,” and assonance appears in “that no woman has.” Viola’s speech uses a remarkable amount of enjambment.

Although some of the metrical patterns outlined above can be disputed, for the most part Shakespeare sticks, in this play, to the use of regular iambic meter. Relatively few variations occur.


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Twelfth Night

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