What is the function of music in Twelfth Night?

marvis | Student

Music in Twelfth Night is used mainly to portray the mood of charaters in the play. In Act i for example we see Duke Orsino using music to soothe and nurse his pains born as result of Lady Olivia's constant rejection. Music is also used to reveal the inner feelings of charaters. We get to know their state of mind through the kind of music played. For instance we can tell that Orsino is hurting inside and he endevours so hard to put aside his feelings for Lady Olivia, though he can't. He instead continues to pine away with his obsession for Olivia.

neneta | Student

 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 odour. Enough, no more,

‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before. (1.1 1-4)


The above lines mark the opening of Twelfth Night, in which count Orsino of Illyria laments his longing for Olivia. “If music be the food," then, Orsino would rather eat in excess in order to die.  Thus, from the beginning, we see that music is relevant because Orsino tries to cure his lovesickness by listening to it. It is important to notice that we have here a case of synaesthesia, a trope that refers to the mixing of sensations. In this case, one hears music one doesn’t eat it. This figure of speech emphasizes Orsino's restlessness because of love.

Music is also predominant in the character of Feste, the clown who often sings songs about love in order to entertain others in the play, as we can see in, act 2.3:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?

O stay and hear, your true love’s coming,

That can sing both high and low.

Trip no further, pretty sweeting.

Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man’s son doth now.

Conclusively, we may say that music plays an important role in the play because it is often linked with lovesickness, one of the main themes of the play.