What is the meaning of the following extract from act 1, scene 1, lines 9–14 of Twelfth Night, and how does it convey the character of Orsino? “O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou, / That notwithstanding thy capacity / Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there, / Of what validity and pitch so e’er, / But falls into abatement and low price / Even in a minute!”

In act 1, scene 1, lines 9–14 of Twelfth Night, Orsino is marveling at the speed at which one can fall in love. He compares love’s spirit to the sea, because anything that falls into the sea quickly sinks. These lines convey his romantic and changeable nature, as they refer to his preoccupation with love and indicate that he has suddenly and completely fallen in love.

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William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night opens with Duke Orsino absorbed in listening to love songs. He loudly declaims his passion for both music and love. Then his mood abruptly changes, and in act I, scene 1, line 8, he announces that the sound no longer seems so sweet. In the next part of his speech, lines 9–14, he reflects on his own state of mind as it fits with the qualities of love. He metaphorically compares love to the sea, which quickly swallows up anything that falls into it. Orsino’s evident preoccupation with love indicates that he is a romantic, and his wondering about love’s speed probably indicates that he has recently fallen in love. His musings are explained later in the scene, when he mentions his newfound love for Olivia.

Orsino seems to consider love as an independent force. In line 9, using the literary device of apostrophe, he directly addresses its spirit: “O spirit of love!” The rest of lines 9–14 are a complicated metaphor, which is a direct comparison of unlike things. Orsino provides numerous ways that love’s spirit is like the sea. Both are “quick and fresh” and have a huge “capacity.” Nothing (”naught”) whatsoever is safe from love or the sea. Once do they enter, or fall in, “in a minute,” they sink and lose value.

Although he does not specifically identify himself as such an object, he is tacitly included in the universal assessment that nothing is safe. He apparently marvels at how he fell in love at first sight.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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