“If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On”

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Context: The ruler of Illyria, Duke Orsino, is in love with Olivia, a young, beautiful, and very wealthy countess who is in mourning for a dead brother. The duke’s affection is not requited by the countess, who will not admit his emissary or hear his protestations of love and pleads mourning for her brother as the reason she may not. At the beginning of the play, Duke Orsino is listening to melancholy music as he waits for his messenger to Olivia, Valentine, to return with news from her.


Over 150 years later, in 1775, another English dramatist, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, paraphrased, in The Rivals, this famous quotation thus: “Is not music the food of love?” In modern times, the phrase “a dying fall” is used by T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

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.

“Journeys End in Lovers’ Meeting”

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Context: Sir Toby Belch, uncle to Olivia, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are at Olivia’s house when Feste, her servant and jester, enters. Sir Toby and Andrew have been talking nonsense, and with Feste’s entrance, all three continue in the same vein. The older men ask Feste for a song, and he asks if they would like a love song or one of “good life.” Toby chooses a love song, and Andrew assents because he does not care for good life. Feste then sings one of Shakespeare’s loveliest songs:

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 lover’s meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What is love? ’Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter,
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty.
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

“Laugh Yourselves into Stitches”

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Context: Malvolio, a pompous, self-loving, and sour steward in Countess Olivia’s household, harbors ridiculous aspirations for his mistress’ affections. He is disliked by Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s bibulous uncle, and Maria, Olivia’s waiting woman. Seeking revenge on Malvolio for his officious interference with their drinking late one night, they obtain their goal by preparing a love note in Olivia’s hand and style and dropping it in Malvolio’s path. He believes it to be from Olivia and obeys its instructions to appear before her cross-gartered, in yellow stockings, smiling, and kissing his hand—affectations which she abhors. As he approaches, Maria fetches Sir Toby and Fabian, a servant who also dislikes Malvolio, with these words:

If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no Christian that means to be saved by believing rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness. He’s in yellow stockings.
And cross-gartered?
Most villainously . . .

“Love Sought Is Good, but Given Unsought Is Better”

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Context: Viola, on a sea voyage with her twin brother, Sebastian, is shipwrecked on the seacoast of Illyria. Convinced that her brother has drowned, she determines to serve temporarily the ruler of Illyria, Duke Orsino, in the guise of a eunuch and under the name of Cesario. The duke employs her thus to press his suit for the hand of the Countess Olivia, who does not love him and who...

(This entire section contains 211 words.)

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has put him off by pleading mourning for a dead brother. Viola, with an entourage, calls at Olivia’s home, gains admittance, and attempts to persuade Olivia of the duke’s devotion. Olivia rejects the duke but realizes that she has fallen in love with the messenger, believing Viola to be a man. Now, on Viola’s second visit, Olivia confesses her love, and in an attempt to persuade an angry and perplexed Viola, she argues,


Cesario, by the roses of the spring,By maidhood, honour, truth, and every thing,I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride,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 is better.

“Many a Good Hanging Prevents a Bad Marriage”

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Context: Maria, Countess Olivia’s waiting woman, is quarreling with Feste, the Fool, another of Olivia’s servants, and he gives her some saucy answers:

MARIANay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter, in way of thy excuse. My lady will hang thee for thy absence.FESTELet her hang me. He that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colours.MARIAMake that good.FESTEHe shall see none to fear.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .MARIAYet you will be hanged for being so long absent, or, to be turned away. Is not that as good as a hanging to you?FESTEMany a good hanging prevents a bad marriage . . .

“Midsummer Madness”

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Context: A self-loving steward, Malvolio, nurses ridiculous aspirations for the affections of his mistress, Countess Olivia. He is greatly disliked by Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s bibulous uncle, and Maria, the countess’ waiting woman. They, together with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a ridiculous and hopeless suitor to Olivia and tool of Sir Toby, seek revenge on Malvolio because he has interfered in their affairs. They accomplish their aim by dropping a love note for him to discover in the garden. He finds it and, completely duped into believing it to be from Olivia and meant for him, obeys its injunctions to appear before her in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, smiling idiotically and kissing his hand. Olivia, in mourning for a dead brother, is amazed by the sober and civil steward’s appearance and behavior and thinks he is mad.

MALVOLIORemember who commended thy yellow stockings—OLIVIAThy yellow stockings?MALVOLIOAnd wished to see thee cross-gartered.OLIVIACross-gartered?MALVOLIOGo to, thou art made, if thou desirest to be so. . . . If not, let me see thee a servant still.OLIVIAWhy this is very midsummer madness. . . . Good Maria, let this fellow be looked to. . . . Let some of my people have a special care of him . . .

“No More Cakes and Ale”

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Context: It is after midnight at the home of the wealthy countess Olivia. Sir Toby Belch, her riotous uncle and house guest, and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek are joined in their drinking and jesting by Feste, a clownish servant of Olivia. When Feste is prevailed upon to sing, the group becomes so noisy that Maria, Olivia’s waiting-woman, warns them that Olivia will surely dispatch her ill-tempered steward, Malvolio, to put an end to the din. Malvolio appears and upbraids the rioters for lack of “wit, manners, and honesty,” but Sir Toby and Feste respond by singing contemptuous responses and finally saying to Malvolio,

SIR TOBYOut o’ tune sir, ye lie. Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?FESTEYes by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i’ th’ mouth too.SIR TOBYTh’art i’ th’ right. Go sir, rub your chain with crumbs. A stoup of wine, Maria.

“Patience on a Monument”

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Context: In Illyria, Viola, a shipwrecked gentlewoman, is disguised as a page, “Cesario,” in the service of Duke Orsino, whom she secretly loves. Orsino, professing overpowering sentiment for the wealthy Countess Olivia, sends “Cesario” with messages of love to Olivia, who in turn falls in love with “Cesario.” Viola, still in disguise, while arguing with Orsino about the ability of a man to love versus the ability of a woman to love, relates the story of her father’s daughter—herself, of course—who harbored a deep secret passion:

VIOLA My father had a daughter loved a man,As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,I should your lordship.DUKEAnd what’s her history?VIOLAA blank my lord. She never told her love,But let concealment like a worm i’ th’ budFeed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,And with a green and yellow melancholyShe sat like Patience on a monument,Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?We men may say more, swear more, but indeedOur shows are more than will; for still we proveMuch in our vows, but little in our love.

“Some Have Greatness Thrust upon Them”

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Context: Malvolio is a self-loving, pompous steward in Countess Olivia’s household. He nurses ridiculous aspirations for Olivia’s affections, and is disliked by Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s bibulous uncle, and Maria, Olivia’s waiting-woman. They, together with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby’s friend and a hopeless suitor for the countess’ hand, seek revenge on Malvolio because he has officiously interfered with their drinking and merrymaking late one night. Maria prepares, in imitation of Olivia’s handwriting and style, a love note to drop in Malvolio’s way. He, walking in the garden, finds the note, recognizes the handwriting, breaks the seal, reads the contents, and becomes convinced that the epistle is from Olivia and is meant for him. Thus, he is completely gulled, and the revenge of the tricksters is well in train. The letter proper begins,

If this falls into thy hand, revolve. In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. Thy fates open their hands . . .

“Youth’s a Stuff Will Not Endure”

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Context: The hand of the young, beautiful, and wealthy Countess Olivia is sought by a foolish knight, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, encourages, for his own bibulous and financial ends, Sir Andrew’s quite hopeless suit. Sir Andrew, recently persuaded to remain in attendance on Olivia for another month, is drinking and carousing with Sir Toby late at night. They are joined by Feste, Olivia’s jester, who is prevailed upon by the two tipsters to sing a love song. This is the second stanza:

FESTEWhat is love? ’Tis not hereafter;Present mirth hath present laughter,What’s to come is still unsure.In delay there lies no plenty,Then come kiss me sweet and twenty.Youth’s a stuff will not endure.


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