Thursday, May 6, 2010

Twelfth Night - More on the Language of Love

The Will Experience is theoretically a discussion, but forgive me if I talk to myself for a bit. I’m still thinking of the language of love (obsessively thinking, perhaps—please read the revised last two paragraphs of my last post, because I tinkered with the conclusion; now I think it actually says what I intended.)

After the “willow cabin” declaration, the scene moves on to the ever-inebriated Sir Toby who gives the Clown a sixpence for a love song. What to expect?

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. (II.3.48-52)

Sir Andrew has chosen a love song rather than a song conducive to virtue, yet it is quite sobering in its warning to these aging knights that love belongs to the young and youth’s a stuff will not endure. It articulates a version of the warning to Viola and Olivia that it is their duty to marry and perpetuate their beauty before it is marred by age: “For women are as roses, whose fair flow’r/ Being once display’d, doth fall that very hour” (II.4.38-39). Do you remember Findlay’s Comic Flaw: we are mortal? We are back to language about love.

Switch to besmitten (besotted?) Orsino who also commands from Feste an old and antique song, “that dallies with the innocence of love.” Did you expect this:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad Cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath,
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it. (II.4.51-58)

The fair cruel maid and even the sad cypress return to Orsino’s Petrarchan romanticism, yet I find this truly melancholy, a foreshadow of the unsentimental realism of Feste’s epilogue, “When I was and a little tiny boy … For the rain it raineth every day.” Once again Shakespeare arcs from the Romantic (If music be the food of love) to the Realistic (the rain it raineth every day), from Hotspur to Henry V, from golden Duncan to black Macbeth, and soon from Ophelia and Laertes to Hamlet, though in Twelfth Night the arc soars first between the elements of air and earth.


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