What is Love. Twelfth Night

“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.”

The above is an excerpt from the song that Feste the sings to Sir Toby and Sit Andrew when they are drunk and making a raucous on the patio of Lady Olivia’s house.

All are in a fairly jovial mood and Toby asks for a song of Feste. Feste, being a fool, but being wise, knows that laughter and merriment will not last forever; and love does not last eternally.

Who knows what the future holds, he says. Have fun now, for fun and things and love will not last. Kiss while you can. The things of youth… Love and merriment will not continue.

I think we can be sure of the truth of these words. Love for someone changes over time. First it starts with infatuation. This is the type of love described in the opening speech of this play, when Orsino says “If music be the food of love, play on”.

“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!”

And again when Antonio is speaking to Sebastian.

“If you will not murder me for my love, let me be
your servant.”

Orsino is madly, deeply in love with a woman who is in mourning and unatainable. I think that Orsino feels safe in expressing his love, as he knows that it will be rebuffed for the moment. But for him, he loves the idea of being in love, instead of being in love with Lady Olivia herself.

Antonio rescued Sebastian from the sea when the vessel he was aboard was sunk. Sebastian could not have been on board the ship for long, but in that time Antonio has fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with him. In the line mentioned above, he bravely expresses his love for fear it would be rejected “If you will not murder me for my love…” It was indeed not rejected but Sebastian has a greater mission, and leaved Antonio to grieve the love that was lost.

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After infatuation, when love is both accepted and welcomed, one can grow weary of love. We take the other person for granted. We get disappointed when the object of our desire does undesirable things (like leaving the toilet seat up, or clogging the drain with hair).

One must accept the ever changing nature of love. It cannot always be “on heat”. It slows down and becomes comfortable. sometimes people fall out of love with actions and think they have fallen out of love with the person.

I love to see old couples holding hands, kissing… a gentleman pulling a ladies chair out, or opening the door and helping her in or out of a car. My own Sam is very loving like that, treating me with the utmost gentleness and love. Sam is very considerate when we are together. We are both very busy people so don’t get to spend as much time together as other couples might. We value the time we have together. After four years together we are still truly, madly deeply in love. I think we always will be.

I feel that Feste may have had a bad experience with love, and so the love song he sings is more like a dirge or requiem. He is remembering how sweet love once was but remembering with regret that it had to end. Poor Feste, does he really know what love is?



Filed under Best Critical Post - Shakespeare, literature, Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature

5 responses to “What is Love. Twelfth Night

  1. https://wordpress.com/post/mermaidblues507.wordpress.com/842
    Well, hello ssssailor.
    Someone had to do it! I was too caught up with the cross-dressing in the play, then “gay” implications of this, in the interactions between Orsino and Viola or “Cesario”. Then the question of how hard it would be to pass for a bloke? (I’m researching the lives of some real women who did.)
    So much so, that I missed the real thing. Of course Antonio was in love with Sebastian, he’s the genuine homosexual in this play. He saved his life, stuck his neck out in a place where there was a warrant out for him, and finally passionately defended Cesario, believing that she was her brother. He did it all for love.
    I have had no cause to write about LGBT issues this semester. In Renaissance times it was all under the surface, in the closet (which meant someone’s bedchamber), but it was still there. Christopher Marlowe had the classic pretty boy face, and I plan to read his play Edward II. That’s the story of the gay king (or queen!), who was deposed in a rebellion by his jealous wife, Queen Isabella.
    Also there was King James I, who may have done his duty with his Queen Anne, but preferred his male favourites. Wits of the time used to say: Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus {quoted in Norton 2000}.
    Works Cited
    “King James I” (2013) English Bible History. Retrieved from: http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/king-james.html
    Cavendish, Richard (2008) Edward II marries Isabella of France. History Today. Retrieved from: http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/edward-ii-marries-isabella-france
    Norton, Rictor (2000) Queen James and His Courtiers. Gay History and Literature. Retrieved from: http://rictornorton.co.uk/jamesi.htm

  2. Hi Dave, Thank you for this interesting blog – always thought provoking. I have to admit love works like seasons. When we first love someone, it feels like ‘spring’ or ‘summer’ love, and we are excited to know this person. Then we get used to them and settle into it; you still love and care for them – but it feels like a mild ‘autumn’ or ‘winter’, and the love does not feel as wild and passionate as that on a spring or summer day!! Certainly, love cannot always be consistent, and our feelings cannot always be the same towards those we love. On the topic of 12th Night, I think the unrequited love that Orsino feels is something we cannot always register. We wonder why it happens, and yet it does. In 12th Night, Orsino’s want of Olivia drives him to a depth of realisation – in that it is Viola who can work alongside him, and not Olivia. Here, the fantasy comes to a halt, and Orsino finds real love. One can also assume that Feste was probably too aware with the ways of the world, hence leaving his heart detached. I guess he knew how to amuse himself with alternative entertainment! Pamela 😊

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  5. Some really interesting reflections on the nature of love David and it so good to hear of your insights into Shakespeare contextualized in your own personal experience. Great blogging work – thank you.
    *Please attend to editing your work carefully. Here is what I have picked up:
    *Sir Toby and Sit Andrew when they are drunk and making a raucous on the patio = Sir Toby and Sir Andrew when they are drunk and making a raucous
    noise on the patio
    * and leaved Antonio to grieve the love that was lost.= and left Antonio to grieve the love that was lost.

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