Metaphor in Twelfth Night

Metaphor Examples in Twelfth Night:

Act I - Scene I 2

"debt of love..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Olivia’s sadness and ardent commitment to keeping that sadness “fresh” in her “remembrance” can be seen as a pose of melancholy. Like Orsino who affects the tropes of love-sickness, Olivia plays the role of melancholy. Together, these two characters represent the two sides of theatrical performance: tragedy and comedy.

"the noblest that I have..."   (Act I - Scene I)

When asked if he will go on a hunt for a “hart” (a male deer), Orsino puns on the word “hart” by giving it a double meaning in order to employ a metaphor for his love of Olivia: he is both the hunter and the hunted; he is the hart pursued by his desire for Olivia. Such wordplay is so overly dramatic that it’s as if Orsino were self-conscious of his own performance.

"there thy fixed foot shall grow Till thou have audience...."   (Act I - Scene IV)

By “fixed foot” Orsino means that Cesario will not move until he has an audience; his foot will grow heavier and more “fixed” until Olivia grants him an audience. A “foot’ is also a unit of measurement in poetry used to determine meter. A poetic foot contains one stressed syllable and one unstressed syllable. In more metaphorical terms, “foot” could be used to refer to the feet of a mathematical compass, as it does in John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning.” In this metaphor, one foot remains fixed and the other moves around it. All three meanings emphasize that Orsino means for Cesario to root himself to one spot until he is able to speak to Olivia.

"unprofited..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Orsino is once again referring to his lover and her affection with monetary metaphors. In this instance, her affections for him are compared to “profit.” Monetary metaphors such as this one show that Orsino sees Olivia as an object, something that can be bought, sold, and owned.

"As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty's(45) a flower:..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Feste uses the term “cuckold calamity” to suggest that Olivia has married grief and cuckolded all men. He uses this metaphor to warn her to give up her grief before it is too late. She is a flower and she will wilt if she continues to shun men for her melancholy.

"My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Malvolio has just left after berating Sir Toby and Sir Andrew for excessive partying. After he leaves, Maria tells the others of a way they can trick him: she will write a love letter to Malvolio in Olivia’s handwriting. Sir Toby loves the idea, and Maria confirms the plan with this expression, agreeing that her “horse,” or “idea,” is the same “color,” or “kind,” that Sir Toby is thinking of. This plan demonstrates how deception and disguise can be used to hurt instead of to help, providing a valuable counterpoint to the disguises already in the play.

"Our shows are more than will; for still we prove Much in our vows, but little in our love...."   (Act II - Scene IV)

Viola refers to her love as a “show.” This metaphor further emphasizes the idea that her love is a type performance: it depends on its audience’ perception to “prove” its worthiness.

"For women are as roses, whose fair flower Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour...."   (Act II - Scene IV)

In love poetry, women are frequently compared to roses and flowers in order to demonstrate their delicate beauty and tragically ephemeral youth. Most love poetry uses this comparison in order to show that beauty is only precious and revered because it is fleeting. However, Orsino seems to miss this point in this metaphor. He sees the ephemerality of female beauty as a negative quality of loving women.

"Sophy...."   (Act II - Scene V)

A “sophy” was a Shah of Persia. Fabian uses this metaphor to hyperbolically assert that he delights in the trick they they are playing on Malvolio. It is similar to saying “I would not give this up for all the money in the world.”

"O, world, how apt the poor are to be proud!..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This means that the poor who have nothing are likely to be proud of something small. Olivia goes on to say that she would rather be defeated by a worthy opponent—a lion—rather than a cruel one. Her small pride is that Cesario was a worthy opponent. This metaphor should give the audience pause though. In complimenting Cesario and making herself seem hyperbolically regretful, Olivia undermines her claim that she has actually been defeated.

"I am almost sick for one; [Aside] though I would not have it grow on..."   (Act III - Scene I)

By this, Viola means that she is lovesick for Orsino, and not that she wants a beard of her own. This synecdoche, a metaphor in which a part of something stands in for the whole thing, humorously reiterates Viola’s predicament: her disguise as a man prevents her from expressing her love for a man.

" Belzebub at the stave's end ..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Belzebub is one of Satan’s chief demons in Christian theology. Feste uses this reference to say that Malvolio has kept the devil at some distance.

"Primo, secundo, tertio, is a good play;..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Feste uses metaphors to get a third coin out of Orsino. “Play” is a reference to a child’s game in which players call out “one, two, three.” “Third plays for all” means third time’s a charm, and “triplex” is a musical beat played in triple time.