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Quotes in Twelfth Night

Quotes Examples in Twelfth Night:

Act I - Scene I

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"If music be the food of love, play on;..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Orsino opens the play in an overly melodramatic exclamation of love. Orsino claims that he wants to be so stuffed full with his own love that it exceeds his boundaries and he dies. This pose of love sets the play in a comedic sphere in which the characters are so hyperbolic and ridiculous that they are not meant to be taken seriously. With characters such as Orsino opening the play, the audience understands that they must suspend their disbelief about the comedic, slapstick situations that the characters get themselves into.

"What else may hap to time I will commit; Only shape thou silence to my wit...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Viola has decided to impersonate a male servant (a eunuch, no less) to Count Orsino, with the intention of helping him woo the grieving Olivia. Viola apparently desires to see true love fulfilled.

"Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man's son doth know...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Feste sings these lines to Olivia for entertainment. However, like most clowns, Feste's words underscore the main action of the play. For all the comedic and hyperbolic elements of this play, Feste assures Olivia, and the audience, that the play will end in a happily ever after meeting of lovers. These lines are both directed at the other characters on stage and at the "wise men's sons" in the audience.

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Sir Toby uses biting sarcasm here to mock Malvolio's indignant demand that he and his friends stop partying while Olivia mourns. "Cakes and ale" becomes a symbol that Toby uses to indicate a good life and demonstrates Toby's value in the importance of corporeal pleasure. The disdainful way in which he treats "virtue" also flips the importance of the two things: bodily pleasure becomes more important than virtue in this play.

"be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some(130) achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em...."   (Act II - Scene V)

Malvolio reads Maria's letter believing his mistress Olivia has written it for him. The letter entreats him to do a number of ridiculous things in order to prove his love for her and uses this now famous phrase to convince him that his doubts are unfounded. Malvolio's readiness to accept the legitimacy of this letter and these requests demonstrates his ambitious and pretentious nature.

"If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into(60) stitches, follow me. ..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Stitch" in this context means to stab, as with a sharp implement or sharp feeling of pain. This meaning spawned most of our understanding of the word now including stitching in sewing, and stitching in medicine. Maria uses this metaphor to suggest that the sight they are about to see is so funny that it will make them laugh so hard they will be in pain as if they have been stabbed. Laughter was thought to be caused by the spleen, the organ thought to generate passion.

"Hob, nob is his word; give't or take't...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"Hob, nob" is Sir Toby's adaptation of the then popular phrase "hab nab." "Hab" was a shortened and colloquial way to say have, while "nab" meant not. Thus "Hab nab" was a way to say "have not," much like we might say "willy nilly" ("will I, nill I"). By this line, Sir Toby means, "have or don't have" a fight with him; give a stab or take a stab. Shakespeare's take on this saying replaced the original form and eventually came to mean to fraternize, as it does today.

"If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn(120) it as an improbable fiction...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

With these lines, Fabian draws attention to the reality that he exists within a play: Malvolio too quickly bought into the trick being played on him. Theater in Shakespeare's time followed Aristotelian guidelines. Aristotle claimed that in order to create a good comedy, the audience had to believe that the action occurring on stage could occur in real life. The joke played on Malvolio, and Malvolio's unrealistic gullibility, make it so that Shakespeare's fiction defies Aristotelian rules for drama. However, in drawing attention to this "improbable fiction," Shakespeare demonstrates to the audience that the "bad drama" is intentional, therefore making it comedic rather than erroneous.

"and thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges...."   (Act V - Scene I)

By this phrase, Feste means that one must face the consequences of their actions. A "whirligig" is a rotary device that spins in circles, like a pinwheel or merry-go-round. It symbolizes something that is ever changing and revolving. Feste excuses his own actions by using this metaphor to bring attention to Malvolio's own misdeeds.

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