Twelfth Night: "If music be the food of love...."
- / - / - / - / / / If music be the food of love, play on;
The opening is mostly straight pentameter, with a spondee, whose stress and position at the end that further emphasizes the command of Orsino. This line begins an extended metaphor comparing music to food (which is another thing people tend to overindulge in during moods like this). As an aside, the word music comes to us from the Middle English musik via Anglo-French (musike) from Latin (musica), deriving originally from the Greek word mousikē, which described any art over which the Muses presided.
/ - - / - - / / - - Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
This line all but defies normal scansion. The syntax and the preceding semicolon of the first line directs the stress on give at the beginning, but the resulting pattern is choppy and almost dactylic in its meter. The Anglo-French root of surfeit (surfaire) literally means "to overdo," and in this context, surfeiting—which applies to "the appetite" of the following line, not music—is synonymous with "overindulging."
- / - / - / - - / / The appetite may sicken, and so die.
This line trades iambs for a pyrrhic and spondee in its last two feet, adding emphasis to "so die" at the end. Orsino completes his metaphor in this line, hoping that the excess of music may end his love the way gorging on food kills hunger. Of course, the duke is fickle in his passion, which he demonstrates over the rest of his speech.
- / - / - / - / - / That strain again! It had a dying fall;
Displaying classic iambic pentameter, this line also features a caesura (noted by the exclamation point) in the middle to help vary the rhythm. Strain (denoting a musical passage) is an interesting word—not because of its usage, but more generally, how it came to mean what it did. The usage pertaining to music developed in the late 1500s from the Middle English verb streinen, "to tighten" (deriving from Latin stringere, "to bind or draw tight"). Musicians tighten their instrument strings to tune them; hence strain evolved to mean a note or melody. But enough of the etymology lesson. The phrase dying fall literally means "fading cadence" in this context. Orsino also could be noting that the music meant to sate his love is instead being drowned by it.
/ - - / - / - - / / O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
Rhythmically, this line substitutes a trochee in the first foot and a spondee in the last. O'er, of course, is poetic license used to make one syllable out of "over" in order to keep the meter intact. Sweet denotes "pleasing or delightful," although given the odor parallel Orsino makes a couple of lines later, it makes a nice double entendre whether intended or not.
- / - / - / - / - - That breathes upon a bank of violets,
This line is delivered in straightforward blank verse with the minor exception of the pyrrhic in the last foot. Breathes denotes "blows" in this context, while bank is another term for a flower bed. The real fun thing about this line, and you have to believe that Shakespeare carefully chose his word, is the use of violets—which derive their name from the Latin viola. It's the first of two ironies concerning the plot in this speech (more on that later). This is one of those word choices that makes close reading so fun.
/ - - / - / - - / / / Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
Shakespeare uses many rhythmic variations in this line The first is the classic trochaic inversion at the beginning of the line. The second is the pyrrhic caesura that reinforces the shift in mood as Orsino ends the music. The third is the spondee in the last foot, and the last is the relatively unusual masculine ending (the extra stressed syllable following the last foot). What Orsino is more or less saying over the course of the past three lines is that the music reminded him of the faint scent of flowers carried on a breeze. Give him a break; he's in love, and it's poetry.
- / - / / - - / - / 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
This line substitutes a trochee in its third foot as Orsino moodily dismisses the music. This prepares for his philosophical musing on the spirit of love that takes up the last half of the speech.
/ / - - / - / - / - / O spirit of love! How quick and fresh art thou,
This line would scan as stock blank verse with a trochaic inversion but for the extra stress of "O" at the beginning. This is where punctuation helps interpret some of the delivery for an actor. The period at the end of the preceding line along with that long vowel sound tends to put a natural pause in between the lines, and the caesura puts another one within the line. The phrase quick and fresh translates to "lively" in this context.
- / - / - - - / - - That, notwithstanding thy capacity
The predominance of short vowel sounds—and unstressed syllables—help quickly propel this line forward. Notwithstanding is synonymous with "nevertheless."
- / - - - / / / - / Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
There's some interesting assonance going on in the first part of this line. Here's the second irony of plot within this speech; in the following scene, Viola is cast up on the beach after being "received by the sea" as a result of her shipwreck. Is this the type of subtext upon which the speech hinges? No. There's not even really any way for an actor to put that out there in his performance. But it's fun to point out, and it illustrates precisely the difference in studying Shakespearean works as literature versus studying them as working scripts.
- / - / - - - / - / Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
This line substitutes a pyrrhic in the third foot. Validity in this context denotes "value"; pitch—deriving as it does from a falconing term for the highest point in the bird's flight—is synonymous with "superiority" (think along the lines of "acme" or "zenith"). Soe'er is another poetic contraction, this one substituting for "whatsoever."
- / - / - / - - / / But falls into abatement and low price,
In its last two feet, this line swaps iambs for a pyrrhic/spondee ending. Abatement (from Middle English abaten via Anglo-French abatre, meaning "to strike down") is used in a sense of "depreciate" in this context; the usage reflects its stem of bate (to reduce, to lessen in intensity), which only survives today in a phrase coined by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice: "bated breath." But loosely translates to "that doesn't."
- / - - / - - / - / - / - Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
The line has a mostly iambic meter; however, it also has 13 syllables. It could be an irregular alexandrine with a feminine ending, although Shakespeare rarely used alexandrines (the reason Elizabethan dramatists used blank verse is that the ten-syllable line was the closest approximation to natural English speech patterns). Abnormal scansion aside, shapes denotes "things conjured by the imagination," and fancy (a contraction of fantasy first appearing in the 15th century) is another word for love.
- / - / - / - / - - That it alone is high fantastical.
Orsino's final line is straight blank verse that substitutes a pyrrhic in its last foot. Fantastical here means "imaginative" (even perhaps eccentric, given the context). In so many words, Orsino says over the last seven lines that love makes the mind play tricks on itself, dreaming up fantasies only to tire of them just as quickly. And, as the play will demonstrate, so love indeed finds a way to make fools of us all.