Twelfth Night Act 1 Scene 1: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Orsino in Love
  • 1:03 Valentine Brings News…
  • 1:53 Analysis of the Scene
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson gives an overview of Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'. It will also provide an analysis of the characters and tone of the scene.

Orsino in Love

In the opening scene of Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night, we are introduced to Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, who is in love with a woman named Olivia. There is music playing as he enters with some men and speaks the first lines of the play:

'If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The excess of it may sicken, and so die.'

This is an analogy, or a comparison of the relationships of two sets of things. He is saying that the music fuels love like food is fuel for our bodies, and if the musicians keep playing, eventually he will lose his appetite, or desire, for love, just as people lose their appetite for food after they have overeaten.

One of his men, Curio, asks if he will go hunting for hart, which is a male deer, but also a play on words with the word 'heart,' since they are discussing love. The duke affirms that he is hunting, but for heart instead of hart.

Valentine Brings News From Olivia

Valentine enters, who has presumably been sent to Olivia's home to gauge her level of interest in the duke. Valentine informs Orsino that Olivia is in mourning for her dead brother and that she refuses to even leave her room for the next seven years. She will cloister herself, or stay away from society, like a nun, and water her room with her tears every day.

Instead of being disappointed that Olivia says she will not be interested in a relationship for a very long time, the duke is happy because she is showing that she is capable of great love and devotion. Once the grief over her brother has worn away and he has won her over, she will pour the same kind of love and devotion toward him.

The duke then says he wants to go sit in the garden. He wants beautiful surroundings in which to continue daydreaming about his love for Olivia.

Analysis of the Scene

Though Act 1, Scene 1 of Twelfth Night is a very short scene, it does a nice job of giving some characterization for Orsino and Olivia, as well as giving us a sense of the overall tone of the play.

Through the interactions in this scene, we learn that Orsino has sent a messenger to find out about Olivia's level of interest, only to be told that she plans to be in mourning for a long time and will not see anyone. This means that Orsino has fallen into what seems to be a very passionate love without ever having met Olivia. He is a romantic character who believes in love at first sight and might be more interested in the idea of love in general than in the object of his affection as an individual.

Though we don't get any action or dialogue directly from Olivia, based on Valentine's message from her servant, we can infer that Olivia is more serious. The comparison of her to a nun indicates a lack of interest or feelings of reservation about romantic love. She is more devoted to familial love for her dead brother.

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