Presumably, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night got its name from the time in which it was first performed: the last days of the Christmas season leading up to the feast of the Epiphany. The joviality of the season lends itself to a festive performance, which might be why Duke Orsino mentions music so often. Yet, the Duke’s love of music also foreshadows his romantic destiny. The musical motif immediately unites the Duke and Viola, hinting to the audience that there may be a connection in their future.
I’ve read Twelfth Night before, and I’ve seen its many modern adaptations, so I’m well aware of how it ends. During this reading, I found myself looking for clues as to why Orsino and Olivia are not meant to be, and right away, something about the musical language struck me. The Duke mentions music multiple times throughout the play, most often in the opening lines of his scenes. He says things like: “If music be the food of love, play of; / Give me excess of it...” (1), or “That old and antique song we heard last night: / Methought it did relieve my passion much,” (25). He equates the satisfaction of love with that of music, and often calls his romantic ramblings “tunes”. Clearly, the man has a lyrical soul, and Shakespeare makes it quite obvious that Olivia does not. When Viola (as Cesario) mentions Orsino’s name is her presence, she immediately tells Viola to speak of anything else but music. She tells Viola, “I bade you never speak again of him: / But, would you undertake another suit, / I had rather hear you to solicit that/ Than music from the spheres.” (37). At the very mention of Orsino’s name, Olivia dispels the one thing he truly loves, immediately proving their incompatibility. Though Olivia and Orsino aren’t meant to be, Shakespeare is quick to show that Viola is definitely a potential candidate.
When Viola is first rescued from the sea, the captain informs her of Orsino’s plight. For whatever reason, she agrees to help him woo Olivia by dressing up as a man and acting as his servant. When she decides to follow the captain’s scheme, she says, “It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing, / And speak to him in many sorts of music, / That will allow me very worth his service.” (4). Even before she meets the Duke, she is in tune (pun intended) with his musical nature. If an audience member is clever enough to catch these musical ramblings, he can easily predict the future relationship between Orsino and Viola.
It’s truly amazing how common interests can bond those who share them. As the service coordinator for Best Buddies, it is my job to match buddy pairs (one Loyola student and one individual with a disability) at the beginning of the year. Playing Yente is a tough job; ideally, people should be matched based on shared interests, but common ground is sometimes hard to find. This year, when I matched one Loyola student with a man named Thomas, the common thing between them (that I knew of anyway) was that they were both male. I know that’s a pretty poor measure of commonality, but these were desperate times calling for desperate measures.
Before the Loyola student met Thomas for the first time, he admitted to being nervous. He had never interacted with someone with a disability before, and he was unsure of what to say or do. He didn’t feel confident in his ability to become friends with Thomas, nor did he think they would have anything in common. When this pair met for the first time at the annual Best Buddies Halloween Carnival, the Loyola student was very friendly and accommodating. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it. They walked around the carnival together, playing games, making crafts, and seeming to enjoy one another’s company. Suddenly however the music in the room changed as the DJ began playing some song with a really long guitar intro. Thomas began strumming the chords of his air guitar, and for lack of a better term began “rocking out” to the music being played. The Loyola student was stunned, and a huge smile spread across his face. He immediately began mimicking Thomas’ air guitar. The two began jumping up and down as though they were performing on a crowded state. After the song was over, the Loyola student turned to me and said, “I’ve never met anyone who knows that song like I do. I’ve finally met my match.” The common bond of music, a shared love for something so simple, united these two in a way I never thought possible. Now, every time they see each other, music is all they talk about. Just like the Duke and Viola, their common interest is a clear marker of their compatibility.