music be the food of love, play on,
excess of it that, surfeiting,
may sicken and so die.
That strain again,
it had a dying fall.
O, it came o’er my ear
like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a
bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour.
Enough, no more,
’Tis not so sweet now as
it was before.
spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou
notwithstanding thy capacity
the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity
and pitch so e’er,
But falls into abatement
and low price
Even in a minute! So full of
shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
The play’s opening speech includes one
of its most famous lines, as the unhappy, lovesick Orsino tells
his servants and musicians, “If music be the food of love, play
on.” In the speech that follows, Orsino asks for the musicians to
give him so much musical love-food that he will overdose (“surfeit”)
and cease to desire love any longer. Through these words, Shakespeare
introduces the image of love as something unwanted, something that
comes upon people unexpectedly and that is not easily avoided. But
this image is complicated by Orsino’s comment about the relationship
between romance and imagination: “So full of shapes is fancy / That
it alone is high fantastical,” he says, relating the idea of overpowering
love (“fancy”) to that of imagination (that which is “fantastical”).
Through this connection, the play raises the question of whether
romantic love has more to do with the reality of the person who
is loved or with the lover’s own imagination. For Orsino and Olivia,
both of whom are willing to switch lovers at a moment’s notice,
imagination often seems more powerful than reality.