“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and also die.
The 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. (Norton, lines 1 to 8)”
These opening lines of the play stopped me in my tracks. How is it possible that in a short eight lines, so much could be said and foreshadowed? Orsino laid out the basic parameters for what I think is to be a great tragedy, all in the name of a “so-called” love. I place these words is quotations because as these opening lines suggest, it is not true love that drives these characters into despair but mere infatuation or the plain illusion that they are really in love; “Enough, no more, ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before.”
In the beginning of his heartfelt oration, Orsino states “Give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and also die.” This sounds more like the ravings of an obsessed man wanting to gorge himself on the love that he desires in the hope of weakening the maddening urges that are consuming him. These lines aren’t too far-fetched, as later on in the play he is persistent in the chase of his precious Olivia, who wants nothing to do with him and shows not one iota of desire towards him.
Continuing with the remainder of the passage, “The strain again, it had a dying fall” suggesting that this truly might be a fatal attraction. The music “breathes upon a bank of violets stealing and giving odour” stealing the sweet smell that are the violets; in essence taking away what makes them beautiful and making them stink. This supposed love destroys what is beautiful, replacing it with death. The question remains who is going to pay for Orsino’s fatal attraction to the lovely Olivia?