Act 1 Scene 1 is important in introducing the character of Orsino through Shakespeare’s use of language and structure. In Act 1 Scene 1, Orsino is lamenting over his love of Olivia and says “if music be the food of love, play on”. This opening line establishes how love has conquered Orsino, however his speech on the subject is complicated. Orsino employs a metaphor to establish control over his language and therefore control over his emotions so that love can no longer torment him. Orsino asks to overdose on the “food of love” so that the idea of love is no longer a novelty and he feels no longer hungry for it. However, Orsino appears to be intoxicated by love, which is shown in the line “stealing and giving odour.” This would suggest that the smells and senses of love are intoxicating and no matter how hard Orsino tries to resist them, they drag him in. Like a drug, Orsino is addicted to love and is unable to quit it. However, Orsino’s afflictions can easily be seen as melodramatic rambling, thus portraying Orsino as a parody of the courtly lover. When Shakespeare wants a reader to understand a character, he uses simple language so that the reader can empathise. However, Orsino uses a clichéd language to convey his feelings, therefore suggesting Orsino is not as in love as he makes out to be. His feelings of love are not genuine, and are instead fickle. Therefore, the reader cannot understand or empathise as his feelings are not coming from the heart. After Curio asks Orsino if he is going to hunt the hart, Orsino replies with “when mine eyes did see Olivia… that instant I was turned into a hart”. The repeated use of personal pronouns, such as “I” and “mine” shows that Orsino’s melancholy is really just a self-obsessed performance. Orsino’s true focus is himself, rather than Olivia. Furthermore, by portraying himself as a hart, implying he is being hunted by his own desires, puts Orsino in the role of a victim. This further suggests that Orsino is just trying to get sympathy and attention, rather than genuinely being overwhelmed by love for Olivia. Orsino’s narcissism is also shown when he says “so full of shapes is fancy/ that it alone is high fantastical”. This line relates the overpowering love to that of imagination. To Orsino, the idea of love is almost unreal. The use of “fantastical” suggests that it is desirable. However, Orsino is talking about an ideal that doesn’t exist. This again suggests Orsino is a narcissist as he is in love with an idea that he has created. However, it could be argued that Orsino is truly lost is his feelings for Olivia. The use of “so full of shapes” suggests that it is a constantly changing hallucination for Orsino, and that he is unable to keep up.
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