‘If music be the food of love, play on!’ Orsino, the young Duke of Illyria, sighed. He was in the mood for music. He was in love and the music was like food, fuelling his feelings. He sat in the garden of his palace, high on a hill overlooking the sandy Illyrian coast, his companions and servants surrounding him. The musicians had come to the end of their recital and were looking at him for their instructions. When he spoke they prepared to play again.
‘Give me too much of it,’ said Orsino, ‘so that it will become sickening to me and my appetite for it die.’ The musicians began, and after a while Orsino held up his hand. ‘Play that phrase again,’ he said. ‘It had a sad tone. Oh, it struck my ear like the sweet sound of a breeze blowing gently across a bank of violets, stealing their fragrance and bringing perfumes of their own.’
He sat listening for a few minutes more then stood up suddenly. ‘Stop! That’s enough. No more. It’s not as sweet now as it was before.’ He walked to the end of the garden and climbed up on to the low wall. He sat on it and stared out at the sea.
‘Oh, spirit of love!’ he exclaimed. He thrust his head into his hands. ‘How lively and invulnerable you are that, even though you have such a huge capacity – like the sea – nothing enters into you, no matter how important and powerful, without becoming insignificant within a minute. Love takes so many forms that nothing can compete with it.’
His companions signalled their amusement to each other behind his back. Their friend and master was being quite pathetic. His eyes had fallen on a woman and since then he had been like this – sad, restless, talking nonsense. This was so unlike him. One of them went and sat on the wall beside him. ‘Do you want to go hunting, my lord,’ he said.
Orsino lifted his head. ‘Hunting what, Curio?’
Orsino smiled sadly. ‘That’s exactly what I’m doing.’ He placed his hand on his breast. ‘That’s the most feeling part of me. Oh!’ he exclaimed melodramatically, which made his attendants catch each others’ eyes again. ‘When I first saw Olivia it seemed that she had the power to purify the air of all its evil vapours. In that instant I was turned into a hart, and ever since then my desires have pursued me like fierce and cruel hounds.’
He looked up, his face bright with interest as Valentine, another of his companions, came walking through the garden. ‘Well?’ he said, eagerly. ‘What news from her?’
‘I have to tell you, my lord, that they wouldn’t allow me in,’ said Valentine. ‘Instead, I have to give you this message – from her handmaid. Not even the air will see her face in public for seven summers but, like a nun, she is determined to wear a veil and weep salt tears once a day in private. All that to express her love for her dead brother and to keep his memory fresh and lasting.’
Orsino opened his mouth in admiration. ‘Oh,’ he exclaimed. ‘A woman who has such a loving heart as to pay this debt of love only to a brother…! How will she love when Cupid’s rich golden shaft has killed all the other emotions in her: when everything – liver, brain and heart, those main seats of feeling – are all filled and satisfied by one single passion! Go, lead on to my flower garden. Thoughts of love are enriched when surrounded by beautiful plants.’