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From Orsino’s opening line, “If music be the food of love, play on,” to Feste’s concluding song of solitude, William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will is relentlessly full of music, whether explicitly calling for sound or indirectly invoking references to musical ideas (1.1.1). Shakespeare utilizes music not only to entertain the listeners of his plays but also to employ its inane ability to enhance and empower human speech. The musicality of this play, first performed at a feast on February 2, 1602, would have been understood and appreciated by its original audience as Elizabethan England experienced a golden age of music and literature. While music was an essential part of any young, upper-class boy’s schooling, the accessibility to musical education materials was highly limited in the early half of the sixteenth century. Learning was primarily accomplished through listening and remembering tunes such as church hymns, ballads on the streets, and processional ceremony sounds. However, the latter half of the century underwent exponential progress as the music printing industry emerged, allowing musicians’ compositions and theories to become available to the public. As these musical concepts became widespread knowledge, Shakespeare incorporated several theories in accordance with the contemporary philosophical understanding of music into Twelfth Night; the concept of polyphony and its consequent affecting powers upon individuals represents how the play conceptualizes desire as ultimately insatiable.
Plevka, Helen, "Discordant Desire: Morley’s Polyphony in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night" (2015). 2015 Awards for Excellence in Student Research and Creative Activity - Documents. 1.
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