EP 033: The Food of Love

EP 033: THE FOOD OF LOVE Historycal: Words that Shaped the World

What do you get if you combine four lovers, two sea captains, and one brilliant disguise? If you aren't thinking of every tacky motivational poster you've ever seen, this one is for you. In this episode, we're tackling Twelfth Night, Taylor Swift, and some not-so-rousing speeches. 

Today I’m afraid we’re here to blow holes in some deeply treasured inspirational quotes, so if you have a Live Love Laugh sign on your wall, or you’re a fan of YouTube shorts, with echoing voices laid over footage of a wet road in Autumn (the most motivational of all the seasons), now might be the time to line up the Bonnie Tyler and steer your ship into slightly safer waters.

Speaking, loosely, of Bonnie Tyler, you may be familiar with the expression ‘Music is the Food of Love.’ Now, there are two and a half kinds of people in the world. The first kind think that phrase is very #deep. The second kind would like the #deep people to have scratchy labels inside their T Shirts for the rest of time. The half are only a half because they’re a very small subset of people made up pretty much exclusively of English professors, theatre directors and girls with Podcasts. They are wonderful people, completely unbiased, and should be trusted at all times. And they’re just as angry as the second group, but don’t be alarmed – they’ll probably vent it by carrying obscurely ironic tote bags.

The reason they’re upset is because the #deep people think that Music being the Food of Love is a good thing. They’re imagining candlelight dinners to the strains of Mozart, or conversations around a Scotch and a fire of the various merits of Elvis vs Buddy Holly. They might be thinking first dances, first kisses, or a shared love of belting out Beyoncé really loudly in the car. And they’re imagining the music feeding the love like a well-timed and highly nutritious kale salad.

Those people, as you may have guessed, are wrong. And not just about the kale, which is the devil.

In the original version of this expression, music is not like a kale salad. Music is like the third helping of sickly sweet lemon meringue pie that you thought you maybe had space for after Christmas dinner, only to discover that you had wildly miscalculated.

How, you might be wondering, did we end up so confused?

Now I love Shakespeare as much as the next person, assuming the next person enjoys drinking too much gin and using Sonnet 116 to remove their mascara. But even I can admit that my guy doesn’t always make for a great Hallmark one-liner, and this is a case in point. The full phrase comes from the first few lines of Twelfth Night. The Duke Orsino is pining after a woman and tells his musicians

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

Basically, this means that he’s heard that music can feed romance, and wants to overindulge to the point that it makes him physically sick, and ruins his appetite for being in love. (Parenthetically, his courtship isn’t going to plan, and he isn’t taking it particularly well). It’s not supposed to be a romantic line, and it’s certainly not supposed to extol the virtues of being in love with your Spotify playlists. What it is supposed to do is show Orsino’s approach to a love affair as immature and self-indulgent, and slightly ridiculous.

Twelfth Night as a whole is slightly ridiculous, which is what makes it such ripping fun. It consistently ranks in the top plays ever written, and is quite often held up as the perfect comedy.

It’s set in Illyria, and starts off where we just did, with the Duke Orsino moaning about his unrequited passion for the Countess Olivia. She’s his neighbor (classic), but she’s deep in mourning for her recently departed brother, and has decided that she’s going to rebuff the company of male suitors for seven years. If you’re thinking that that’s a bit of on odd reaction to the death of a brother, hold on – it’s going to get weirder. Nearby, a very bedraggled Viola washes up onstage with a sea captain who has rescued her from drowning in a shipwreck. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to rescue her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she assumes has gone down with the ship. With fairly remarkable haste, she decides that the only option is to dress as a dude, and present herself to Duke Orsino as a eunuch, while she gets the lay of the land. I should note that very few alternatives are explored before she arrives at this point.

Orsino seems quite taken with his new page, Cesario (slash Viola) and he sends her off to try and woo Olivia for him. Viola (slash Cesario) takes to flirting with women like a duck to water, goes completely off script, and accidentally makes Olivia fall in love with Cesario instead. Unfortunately, Cesario (slash Viola) has been hanging out with the Duke too long, and has fallen in love with him. He’s still in his self-indulgent ‘Woe Me’ phase, so one assumes the attraction stems from unmentioned dashing good looks, or the lingering effects of being hit in the head by a bit of ship.

Outside of the love triangle, Olivia’s household is causing chaos. Her uncle Toby and his friend Andrew are permanently sotted and up to no good, and her steward, Malvolio, is madly obsessed with a) her and b) himself. Olivia’s lady’s maid Maria fancies Uncle Toby, and Andrew doesn’t really fancy anything except hard tack, but is trying for Olivia’s hand anyway. The fool, Feste, is trying desperately to pull Olivia out of her grief, but it isn’t working half so well as a bit of inadvertent wooing by a girl dressed as a boy who’s really in love with someone else.

After one too many tongue lashings, Maria concocts a plan to take Malvolio down a peg – and here’s where I have to break your hearts again. You know those inspiring basketball videos and A1 wall hangings designed for teenage boys, which read “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them?”

Yeah, that’s from Twelfth Night too… and it’s also been wildly misquoted. It’s not a rousing speech on the eve of battle/slash voting day/ slash basketball practice. It’s the contents of a letter that Maria forges to Malvolio in Olivia’s handwriting, telling him to grin like a madman, be mean to the servants and wear yellow stockings, in return for her love. And yes – thrust is an innuendo.

Malvolio, obviously, believes it, and Olivia, obviously, thinks he’s lost his marbles. They throw him into a dark room, which, as everyone knows, is the most scientifically sound way of helping someone you think might have cracked.

Olivia, doing a sharp about turn on her grieving-for-seven years plan, tries to make Cesario (slash Viola) return her love, without success. Viola (slash Cesario) tries to make Orsino give up being in love with Olivia, also without success. She also tries to make him moan less, with considerably more success, and tells him that if she ever loved a woman it would be a woman exactly like him in every way, which he takes remarkable well, all things considered. Orsino, as it turns out, is a fairly cool dude, when he’s not convincing himself to act out a Taylor Swift song.

In the meantime, Sebastian, Viola’s not-drowned twin brother, has come to Illyria. He’s made friends with another sea captain, Antonio, who is either the living embodiment of Labrador loyalty, or is actually a little bit in love with Sebastian himself. He’s also a bit of an amateur pirate, so he has to lie low in Illyria. He gives Sebastian some money, and Sebastian goes shopping, for no conceivable reason.

Antonio wanders off, but then mistakes Cesario (slash Viola) for Sebastian, because obviously her new haircut and dude’s trousers change her appearance completely, and nobody would ever recognize her, ever. At this particular moment, those trousers might be in danger of becoming damp, because Sir Andrew (he of the liquor drinking and Olivia marrying) has challenged her (slash him) to a duel. Viola might have figured out page-ing with quite remarkable alacrity, but dueling is another matter entirely. Antonio jumps in to defend Sebastian (slash Cesario slash Viola) but is recognized by some conveniently passing soldiers and arrested. He asks Cesario slash Sebastian for his money back, to make bail, but Cesario slash Viola doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

So Antonio is hauled off, Viola slash Cesario rushes back to the slightly problematic comfort of Duke Orsino, and Sebastian goes for a relaxing walk. Unfortunately for him, Sir Andrew is still pushing passion, and when he sees him wandering around, minding his own business, he challenges Sebastian slash Cesario to another duel. Sebastian, unlike Viola, does not fight like a girl, and Andrew gets properly thrashed. Olivia intervenes and leads Sebastian slash Cesario back to the house, declares her undying love, and marries him. Sebastian thinks she might be insane but goes with it because, as previously mentioned, she’s very pretty.

When Antonio is hauled before Orsino to answer the piracy charges, he accuses Cesario of betraying his love. Cesario slash Viola is well confused, and it gets worse when Olivia rocks up and wonders why she (slash he) has forgotten their marriage vows. Orsino is heartbroken and furious, and threatens to kill Cesario, but then Sebastian arrives, and everyone is amazed. The twins have a very stirring reunion, Olivia is not at all bothered about finding herself married to a man she just met, and Orsino changes his mind about killing Cesario slash Viola, and decides to marry her instead. They all live happily ever after, with a hilarious story to tell their children, and nobody worries about the possible long term weirdness that might arise over the sherry at Christmas time.

All of which is a long way of saying – I’m not surprised that we got the nuances of those few, fancy sounding lines mixed up. In all this confusion, someone very clever with a poster side hustle probably chucked hashtag deep onto the end and sat back to see if anyone would notice.

For the most part, they did not.

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