Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Parallel - A Dying Fall; plus Love abates everything

Parallels in Twelfth Night 1.1.1-14

DUKE. If music be the food of love, play on,
    Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
    The appetite may sicken and so die.
    That 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.
    O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou!
    That, notwithstanding thy capacity
    Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
    Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
    But falls into abatement and low price
    Even in a minute.

Bacon, in his Essay Of Love wrote "It is a strange thing to note the excess of this passion, and how it braves the nature and value of things". So both authors say that love makes everything seem of less value than love itself.

Turning to line 4, compare with Bacon's observation in his Natural History that "the falling from a discord to a concord, which maketh greatest sweetness in music, hath an agreement with the affections".  Bacon reiterates 6 times more the sweetness of a discord falling to a concord. Bacon's "falling to a concord" is probably Shake-Speare's "dying fall" which the Arden editor defines as "final cadence (with diminuendo?)". "Final cadence" seems confirmed by Bacon's Valerius Terminus: "Now in music it is one of the ordinariest flowers to fall from a discord or hard tune upon a sweet accord. The figure that Cicero and the rest commend as one of the best points of elegancy, which is the fine checking of expectation, is no less well known to the musicians when they have a special grace in flying the close or cadence". The common delight of our two authors in this musical device would by itself be a good parallel, but the matter goes further. For it clearly had "an agreement with the affections" of the Duke who speaks Shake-Speare's lines. Again, Bacon said in his Natural History "Inequality not stayed upon, but passing, is rather an increase of sweetness, as in a discord straight falling upon a concord; but if you stay upon it it is offensive". If the musicians in Twelfth Night at the Duke's behest played "that strain again", and if it was on that that the Duke commented "Enough, no more;/ 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before", then he seems to have been in agreement also with Bacon on the un-wisdom of a dying fall being repeated.

The next point turns upon "sound" in line 5. Commentators have been puzzled by it and some have amended it to "South", i.e. the south wind. On this Morton Luce in his edition of Apolonius and Scilla (1912), p. 86 commented: "I prefer the reading 'sound' in L.5 which has a wonderful likeness to Bacon's conceit [in his Essay on Gardens]: 'The breath of flowers is far sweeter in the air (where it comes and goes like the warbling of music) [than in the hand]'" In his Natural History Bacon likens the scent of flowers to "harmony":

 "The sweetest and best harmony is when every part or instrument is not heard by itself but a conflation of them all; which requireth to stand some distance off. Even as it is in the mixture of perfumes; or the taking of the smells of several flowers in the air".

On the other hand Phillip Sidney in his Arcadia [1592] had written: "Her breath is more sweet than a gentle south-west wind which comes creeping over the flowery fields".

"Sound" is probably correct since only a sound could come "o'er my ear". Shake-Speare obviously meant the sound of the breeze which breathed upon the violets. And he likens the breeze to music, probably because it steals and gives odours. In other words, like Bacon, he associated odours with music, whether he wrote "sound" or "south"; "sound" would merely underline the point. The association is a far from obvious one, and no other instance of it has been found in Elizabethan literature, though years later John Milton in his Comus wrote that "a soft and solemn-breathing sound rose like a steam of rich distilled perfumes, And stole upon the air".

Shake-Speare and Bacon agreed, it seems, on another point too -- that the scent of flowers is sweeter in the air. Bacon said this in his Essay, and he repeated it in his Natural History, quoted above; and again in the same work: "Smells and other odours are sweeter in the air at some distance than near the nose". Shake-Speare was of the same view, to judge from his "stealing and giving odours", which corresponds to Bacon's "comes and goes [like the warbling of music]".

Thus these 15 lines of Shake-Speare have yielded 4 Bacon parallels - love devalues everything else, a falling musical chord is sweetest, the scent of flowers is compared to sound, and is sweetest in the air.

Shake-Speare cannot have borrowed the two points about flowers from Bacon since the Essay on Gardens was not published till 1625. The play was first published in 1623, so chronologically Bacon could have borrowed from it if he wrote his Essay between 1623 and 1625. But he may have written it at any time after the 2nd edition of the Essays in 1612. In any event he probably formed his view on the scent of flowers long before 1623. Shake-Speare could not have borrowed the point about love from Bacon since the play was written about 1601, 11 years before Bacon's Essay on Love was published. It was likewise chronologically impossible for Bacon to have borrowed it from the published play.


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