Twelfth Night: Songs

A few months back, I mentioned that As You Like It had the most songs of any Shakespeare play. But as I read Twelfth Night, this one feels more musical. So, let’s take a look.

As You Like It contains seven songs with lyrics:

  • Act Two, Scene Seven’s song by Amiens (“Under the greenwood tree…”) which Jaques and the lords reprise later in the scene.
  • Jaques’ mocking song to Amiens and the lords following their song (“If it do come to pass…”) in Act Two, Scene Five.
  • The song sung by Amiens (“Blow, blow, thou winter wind…”) after Orlando returns to the duke with Adam in Act Two, Scene Seven
  • Touchstone’s snippet of “O sweet Oliver” from end of Act Three, Scene Three
  • The post-hunt song sung by the lords for Jaques (“What shall he have that killed the deer…”) in Act Four, Scene Two.
  • The song the duke’s pages sing for Touchstone and Audrey (“It was a lover and his lass…”) in Act Five, Scene Three
  • Hymen’s three-part wedding song (“Then is there mirth in heaven…”) from Act Five, Scene Four

In Twelfth Night, the first song sung comes in Act Two, Scene Three, when Feste sings “a love song” (II.iii.35) to the drunken Sirs Toby and Andrew:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear! Your truelove’s coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting.
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter.
Present mirth hath present laughter.
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
  • II.iii.37-50

A love song tinged with loss: love is only for the present, as “what’s to come is still unsure” and “Youth’s a stuff will not endure.”

A second song from the scene is not clearly defined. It’s a “catch” (II.iii.66 stage direction), and though there are fragments delineated, it feels improvised and unwritten (which can be wonderfully liberating for a stage team).

The next scene brings another song by Feste, this time for Duke Orsino in a command performance:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fly away, fly away, breath,
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there.

  • II.iv.51-66

It’s a song that Orsino says “did relieve (his) passion much” (II.iv.4) the night before. A sad song (of a man “slain by a fair cruel maid” and whose body is in a “black coffin”) for a sad man, and one that prompts Orsino to send Cesario back to Olivia. Nothing quite like a tortured love song for an unrequited lover.

Feste sings a snippet of an old song (“Hey, Robin, jolly Robin” [IV.ii.72]) purely for the purpose of announcing his presence for the tormented Malvolio. When Feste leaves Malvolio and the scene, it is with another song:

I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I’ll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain.
Who with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries “aha!” to the devil;
Like a mad lad, “Pare thy nails, dad!
Adieu, goodman devil.”
  • IV.ii.119-130

It’s a biting song, casually cruel to an already tormented audience, and speaks to Feste’s motivation: revenge for an earlier slight, as he will later explain (V.i.364-70).

After the play proper is over, we get Feste’s final song, one that takes us from cradle to grave:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With tosspots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

  • V.i.382-401

It’s almost a musical version of Jaques’ “seven ages of man” speech from As You Like It, only here, it’s all first person and just five stages (boyhood, adulthood, husband, decline, death (“our play is done”).

Here, though, the song is a bit more hopeful, courtesy of an interesting verb choice there in the last line… “we’ll strive” to please in the future. Not all is past. There is something to come, as opposed to Feste’s first song in the play, where the present will “not endure.”

So As You Like It has seven songs, Twelfth Night only six (if you count the fragment Feste sings to get Malvolio’s attention…and I do). So, I guess As You Like It has more songs. But as I said that the opening of this entry, I said Twelfth Night felt more musical.

And it is. Start with the six, but then remember that the opening scene contains music (prompting Orsino’s [and the play’s] first line). We also get music as we wait for Feste’s arrival in Act Two, Scene Four. And don’t forget the improvised “catch” as the clown and Sirs Toby and Andrew are caught by Malvolio in Act Two, Scene Three.

As You Like It, more songs. Twelfth Night, more music.

2 Replies to “Twelfth Night: Songs”

  1. This misses out snatches of two further songs; “The Ballad of Constant Susannah” (the first line – “There dwelt a man in Babylon, Lady, lady” by Sir Toby and “Farewell dear Heart” (alternate lines sung by Sir Toby and Feste to taunt Malvolio), both in Act 2 iii.

    “Hold Thy Peace Thou Knave” was obviously so well-known as a catch that Shakespeare didn’t feel it necessary to include the words, assuming the audience would get the joke. The words and tune were printed in Thomas Ravenscroft’s Deutromelia, published in 1609 and described as a catch for 3 voices.

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