A Study Of The Fool In Twelth

Night Essay, Research Paper


fool can be defined in many meanings according to the Oxford English Dictionary

On Historical Principles. The word could mean "a silly person", or

"one who professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of

others, a jester, clown" or "one who has little or no reason or

intellect" or "one who is made to appear to be a fool" (word

originated from North Frisian). In William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night,

Feste the clown is not the only fool who is subject to foolery. He and many

other characters combine their silly acts and wits to invade other characters that

"evade reality or rather realize a dream", while "our sympathies

go out to those". "It is natural that the fool should be a prominent &

attractive figure and make an important contribution to the action" in

forming the confusion and the humor in an Elizabethan drama. In Twelfth Night,

the clown and the fools are the ones who combine humor & wit to make the

comedy work. Clowns,

jesters, and Buffoons are usually regarded as fools. Their differences could be

of how they dress, act or portrayed in society. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,

Feste’s role in this Illyrian comedy is significant because "Illyria is a

country permeated with the spirit of the Feast of Fools, where identities are

confused, ‘uncivil rule’ applauded…and no harm is done". "In Illyria

therefore the fool is not so much a critic of his environment as a ringleader,

a merry-companion, a Lord of Misrule. Being equally welcome above and below

stairs.." makes Feste significant as a character. In Twelfth Night, Feste

plays the role of a humble clown employed by Olivia’s father playing the

licensed fool of their household. We learn this in Olivia’s statement stating

that Feste is "an allowed fool"(3.1:95) meaning he is licensed,

privileged critic to speak the truth of the people around him. We also learn in

a statement by Curio to the Duke that Feste is employed by Olivia’s father.

"Feste the jester, my lord; a fool that the Lady Olivia’s father took much

delight in"(2.4:11-12). Feste

is more of the comic truth of the comedy. Although he does not make any

profound remarks, he seems to be the wisest person within all the characters in

the comedy. Viola remarks this by saying "This fellow’s wise enough to

play the fool"(3.1:62). Since Feste is a licensed fool, his main role in

Twelfth Night is to speak the truth. This is where the humor lies, his

truthfulness. In one example he proves Olivia to be a true fool by asking her

what she was mourning about. The point Feste tried to make was why was Olivia

mourning for a person who’s soul is in heaven? FESTE: Good madonna,

why mourn’st thou? OLIVIA: Good Fool,

for my brother’s death. FESTE: I think his

soul is in hell, madonna. OLIVIA: I know his

soul is in heaven, fool. FESTE: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul,

being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.Adding to the humor of the comedy, Feste, dresses up as

Sir Topaz, the curate and visits the imprisoned Malvolio with Maria and Sir

Toby. There he uses his humor to abuse Malvolio who is still unaware that he is

actually talking to the clown than to the real Sir Topas. Feste (disguised as

Sir Topaz) calls Malvolio a "lunatic" (4.2:23),

"satan"(4.2:32) and confuses him by wittingly making him a fool.

Throughout the play, Malvolio has always been the person who intentionally spoils

the pleasure of other people(killjoy). He is Feste’s worst nightmare in the

play, but in the end is triumphed over by Feste completely and is the only

character to show a negative attitude and a dignity reversed. "MALVOLIO:

I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" (5.1:375) At the end of the

comedy, Feste, "is given the last word and is left in possession of the

stage". Maria,

Olivia’s companion is another person who seems enthusiastic in playing pranks

on other people. In Twelfth Night, she plays the unsuspecting role of a behind

the scene fool who gives ideas to Feste, Sir Andrew & Sir Toby to assist

her in her plans. In two incidents, she remains quiet while her plans are

carried out by either the Knights or the Clown. Part

of the humor that lies in this comedy is that Maria’s pranks are harsh &

cruel, using love and power (status of Olivia) to attack Malvolio, steward of

Olivia, who is "….sick of self love"(1.5:91). For this, Malvolio’s

greed for power ends himself locked up in a dark cell and is accused of being

mad. She also prepares Feste to disguise as Sir Topaz. This is seen in the

quote: "Nay,I prithee put on this gown and this beard; make him believe

thou are Sir Topas the curate; do it quickly. I’ll call Sir Toby the whilst."

(4.2:1,2,3) Combined with other fools, Maria helps make Twelfth Night a

hilariously funny comedy. Lastly,

Sir Toby Belch is another fool in Twelfth Night. His role is helping "on

the game of make-believe". Always convincing & encouraging the rich

Sir Andrew Aguecheek that he has a chance of winning Lady Olivia’s love. He is

similar to Feste, except he plays the role of a knight and is Olivia’s kinsman.

His role is similar to a fool because he depicts many pranks of a fool. For

example in Act II scene iii, while he was drunk he sings along with Feste when

Malvolio barges in to shut them up. Whenever there is a prank, Maria invites

Sir Toby to participate. One such prank was to assist Maria’s fake letter to

make Malvolio think Olivia is in love with him. Sir Toby’s make-believe scheme

works convincingly on Malvolio. Another prank was to accompany the disguised

Feste (Sir Topaz) into the dark cell where Malvolio was imprisoned. This

accompaniment was probably to assure Malvolio that the real Sir Topaz is

visiting him. Yet it is another make-believe scheme of Sir Toby. In

the Twelfth Night Film by Trevor Nunn, Ben Kinglsey portrayed Feste as a very

eerie and Clever. He was a bit of a loner as he did not really have anyone to

talk to. He Had a Dark side as many Muscians and jesters do. It was if he had a

much broader view of all the happenings in the play. For example he was the

only one that realised that Cesario wasn?t a man but he was a Woman (Viola). In Twelfth Night, the fools are the ones that control the

comedy and humor in the play. They assist in the make believe game and fool

around with characters who "evade reality or rather realize a dream".

In Twelfth Night, Feste, Maria and Sir Toby are the fools that make the comedy

work in many senses. They create the confusion through humor and it all works

out in the end to make William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night a really funny

Elizabethan play.


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