Twelfth Night Essay, Research Paper
In English literature, the fool could enter imaginative literature in two main ways. He could provide a theme for mediation, or he could turn into a stock character on the stage a stylized comic figure. In 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 that either escape reality or live a dream. It is not odd that the fool should be a prominent figure and make an important contribution in forming the confusion and the humor in an Elizabethan play.
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 is applauded, and no harm is done. In Illyria, the fool is not so much a critic of his environment as he is a ringleader. Feste plays the role of a humble clown employed by Olivia’s father, as well as the licensed fool of their household. This is evident in Olivia’s statement that Feste is “an allowed fool,” (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 93) meaning he is a licensed, privileged critic to speak the truth of the people around him. It is also evident in Curio s statement to Orsino that Olivia s father employs Feste. “Feste the jester… a fool that the Lady Olivia’s father took much pleasure in” (Act 2, Scene 4, Line 11).
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” (Act 3, Scene 1, Line 61). Since Feste is a licensed fool, his main role in the play is to speak the truth. This is where the humor lays; in his truthfulness. In one example, he proves Olivia to be a true fool by asking her what the subject of her mourning was. Feste s point was to ask why Olivia was mourning for a person whose soul is in heaven.
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” (Act 4, Scene 2, Line 23), “Satan” (Act 4, Scene 2, Line 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; he is the proverbial killjoy. He is Feste’s worst nightmare in the play; however, Feste gains triumph over him and is the only character to show a negative attitude and a dignity reversed. Malvolio proclaims, I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 378). 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 the play, she plays the unsuspecting role of a behind the scene fool that gives ideas to Feste, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Sir Toby Belch to assist her in her plans. In two incidents, she remains behind the curtains while either Feste or Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek carry out her plans. Part of the humor that lies in this comedy is that Maria’s pranks are harsh and cruel, using love and power (the status of Olivia) to attack Malvolio, steward of Olivia, who is “…sick of self love” (Act 1, Scene 5, Line 90). For this, Malvolio s greed for power leads him to be locked up in a dark cell and is accused of being mad. Maria 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.” (Act 4, Scene 2, Lines 1-3). Combined with other fools, Maria helps make this a hilariously funny comedy. Lastly, Sir Toby Belch is another fool in the play. His role is helping “on the game of make-believe. He always convinces and encourages 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 the many pranks of a fool. For example, in Act 2, Scene 3, while he was drunk, he sings along with Feste when Malvolio barges in to shut them up, and this is prankish behavior. Whenever there is a prank, Maria invites Sir Toby Belch to participate. One such prank was to assist Maria’s fake letter to make Malvolio think Olivia is in love with him. Sir Toby Belch 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 to assure Malvolio that the real Sir Topaz is visiting him, yet it is another make-believe scheme of Sir Toby Belch.
In this play, 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 that attempt to evade reality, and they realize their fantasies. In this play, Feste, Maria and Sir Toby Belch are the fools that make the comedy work in many senses. They create the confusion through humor, and it all comes together to make this a funny Elizabethan play.