Jesters, Clowns, Buffons In Twelth Night Essay, Research Paper
A 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 english literature, the two main ways which
the fool could enter imaginative literature is that “He could
provide a topic, a theme for mediation, or he could turn into a
stock character on the stage, a stylized comic figure”. 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
Clowns, jesters, and Buffoons are usually regarded as fools.
Their differences could be of how they dress, act or portrayed in
society. A clown for example, “was understood to be a country
bumpkin or ‘cloun’”. In Elizabethan usage, the word ‘clown’ is
ambiguous “meaning both countryman and principal comedian”.
Another meaning given to it in the 1600 is “a fool or jester”.
As for a buffoon, it is defined as “a man whose profession is to
make low jests and antics postures; a clown, jester, fool”.
The buffoon is a fool because “although he exploits his own
weaknesses instead of being exploited by others….he resembles
other comic fools”. This is similar to the definition of a
‘Jester’ who is also known as a “buffoon, or a merry andrew. One
maintained in a prince’s court or nobleman’s household”. As
you can see, the buffoon, jester and the clown are all depicted
as fools and are related & tied to each other in some sort of
way. They relatively have the same objectives in their roles but
in appearance wise (clothes, physical features) they may be
different. 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”(I.v.93) 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… a fool that the Lady Olivia’s father took much pleasure
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”(III.i.61). 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?
“ClOWN Good madonna, why mourn’st thou?
OLIVIA Good Fool, for my brother’s death.
ClOWN I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
OLIVIA I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
CLOWN The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your
brother’s soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool,
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” (IV.ii.23), “satan”(IV.ii.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!” (V.i.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 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
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”(I.v.90). 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.” (IV.ii.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 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