Twelfth Essay

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 work. 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 in”(II.iv.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”(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,
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” (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 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”(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.

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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 Elizabethan play.


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