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The Twelfth Night

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Concept of “fools” occupies significant place in Shakespeare‘s creative heritage. This image was usually used in order to criticize the characters or provide the audience with the good mood. The role of fool in The Twelfth Night is played by Feste. The aim of this paper is to identify the key issues revealed by this personage and explain his role in terms of understanding the concept of “fooling”.

Shakespeare used to picture the fools in two ways: professional clowns and comics from the ordinary people. The first entertain, the second give the reason for amusement with their behavior. The fools in Shakespeare’s play The Twelfth Night belong to the former group. This work is considered the best Shakespeare’s comedy. In fact, the twelfth night was the last night of Christmas holidays, during which fools played an important role in fourteenth and sixteenth century in England. That is why they represented the spirit of this Christmas time, particularly the period of the Feast of Fools.

The jesters and clowns in The Twelfth Night are outsiders. Their aim is not to appeal to the same emotions and feelings of the audience as the protagonists do. In The Twelfth Night, fools control the comedy and its humorous intensity. They maintain the general context of game around the characters. The fools here disclose some implicit senses of the play. Their main function is to provide the feeling of confusion with the help of comic devices to make the play a really funny piece of art. They often express very deep and bold thoughts with the help of guise and jokes, mocking on different prejudices, denouncing every kind of stupidity and vulgarity. One of the peculiarities of Shakespeare’s fools is the way they are improvising. He was against clowns’ improvisation that had different from the play meaning.

There are several meanings of the concept of “fool”: the silly man, the one who performs follies for amusement, and the one who is made to be fool. The image of the jester Feste in the comedy is a representative of the last type. He has been employed by Olivia’s father and his main duty is to provide the humorous remarks where it is necessary (Evans 5). Olivia stresses that Feste is “allowed” to be a fool (1.5.93). According to his role, he is to entertain the audience; however, his sad tone implies another function. That is why his main goal in the comedy is to uncover the truth in the humorous context without being judged. From the very first appearance of Feste on the scene, he starts to play the role of fool. In his exception of Maria’s words, he asks for wisdom in order to use the talent of fool in the right way (1.5.14-5). These words express his understanding of the concept of “fools”: he distinguishes both the fools who are to be cheated, and those fools who use their talent in order to criticize other people.

As his character is slightly involved to the play, Feste has the role of commentator. Though he does not undergo any development, his personage is an essential part of the plot. Feste is supposed to be the wisest person in the comedy that is pointed out by Viola when she states that he obtains enough wisdom to play a fool (3.1.53-54). His witty character is shown in his talking to himself before meeting Olivia after disappearing when he is discussing the witty fools and foolish wit (1.5. 21-25). With these words he shows that his role in all action is not only the comic one; he points out that to be a good fool requires much intelligence. These lines show that Feste underlines the importance of self-knowledge in order to be witty and not fool. The wit and intelligence are the necessary traits for the commentator of the play and the main features that distinguish him from other clowns in English literature.

Feste can observe the foolishness in other characters and mock them as he does with Olivia when she is talking with her dead brother (1.5.21-27). That is why it is impossible to relate this personage to the ordinary fool with the lack of self-consciousness as he truly realizes his role in society. Feste combines clownish and philosophical principles. This character not so much amuses other heroes as provides the deep insight on some controversial life issues (Maus 108).

However, the concept of “fool” provides the play The Twelfth Night with something more than just humorous remarks and jokes. Feste serves as a fool inside the play to entertain the audience and outside the play as a commentator. He does not demonstrate the traditional meaning of the concept of “fool”; he uses this mask in order to provide the reality for other characters. Feste uses the concept of fool as a tool of giving people the comic vision on the things they take too seriously. He realizes his superiority towards other fools. Although Feste has been slightly involved to the plot till the last act, he has the significant function in the play - identification of the foolishness of other characters.

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