Feste and Malvolio in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Feste and Malvolio in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Feste and Malvolio in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night


In Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, there are many very different
characters. Feste and Malvolio are two good examples of characters,
very different from each other. One is someone who acts like a puritan
and scolds others when they do not act in the same way, whereas the
other is someone who gets scolded for being clever with his words and
for enjoying singing. This does not mean I would like the play more if
one of the two characters were not in the play. Both characters add
different things to the play.

In the first scene where we see Feste and Malvolio together Feste says
'better a witty fool than a foolish wit.' This comment shows some of
Feste's dislike towards Malvolio as it seems to be directed towards
the steward, although he does use himself in the comparison, as Feste
is obviously the witty fool and Malvolio, the foolish wit (I believe
this because the comment seemed to be directed towards Malvolio and
this seems to be Feste's opinion of Malvolio). I think that at this
point Feste knew, that because Malvolio uses pretences that he is
unable hold up, such as being a puritan but being very proud and vain
at the same time, he had the possibility of being the target of
something that he would not notice or be able to get out of if he did
because he was a fool in mind rather than in occupation. I, too, would
agree that it is better to be a clever fool than to be someone who
believes himself or herself to be clever, when actually many people
know you are a greater fool than the people around you. This is what
Feste had noticed about Malvolio.

Throughout the play Feste and Malvolio show their characters to be
very different. The largest difference between them is that Malvolio
shows himself to be a strict puritan (at least on the outside) whereas
Feste is, in every way, against puritanical beliefs. He says that he

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takes 'pleasure in singing' and puritans believed that this was
sinful. He also enjoyed the 'midnight revels' with Sir Toby and Sir
Andrew, which was also seen as sinful, by the puritans.

In my opinion, both characters are very interesting, and without them
the play would lack a great deal of comedy and interest. Malvolio is a
character we love to hate, he is just so awful that you just have to
laugh at him. His pride and vanity add some of the comedy as it makes
him very hypocritical because both pride and vanity, were definitely
not encouraged by the puritans, and yet he criticised others when they
went against that type of beliefs. He complained about Sir Toby and
Sir Andrew for having fun by saying 'have you no wit, manners, nor
honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night?,' however,
later on in the play he did not mind dressing up in yellow
cross-gartered stockings, and smiling constantly, when, supposedly
asked to do so by Olivia. At this point he has probably become the
biggest fool in the play, as although Feste's job description is that
of the fool, he 'wear[s] not motley in [his] brain.' This means that
although he is a jester he does not think like one.

Feste could actually be the wisest (or one of the wisest) characters
in Twelfth night because 'nothing that is so is so'. The main part
where he shows this is when Olivia says 'take the fool away' and he
says that they should take Olivia away. He persisted by saying:

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.'

Feste: 'The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being
in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.'

I like the way that Feste is able to outwit people. He manages to use
words to suggest different meanings so that he ends up being right and
others end up being wrong. One example of this is above. Feste even
describes himself as a 'corrupter of words' rather than Olivia's fool.

Malvolio seems to represent everything that Shakespeare disliked at
that time. At the time the play was written the puritans were trying
to have all the theatres closed as it was supposed to be sinful.
Malvolio was seen as a killjoy, just as Shakespeare saw the puritans.
This shows that Malvolio must have been designed to be disliked. This
is, in fact, one of the reasons why I do like him, Shakespeare created
a character so easy to dislike that I enjoyed disliking him. He has so
many faults, like being 'sick of self-love', that he is a very
entertaining character. If he had not been 'sick of self-love' he
would have not believed that the letter was written for him and so the
whole prank could not have occurred, and so his faults cause him to be
very entertaining. This is rather incongruous as it was supposed to be
Feste, who was the most entertaining character, as he was the jester,
but, in fact, he was a much more serious jester. Feste manipulated
words rather than entertained and even when he did sing it was mainly
for his own pleasure. He also seemed to play the role of narrator in
some parts. For example at the end of the play he concludes. He sings
that even though the life of jesters, actors and humanity is quite
lonely they all 'strive to please' you (the audience). He even seems
to like to please when in the play (when he does not acknowledge the
audience) as he says that he takes pleasure in singing and
entertaining. He sang at the 'midnight revel', which was another thing
that he enjoyed and he also sang for Orsino even when he should not
have done so, because Feste's mistress was the lady Olivia. Feste does
have a sad side of his character, although we never find out why. For
example at one point, when he is asked to sing a love, he chooses a
sad song. This sad side also helps the audience to like him more as
they are generally better able to relate to someone who is not
cheerful for every moment of the day.

Both characters have their faults though. Malvolio seemed to have many
more than Feste but Feste still has some. Feste is a loose-living
character and his enjoyment of the 'midnight revels' shows this. It is
also shown by the fact that he does not seem to stay in one place as
he travels and is shown singing for Orsino, and not in Olivia's court.
He can also be very spiteful and this was shown through his resentment
towards Malvolio after his early remark about his wit - 'infirmity,
that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool' and 'I marvel
your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal' this leads Feste
to take his revenge by convincing Malvolio, even further, that he has
gone crazy, through his disguise as Sir Topas. Yet I think that if
Feste did not have a small dark side he would not be as interesting. I
think that Shakespeare realised that most people like to watch
characters that are not perfect, so that they feel better about
themselves or that they can compare to, so Shakespeare made his
characters with faults. I also think that he meant to teach the
audience not to be too much of a 'killjoy' as it may come back to get
you, and also that jokes should not be taken too far.

Malvolio has many faults. He has too much pride and vanity. He is able
to deceive himself too easily, due to his vanity he convinces himself
that it is quite believable that Olivia could love him. He is also
extremely gullible and not nearly as clever as he believes himself to
be (which Feste noticed before) which then causes the prank to be as
effective as it is. Another fault of his is that he does not seem to
learn from his previous actions and their consequences. He shows this
when he says that he will be 'revenged on the whole pack of [them]'
even though it was his attitude, like this that caused the other to
play the prank in the first place. These faults make up most of his
character and make him very entertaining to watch, especially the
yellow cross-gartered stockings bit.

In my opinion both characters add a great deal to the play and even
though one was meant to be disliked, I liked both a lot. This was
partly due to their faults and partly due to their attitudes towards
others and their situations. I believe without either character the
play would have been missing a great deal and would not have been as
enjoyable.
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