The Dramatic Significance of Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

The Dramatic Significance of Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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The Dramatic Significance of Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Feste is presented as the fool or jester as hired by Olivia to
entertain. He is an ‘allowed fool’. However many of the other
characters are the ‘real fools’ such as sir Toby belch-an ironic
surname due to his tendency to drink heavily or Malvolio who Feste
convinces is mad when he masquerades as Sir Topaz. Feste almost
reverses the roles talking down to Olivia and making her out to be the
fool “do you not hear fellows? Take away the lady”.Other characters
can not talk to Olivia in the same way as Feste, as she is someone
looked up to and respected. This could be due to the Twelfth night
celebrations being able to speak his mind-being the fool. Feste is
actually a clever and witty character and he shows and presents this
through his use of language, quick wit, word play and punning. In
scene 5 Feste begins with a pun “he that is well hanged in this world
needs to fear no colours” The Elizabethans enjoyed such punning jokes
in which the word was pronounced giving two meanings. Maria and Feste
are like a comedy duo participating in quick fire exchanges, scoring
points off each other and in act 1 scene 5 he hints at her
relationship with sir Toby Belch.

Shakespeare’s characters love to disguise themselves, this theme is
often illustrated and important to the plot of his comedies, but in
this case, the disguise takes an ironic turn. Feste, in dressing as a
wise man reveals his true nature instead of concealing it. This scene
is meant to be played for comedic value; the audience gets a glimpse
of the true nature of the clown. This is a key element in the play as
other people are in disguise for example viola masks as Cesario. The
title of this Shakespeare play is ‘Twelfth Night or what you will’.
This is an immediate indication that people are pretending to be
people they are not and acting as they wish.

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Feste fits in to this
category of doing as he pleases. He masquerades as Sir topaz here to
offer comedy at this point this is important because he is proving
someone else a fool other than himself and he is able to do this.
Feste quotes that “nothing that is so is so” this is one of the mottos
of the play and catches the essence of Twelfth Night that appearances
are often deceptive.

Feste is always playing with words and occasionally seems to talk
nonsense like inventing and imaginary philosopher “Quinapalus, the
old hermit of Prague”. There is often a lot of truth in what he says,
Feste reminds Olivia that he has all the wits about him “I wear not
motley in my brain”. This is a major theme of the play don’t judge by
outward appearances as looks can be deceiving this can be seen with
viola disguising herself as Cesario. Shakespeare is suggesting that
Feste is actually no fool at all on stage as he brings comedy and
dramatic irony, this is a device used where the audience knows
something that the other characters on stage do not, as the audience
begin to realize he is not what he seems and provides truths as an
outsider looking in and knows everything, but when talking to viola he
says ”send thee a beard” but we never know if Feste actually knows of
her disguise. When viola says “I am not what I play”, Olivia is
totally unaware of the full significance of violas words, whereas the
audience understands what is really meant, namely that viola is
female. The emphasis on disguise means that the play is full of
dramatic irony with enforces great amusement.

Feste is able to provide us with song and is able to speak prose and
verse and communicates with lower or higher status characters and so
different from any other individual in twelfth night. Prose is usually
the style for comic scenes and characters and verse, the style for
lovers. Feste often uses verse in his songs and his final epilogue
“with hey, ho, the wind and the rain” and prose is ordinary speech.

A contrast from Feste’s character is Orsino, Shakespeare’s
presentation of a melancholy lover and in love with the idea of love
itself. He is presented as being fickle and of very high status being
the duke of illyria, so is very different from how Feste is presented.
Orsino is a courtly lover, it is ’idealised love’ and places his lady
of affection Olivia on a pedestal. However the love is not returned
and remains as unrequited love still trying to win her heart.

The first line of Twelfth night is “If music be the food of love, play
on”. This play begins and ends with images of music. Feste does not
show love or compassion but provides us with song (the food of love).
He does not talk about himself, his love or problems to any other
characters, but conceals them or possibly reveals them in his songs
“but when I came to mans estate, with hey ho the wind and the rain,
gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate.” ,this could be showing
he feels he is rejected in adult hood and also describes being
tolerated in childhood. On the outside he seems to be the joker to
mask the fact that possibly he feels lonely, but does appear
emotionally stable unlike other characters, Orsino or Olivia who love
the idea of being in love. Olivia vowed she would not fall in love for
seven years while she mourned her brother but broke it when she set
eyes on Cesario someone she has just met, this could show she is only
interesting in good looking or charming men and falls for them shortly
after the first meetings. This is unlike Feste as he does not even
show love for any other character and keeps himself to himself and is
on the outside looking on everyone else’s life.

Feste’s songs often set the mood of regret and he sings sad songs
about growing up, being rejected in adult hood and unsuccessful in
love and marriage, “but when I came ,alas, to wive,……by swaggering
could I never thrive”. However when the play was performed in
Shakespeare’s lifetime, Feste would perhaps have danced and sang in a
cheerily manner to add to comedic value and in the nineteenth century
it became fashionable to add musical scenes filled with festivity
which would create an atmosphere where the whole cast would join in at
the end..Do you think so , interesting idea perhaps compare it to a
modern adaptation eg Trevor num. And indicate what this says about
shakespeares writing.

Feste is often left in control showing the great influence that the
fool has in the play. In many of Shakespeare’s comedies a song
illustrates the end of the play. This song explains the fact that you
begin life as children without any care or worries and as you grow up,
life becomes more complicated and intricate. This play is about the
loss of innocence and the serious responsibility about adult life
places upon you. It is the story of life. The audience will remember
Feste’s importance as he will be their last memory of the performance.
Having the fool as the last character on stage also gives the audience
the last humorous impression of the play. Except in this case Feste’s
song is anything but funny, it is sad and melancholy, showing the
sadness that is buried within the play, it also marks the end of the
Twelfth night celebrations and life returning back to normal.
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