12Th Night - Foolish Or Wise


12Th Night - Foolish Or Wise“Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools, and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man.” (1.5.30-31)
In the ‘Twelfth Night’ by William Shakespeare, the role of the entertainer was fulfilled by the character named, ‘Feste’. Feste’s purpose was to entertain the nobles through songs and witty jokes at the expense of others; however, his role was far more important than a simple ‘jester’ or ‘fool’. When Feste says; “Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools, and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man” (1.5.30-31), he is stating a version of the old saying, “know thyself.” These lines point out that Feste is not simply a jester; but rather a fool with much intelligence. Shakespeare meant to create Feste’s character to help teach the other characters more about themselves through experiences displaying their foolishness and short-comings. Feste used various strategic approaches and insightful remarks to reach that goal.
Feste incorporates music to affect and convey multiple hidden messages which are essential in order to better understand the play’s central theme of love. A perfect example is the song he performs for Sir Toby and Sir Andrew:
“O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O stay and hear, your true love's coming, That can sing both high and low. Trip no further, pretty sweeting, Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man's son doth know” (2.3.37-42).
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter, Present mirth hath present laughter. What's to come is still unsure. In delay there lies no plenty, Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty. Youth's a stuff will not endure” (2.3.45-50).
Feste plainly prophesizes the events that will take place later on in the play when he mentions: “journeys ending in lovers meeting” (2.3.41). This quotation shows that the fool is aware that Orsino, Olivia and Viola are all searching for their true love. This statement is reinforced by the fact that the three couples get married at the end. In the second verse, the lines, "Present mirth hath present laughter, what’s to come is still unsure," (2.3.46-47) can be interpreted as “live for today”. The last line, “Youth’s a stuff will not endure,”(2.3.50) Feste points out to Olivia that her youth will not last an eternity; therefore advises her to be wise and open her heart.
As Feste realizes how tormented Countess Olivia is by the death of her brother, he tries to make her be aware of the fact that time passes and she should move on before she falls victim to a larger burden with the added loss of her beauty and happiness. Feste tried to deride Olivia’s disproportionate reaction with the following quotation: “As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower. The lady bade take away the fool, therefore I say again, take her away” (1.5.46-48). Given the fact that she did not seem to understand the meaning of Feste’s response, he escalated his approach and attempted to transmit his message in a more direct manner; “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen“ (1.5.65-67). Here we are witness to Feste’s comfortability in the calling of his Countess a fool in order to get his message across. He goes to that extent for a number of reasons; the first being the unreasonable mourning for her brother’s death and the second being the knowledge of her brother being in heaven.
A good example of Feste's sharp insight through this keen observation of Viola disguised as Cesario is the concession of the fact that the clown might have the ability to see through her concealment. Although Feste never openly claimed to acknowledge Viola's deception, it is indicated that he is aware with the following statement: “Now Jove in his next commodity of hair send thee a beard,” (3.1.43-44) to which Viola replies, “By my troth I’ll tell thee, I am almost sick for one” (3.1.45). The term “beard” in Feste’s statement is being used as an understatement for “man”. Feste is remarking Viola’s lack of facial hair and goes on in engaging her in a dialogue that illuminates her love for Duke Orsino. Through his sharp jesting, Feste reveals the love connection between Viola and Orsino.
Another important character in the story is Malvolio; the contrast of Feste. He is somber and does not engage nor is interested by any of the word plays or the songs of the entertainer. In Act I, Scene V, Malvolio tells Olivia how surprised he is by her enjoyment of Feste’s company. We also recognize the judgment Malvolio has towards Feste with the following statement: “I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal” (1.5.78-79).

Countess Olivia’s employee Maria along with her uncle Sir Toby and his friend Sir Andrew prepared a trap for Malvolio who is kept incarcerated in the dark. Feste does not take part until the end where he impersonates the priest, Sir Topas, while talking to Malvolio. He tells Malvolio to be careful with what he says because the priest (himself) is still around. “Advise you what you say, the minister is here” (4.2.94). Seeing how well the comedian plays his role, Malvolio believes everything.
Malvolio made fun of Feste in front of Olivia when he told her that he lost a competition of intellect with another fool: “I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool, that has no more brain than a stone” (1.5.79-80). He understated that any smart person who laughs at his jokes is almost as big of a fool as he. We can therefore assimilate that Feste takes his revenge grudgingly upon Malvolio.
If we compare Feste and Malvolio, we observe that Malvolio relentlessly glorifies himself while Feste remains humble. On the other hand, we realize that these two characters share one particular similarity in the sense that they both stay true to themselves regardless of their adversities.
The story of the Twelfth Night revolves around the fact that Feste is an intellectual fool who indirectly gives others hints of what is to come. Feste never takes sides with any of the characters, and in this way, he becomes a kind of commentator for the play. He has the benefit of being able to be all over the place without really being noticed. As the play develops, we realize that instead of being an insignificant comedian that lacks intelligence, he is the opposite. It becomes more obvious that Feste’s character is more meaningful than a simple clown. He uses the witty remarks to query who the real fool in the story is. He shows that he understands any situation going on and interprets it in his own way. He enlightens Olivia’s beauty and youth when he tells her that she should quit mourning her brother and at the same time is capable of mocking her extended bereavement. He has the capacity of telling the truth that the other characters don’t want to see. He takes advantage of the fact that he is a comedian, and is therefore allowed to be a fool to transmit his message and express his thoughts by using all the resources available to him. Feste puts the happy note on the play.

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