Twelfth Night - Analysis of Fools
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.