Consideration of the Role of Feste in Twelfth Night
Shakespeare portrays Feste as a well-drawn, wise, cunning, adaptable character. His character is used in Twelfth Night to reflect on the actions and emotions of the others by keeping himself at a distance from the other characters and not becoming emotionally involved in any of the plots at the beginning of the play. Feste subtly conveys his messages and thoughts through his songs to the audience about the other characters in the play. He reveals in his songs that Orsino is “roaming” after the wrong love in his pursuit of Olivia.
Feste somewhat becomes the narrator of the play by commenting on actions that occur within the play and foreshadowing events. When Feste first enters into the play he has been absent from Olivia’s court a long time and must now return into her favour. He does not want to listen to what Maria says to him and using his quick wit manages to answer her. Feste demonstrates his quick wit and ability to juggle words effectively when he says: Let her hang me; he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colours.
This remark reveals that Feste does not fear Maria’s threats and also reveals his intelligence and his philosophical side for he would rather be hanged than be in a war, “needs fear no colours”. Shakespeare portrays him as a wise man although the Elizabethan audience might consider him a coward and unpatriotic for not wanting to protect and defend his country. Feste carries the stigma of stupidity, which previous fools in literature have inflicted upon all fools but Shakespeare created Feste as an intelligent fool who would change the audience’s perception of the role of fools.
Shakespeare displays Feste’s skill at juggling words as an example of the differences between Feste and other fools as traditionally fools are considered to be ignorant buffoons who are there to entertain using jokes and juggling objects to create amusement. However, Feste displays his insight about the people surrounding him instead while also offering his thoughts about which ruinous condition he would rather be in, “many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage”.
Here he hints that a bad marriage may take place and that death is better than to be unhappy in life. Feste is not loyal to his mistress like Malvolio is to Olivia and Viola is to Orsino for he wanders through the different courts always in search of favour and money. In Orsino’s court he sings of love and how it can kill, “I am slain by a fair cruel maid” man’s folly and man’s deceitful nature while in Olivia’s court he sings to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew he sings more joyful and careless songs but still reflecting on the characters’ actions.
When he sings the type of song Sir Toby selected he adds on to it when he sees they like it and makes the song relevant to what is happening and sings about what he has seen as an outsider watching the scenes that are happening. Even when he uses music he acts in his capacity as the fool for the house and is secretly wording the advice he would give to certain other characters in the play should he be allowed to tell them. This illustrates his perceptiveness and ability to adapt to any situation no matter what he is supposed to do.
Feste’s perceptiveness is used as a device to remember what has happened in Twelfth Night without becoming too involved in the play and not seeing the bigger perspective. Sir Andrew is revealed as even more ignorant than Sir Toby has already portrayed him as Feste uses his skills at juggling words to make up new words, which seem real and genuine to Sir Andrew. Feste uses his role as the fool to poke fun at Sir Andrew and sets him up for further humiliation later on because Sir Andrew stores the words Feste uses in his memory and later uses them in any context to try and convince everyone of his intelligence.
As Twelfth Night is a play all about foolery and based on the Feast of Fools it is fitting that Feste should make fun of the lesser characters of the play, which somehow make the audience laugh at them as well. Feste is the centre of amusement and merriment in every situation, providing the entertainment for the others and he does this in many ways. Sir Toby enjoys Feste making fun of Sir Andrew and Feste knows this so he does it to please Sir Toby and Sir Andrew being the person he is doesn’t realise this and pays Feste as well.
Feste demonstrates his cunning in managing to get money out of two people for different reasons. In Act 4 Feste reveals he is ready to become part of the play and take an active role. The others have tricked Malvolio agrees to dress up as Sir Topas, a curate. He thoroughly enjoys his new role as he is making Malvolio madder and without Malvolio in the way he is more important to his mistress, Olivia. In his role as Sir Topas he is more appealing to Sir Toby as Sir Toby hates Malvolio for his puritan-like ways.
Feste’s disguise convinces Malvolio that Feste is a real curate and Feste undermines his own character being reluctant to join in and always being himself he is now pretending to be something he is not although he is adapting to this new role he is putting on a different face, which he has never done before. Feste reveals one of his flaws through his disguise when he does not know where is a safe place to stop teasing Malvolio and juggling words. In this way he goes over the top with his role and needs someone to keep him in check but has no one to do this for him.
Feste’s final song seems to be a perfect ending to Twelfth Night. While this song contains many silly words and phrases designed to make people laugh, it does have a serious side to it that suggest that love and marriage are not the only things in life and that there is not always a happy ending. The song goes through the life cycle from a “little tiny boy” and reverts all the way back around again to when the “world begun”. It seems to be about Feste’s life in particular and his choice to become a fool.
He is saying that becoming a fool was his only way to survive because he could not have succeeded any other way. Shakespeare uses Feste as someone to reflect and a way to end the play fittingly. In Twelfth Night, the fools are the ones that control the comedy and humour in the play. They assist in the make believe game and fool around with characters who “evade reality or rather realize a dream”. This makes Feste a pivotal character in Twelfth Night as without him many other things could have happened and a lot less humour and jokes would have occurred.