Who Are the Fools In Twelfth Night?
In this essay I will be exploring Twelfth Night and focusing on the extent at which folly is used to create humour.The word folly means “a silly person” or “one who uses folly for the entertainment of others” etc.In William Shakespeare’s comedy, Feste -licensed fool- the clown is not the only fool who is subject to foolery; others include Sir Andrew Aguecheek (natural fool), Malvolio who is exposed to be the natural fool and Sir Toby who is deemed to be the Lord of Misrule.
Overall, fools and folly are widely used in Twelfth Night and form the basic plot.
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Feste’s role in this Illyrian comedy is significant. Feste plays the role of a humble clown and is employed by Olivia’s father thus playing the role of the licensed fool of their household. Olivia states that Feste is “an allowed fool” meaning he is licensed to speak the truth of people around him in order to entertain others.
This is also seen when Curio states to the duke that “Feste the jester…a fool that the Lady Olivia’s father took much pleasure in”. Even though Feste is employed to be foolish, when compared to the other characters he is deemed to be the wisest, wittiest and the most philosophical of all the characters. Viola echoes this by saying “This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool. ” By having the role of a licensed fool, Festes main role is to speak to the truth. Comedy is achieved through the truthfulness of the character.
The first true glimpses of folly in Twelfth Night are seen in Act 1 Scene 3. Sir Andrew serves as an excellent example of the idea of Satire which Shakespeare throughout the play uses to undermine the so called rich, upper class characters. Sir Toby encourages Sir Andrew to “accost” Maria, which translates as “chat her up” and Sir Andrew foolishly addresses Maria as “Good mistress accost”. Shakespeare interestingly uses satire but also comedy of manners to illustrate his feelings towards the rich and powerful.
His intentions are clearly seen here for the rest of the play; he starts with a powerful character being made a fool of and also ends with Malvolio being made a fool of, not weaker characters like Maria (servant) feste (clown). In this area of the scene, the audience expects a prominent, smart character to emerge on stage due to the description given by Sir Toby: “Why, he has an income of three thousand ducats a year,” which again links to the idea of comedy of manners- ‘a plot revolving around greed’. Subsequently, Sir Andrew is a naive, un-intelligent person who creates comedy and folly by miss-understanding Sir Toby.
Knights in Shakespeare’s time would easily be able to gain respect through women due to it being an attractive occupation. However, Sir Andrew is the complete opposite and this allows the audience to laugh at how a character can be so different from the usual stereotype. Sir Andrew being so naive and thinking that he can easily add Maria to his endless list of women creates dramatic irony, the audience know that Maria thinks very poorly of him yet on the other hand Sir Andrew being so un-intelligent still thinks he is a wonderful human being.
Alternatively, this area of Act 1 could show that even though Sir Andrew is rather naive, he still achieves because of the fact that Sir Toby mentions his “three thousand ducats a year” and Sir Andrew himself states to Maria that he is not “such an ass” and that he can keep his “hand dry,” this promotes the fact that when we wants to be, Sir Andrew can be smart and keep his “hand dry” which results in the audience weighing up what’s to come in the future for Sir Andrew. Ultimately, Sir Andrew fails to “woo” Olivia resulting in Sebastian marrying Olivia.
Overall, this links back to the idea of comedy of manners and satire as both Sir Toby and Sir Andrew have been socially undermined with it being Sir Toby’s idea to set Andrew with Olivia and Sir Andrew failing in this quest. Feste who is employed to be funny and possibly ‘foolish’ is quite the opposite when compared with Sir Andrew. Feste is a philosophical, smart and witty character. In relevance to the question, a fool (feste) is employed to make people laugh yet there is no doubting that he comes across as anything but a fool.
Shakespeare uses this character to highlight and contrast the frailties in the other characters such as Sir Andrew for example by allowing the natural fool to be the “natural wit” which is a very clever tool, the audience aren’t laughing at Feste being employed as fool yet laughing at how he makes others look like a fool. In act 1 scene 5, we don’t laugh at Feste for being a so called “fool”, we laugh at the witty re-marks that he creates and how undermines the people above him. Feste when talking to Maria regarding Countess Olivia states that “Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage”. This has two comical meanings.
Firstly, Feste is saying to Maria that sometimes its better being killed than entering marriage but to increase the comedy the phrase could also mean that a “well hung”(sexual connotations) man can prevent a “bad marriage”. When compared to today, a modern day audience would still find that funny due to IY being true yet in Shakespearean comedy, the audience would have been very surprised for a ‘fool’ to come out with such a controversial phrase, thus increasing comedy. Shakespeare understands the need for ‘surprise’ because the audience are laughing more at the surprise element rather than the joke itself.
By putting this comical line in the final scene of the act, the audience have now gained a further understanding for the character and worked out how intelligent, witty Feste is. This will increase the popularity towards the character as the audience may have forgotten what happened previous to this scene when in act 2 yet the comical line from Feste would have stayed in their heads.Personally, Shakespeare wanted this immensely and therefore in relation to the question, yes fools are used to create humour but not through being stupid but by being witty and controversial as audiences like to be surprised.
I believe the “bad marriage” area of the quote highlights the philosophical values that Feste has; he is giving the audience his opinions on marriages which he has seen from a fool’s point of view. Shakespeare is also handing a lot of power to feste as he could be forecasting the future for the marriages of Sir Toby and Maria, Olivia and Sebastian etc. Finally, Shakespeare can be seen to use juxtaposition in order to allow the gag of Feste contrast with the ‘well behaved’ Maria, this makes the audience possibly dislike Maria, an opinion shared by Shakespeare due to the time that he lived in, with the disrespectfulness of women.
By the end of Act 2 scene 5, we gain the basic underlying plot. In scene 3, foolishness is definitely used to create comedy; Shakespeare uses the main idea of dramatic irony to create comedy. Three characters (Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria) construct a plan to help make Malvolio look a fool, Shakespeare uses three characters to make the plot seem more severe, linking to the idea of a minor form of black comedy. In this scene we learn that foolishness is enhanced by using more people to gang up on another.
Sir Toby speaks that “He shall think, by the letters that thou wilt drop, that they come from my niece, and that she’s in love with him. ” This quote firmly shows; He’ll think these letters are from Olivia and that she’s in love with him. Shakespeare uses a gang approach to this due to Malvolio being a so called ‘kill joy’, Sir Andrew and Maria show their opinions on the plan with phrases like “Sport royal” “I have ’t in my nose too. ” Which again highlights the mood of the other characters, the audience will ultimately laugh in feeling guilt towards Malvolio.
In today’ world, a gang culture shows power due to power in numbers but in Shakespeare times it could be sign of wealth and power to be able to create a group situation. The word “drop” signifies the height at which this will drop Malvolio and purposefully ‘drop’ his heart when he finds out he is made out to be a fool. Subsequently, Malvolio foolishness creates huge comedy due to him being imprisoned because of his actions towards Olivia. The idea of a gang creating a plan to make another human being look a fool allows Shakespeare to experiment how Malvolio could act.
By the end of the play he is seen to be very spiteful and out for revenge. Comedy isn’t always seen through people being fools or made out to be fools. Comedy is also achieved through other ventures. In order to gain approval in the kingdom Viola dresses as a man and therefore can work close to Orsino and takes on the name Cesario. This creates comedy because the audience know that she is a women beneath the disguise yet the characters don’t (dramatic irony) therefore power is given to the audience and they enjoy this.
We understand in Act 1 scene 2 that she is going to take up some disguise by saying “Conceal me what I am, and be my aid”. At this moment in time, Viola seems very determined and confident towards being a man and she has reason so due to marrying Orsino at the end of the play. Therefore comedy isn’t just seen through the eyes of folly and foolishness it’s also achieved elsewhere. Due to it being a live play, the audience would be able to see it’s a disguised woman, even though all actors were men, and thus again increasing comedy.
Twelfth Night was once a day to mark the end of the Christmas festivities. It was the feast of fools and even now, the Christmas season is a time where we all seek entertainment in the form of amusement and folly. Therefore Twelfth Night is still relevant today. Even now we love to see people make fools of themselves and the characters we don’t like to be served with just retribution. In conclusion to my question, the answer is simply yes. Shakespeare doesn’t just have fools to laugh at (feste) which would seem the normal idea but he makes others look fools.
This is through Malvolio being miss-lead, the naivety of Sir Andrew and possibly Orsino not having Olivia and having to make do with Viola. Interestingly, Shakespeare warms to the so called lower class characters like Feste, Maria by creating strong and confident characters that make the more upper class characters around them look fools. Comedy is also achieved in the play by the mistaken identity of Viola, the concept of black comedy and the comedy of manners. All key integral parts of how this play is seen comical. Overall, the main comedy comes from people acting foolish or looking foolish as well as the idea of comedy of errors.