Sunday, 19 June 2011


."..Self-proclaimed wits are usually not witty at all and it is this lack of self-knowledge that makes them fools," states Ben Knisley in his essay, "The Role of the Fool: Feste's Significance." If this is true, then the opposite must also be true: self-proclaimed fools are usually not foolish at all and it is their lack of self-knowledge that makes them witty. In Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night", Feste is a self-proclaimed fool who at first glance may appear to be an actual fool, a clown even, but upon looking deeper we discover that he is one of the most intelligent characters in the entire play. Feste shows us his intelligence through his many displays of knowledge and good decisions.

Feste may be labeled a fool, but if you were to compare his knowledge to that of anybody else's in the play, you'd think they were all fools. One of the most prominent examples of Feste's knowledge is in his implied understanding of the fact that Viola is not, indeed, a man. "Now Jove in his next commodity of hair send thee a beard," (Shakespeare 35) Feste says to Viola when he is having one of his "word bouts" with her. To the innocent bystander, it looks as if Feste is just being funny and commenting on Viola's apparent lack of facial hair, but between Viola and himself, there is a mutual knowledge that he knows she is not a man. This is an example of Feste's intelligence because it shows he has been observing what goes on between everyone in both houses, meaning between Viola and Olivia and between Viola and Count Orsino. This is also a tribute to Feste's intelligence because of the way he brings it up to Viola. He brings it up in friendly banter, a way in which only Viola would know the true meaning of his comment. As Knisley states in his essay, Viola also acknowledges Feste's knowledge. "This fellow is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that craves a kind of wit." (Shakespeare 36). This is the main point where we see the exchange between Viola and Feste become a common understanding of the extent of the other's knowledge. The fact that Feste knows that Viola is a woman and the fact that she considers him witty both signify that he is not actually a fool.

As Knisley mentions, Feste manages to keep himself unattached, both romantically and otherwise, from the other characters in the play. This shows Feste is not a fool because he understands what problems could arise from any kind of a relationship at the time. Also in agreement with Knisley's essay, we can see that Feste relies mainly on money instead of people. If Feste were not the fool (by title, not in actuality), he would have no way to make money in Olivia's court (or anywhere for that matter), so he is making an extremely smart decision to keep his title of fool. It is also key that Feste be intelligent playing the role of the fool, because without his intelligence he would not be able to make his witty comments and would never be able to make the other characters appreciate him, therefore never gaining compensation for his actions. Again, this would leave him penniless. As the fool, Feste uses his possibly disadvantageous title to his advantage and plays the other characters for fools (by obtaining their money, of course).

Feste also contributes to the play by commenting and furthering the reader's understanding of the different things going on in it. This shows his intelligence because, like mentioned before, he knows everything that is going on and he helps us to see this. He also foreshadows events, so if we are paying careful attention as we read, we can notice this for ourselves. "Journeys end in lovers meeting." (Shakespeare 21). This is a line of the song Feste is singing to Sir Andrew, who ironically, is the true fool of the play, and Sir Toby. This specific line is the foreshadowing of the happy ending, where many conflicts dissolve because of the marriage of Sir Toby and Maria, Viola and Orsino, and Sebastian and Olivia. Knisley also mentions Feste mocking Malvolio and commenting on his behavior. Feste is not doing this to be intelligent, per se, but because he is intelligent to know that nothing bad will come of it. Also, he knows that Malvolio does not hold a high place in the eyes of Olivia and that he will just gain more respect from the other characters who reside in Olivia's household. Feste's commentary shows that he understands everything going on in the household and that he has the intelligence to interpret it.

Feste is a fool, but only in the way that fits him best, which is to be a fool by title. He understands all that is happening around both houses and interprets and comments on it to provide a depth in the story that could not otherwise be reached without his assistance. His intelligence keeps him in good standing with all of the characters, which provides his main source of income (when they tip him). So even though he may to be a fool at first glance, we can see that Feste is actually very intelligent because of what he understands and how he uses his resources.

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