The Elusive and Mystical Fool in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy © Jem Bloomfield
Sep 2, 2007
Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, is an fascinating character: a fool who seems to know more than most of the people around him.
Feste, the Fool in Twelfth Night, is a very different character from the Fools in other comedies such as Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merchant of Venice. Launce and Speed (from Two Gentlemen) and Launcelot Gobbo (from The Merchant of Venice) are fairly straightforward comedy turns, sent on to crack jokes, give high-speed monologues and mix things up. Indeed, Trevor Nunn’s TV production of The Merchant of Venice made Launcelot Gobbo’s monologue into a stand-up routine, delivered under a spotlight in a Venetian café. Feste, by contrast, doesn’t make lame puns, or bring on a comedy dog. His first foolings are a barrage of mock-learning to Olivia, “For what says Quinalpus? ‘Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.’”, “virtue that transgresses is but patch’d with sin, and sin that amends is but patch’d with virtue” (I.5) When he does get down to cracking jokes, they are on decidedly unusual topics. He draws Olivia into a comic “catechism” which comes dangerously close to mocking her grief: Feste: Good madonna, why mourn’st thou?
Olivia: Good fool, for my brother’s death.
Feste: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
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Olivia: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Feste: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s being in heaven. Dealing with life and death in his foolery, Feste seems closer to the namelesss Fool in King Lear than to Launce and Lancelot. He has an air of mystery all the way through Twelfth Night; his first appearance is unexplained, and though...