Wit and Humor in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a romantic comedy set in Illyria during the Christmas season. The article analysis is a critique on the elements of folly and foolery in Shakespeare’s twelfth night. As defined in the critique, a fool can be “a silly or foolish person” or “one who professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester, a clown”. In the analysis of the subject in twelfth night, the writer highlights that although Feste is the only professional fool in the play, many others are also subject to foolery. He then goes on to discuss the importance of Feste as a figure of comedic truth in the play and his relationships with the other characters such as: Malvolio who is seen as his antagonist, Maria who is described as his companion and Sir Toby Belch like Feste has a tendency to encourage mischief. The writer’s intention in the piece was to evaluate the idea of there being more than one fool in Shakespeare’s twelfth night. It is as a result of their combined humour and wit why the play works. He sees that during the festive season in Illyria most of the main characters are subject to foolery. Critic Stephanie Chidester in her article Twelfth Night: Motley Medley agrees with the critic as she says that “The actions and words of almost all the play’s characters fit the recognized behavior of a fool”. In my opinion the author makes a logical deduction as using his definitions of a fool I could classify all the main characters as being foolish or subjects to folly. Other than the four characters highlighted by the writer in the analysis Orsino, Viola, Olivia and Sir Andrew are all fools in some way or another. For example Orsino is foolish in his pursuit of Olivia appearing to be more in love with love itself than the woman he claims to be in love with. He does not know her, has never met her yet he declares his deep love for her. He is in love with the idea of her. Viola is foolish because of the situation her cross dressing has gotten her in as she finds herself in love with a man that she cannot tell she loves due to her disguise. Olivia like Orsino is also proven to be foolish as her promise to mourn a dead brother for seven years is excessive and abnormal. Sir Andrew Aguecheek also qualifies as the only natural fool in the play, which is seen through his slow-witted speech and foolish behavior. An example of this is seen in Act 1 scene 3 where Sir Andrew bemoans his lack of wit by saying maybe it’s because he eats too much beef. However, the writer of the analysis fails to explore all the other characters in the play that were subject to foolery instead he focuses mainly on Feste who most critics refer to as the easy and obvious fool and therefore missed the opportunity to justify his point thereby spoiling its effectiveness. In the critical piece the writer makes some valid points although most of them lack supporting evidence. In the first paragraph he makes the point that “Feste and the other characters in the play combine their silly acts and wits to invade other characters that evade reality or rather realize a dream.” This establishes one of the playwright’s main theme appearance vs. reality as when characters try to escape from reality it is up to the other characters in the play to correct this by bringing them back to reality. An example of this is found in Act 2 scene 3 where Sir Toby, a nobleman, scolds Malvolio and reminds him he is just a servant when Malvolio rebukes Sir Toby a nobleman for his unruly behavior. This shows Sir Toby brings Malvolio down from his “dream” of acting above his station, reminding him of the status quo and gives him a reality check by reminding him that he is simply a servant. However it is my belief that Shakespeare uses the disorderly, uncivil drunkard Sir Toby as a foil to Malvolio who represents self discipline and Moderation. While his foil Sir Toby represents self indulgence and excess and Shakespeare shows the downsides of both...
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