The Wise Fools of Shakespeare
“Infirmity that decays the wise doth ever make a better fool” – though uttered by one of his own characters Shakespeare does not seem to conform to this ideal. The fools carved by Shakespeare in his plays showed no resemblance to the mentally and physically challenged people who were treated as pets and used for amusement during the medieval period. Rather Shakespeare’s fools appear to be in the best of their wits when they are in possession of the wisest minds. Fools whether in their rustic vigour displaying grotesque humour or in the forms of the sophisticated court jesters with their polished puns occupied a substantial position in his plays. Not only they added the element of humour but often alluded a deeper context under their apparent comic facade. Shakespeare’s plays embodied a varied range of comic characters whose treatment obviously differs in those produced by the mature playwright to those depicted in his earlier works. In which we find certain nonsensical clowns appearing just to create ludicrous entertainment. In ‘Love’s Labour Lost’ we find three such characters Costard, Dull and Adrian de Armado who are of very little importance to the plot but as we move on to the ‘Mid Summer Night’s Dream’, Bottom the daft artisan though intended to project humour for his supreme vanity, we see this same attribute of his being exploited by Oberon the king of the fairies to teach his queen a lesson. In this way we notice in Shakespeare’s comic characters a gradual pattern of upgradation from those included just for the sake of insipid humour to the ones actually taking part in the plot. As Shakespeare proceeds to incorporate his oeuvres with further comic elements he chooses humorists over clowns. His comic characters reveal more contemplative and methodical homour which actually camouflages underneath the unsavoury truths. These personas were not only part of his comedies but also his tragedies. In ‘Hamlet’ the two Grave-diggers despite of being represented as clown figures hides beneath their playful conversations the graver insights of the playwright himself. By questioning the justness of Ophelia’s receiving a ‘Christian burial’ they asses the legitimacy of suicide in terms of religious beliefs. Moreover their nonchalant attitude towards death marks its inevitability contrasting it to Hamlet’s vacillating views of ‘to be or not to be’. A similar prudence can observed in the reckless speeches of the Porter in ‘Macbeth’. The Porter in his drunken frenzy claims to be the “Porter of the Hell Gate” indicating that the horrid incident of Duncan’s murder has equated Macbeth’s castle to the infernal dungeon. Though these characters makes their appearance for a brief period on stage and it is generally apprehended that their foremost purpose is to provide a moment of respite to the audience from the dark and tense moments of the play, their significance in these dramas are no less. A character that cannot remain unmentioned while talking of Shakespeare’s comic characters is that of Sir John Falstaff. Usually acclaimed to be Shakespeare’s greatest comic character Falstaff first makes his appearance in ‘Henry IV Part 1’ and reappears in ‘Henry IV Part 2’ as well as ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. Recognized for his easy ways and buffoon like appearance Falstaff is actually a knight though his conduct speaks contrarily when he marks honour as valueless - “Can honour set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. . . . What is honour? A word”. It is the fact that we find a cunning, fraudulent, corrupt in bulk under the banner of knighthood that is
suppose to represent chivalry and honesty is what primarily projects the humour. But yet again arousing laughter is not the only purpose served by this character, along with remaining the unfailing companion to prince Hal until he grows up only to leave him behind as a sign of stepping towards a path of integrity, Falstaff also...
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