Brilliant Folly: the Role of Feste

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In William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, it is ironic how many times the fool is said to be dishonest, when, in fact, his role proves entirely opposite. Though sometimes the characters do not realize his hidden messages, the reader can instantly comprehend Feste's figurative language, which is evident in every scene in which the fool appears. Whether he is singing to Orsino, arguing with Malvolio, or playing around with Viola, Feste always manages to sneak in a few symbolic foretokens before his exit. His keen eye and fast wit help him to actively partake in the portrayal of the story, however, the fool is merely present to express that which cannot be fully expressed through the lines of other characters. Through his songs, witty jokes and puns, Feste proudly and efficiently reveals truth throughout the play.

Although most characters find them as only a convenient source of entertainment, Feste's songs serve much more of a purpose. If the words are carefully listened to, a hidden message can be found. While in the company Sir Toby and Andrew, Feste sings one song with two specific messages. The first verse sums up the love triangle between Orsino, Olivia and Viola. He sings, "O mistress mine, where are you roaming?" (2.3.40). This line shows that the fool knows the truth: that Orsino, Olivia and Viola are all searching for their true love. In the second verse, Feste explains more of a philosophy for life. The lines "Present mirth hath present laughter, / What's to come is still unsure," (2.3.49-50) can be interpreted as the modern cliché of "Live for today." These words show Feste's knowledge of their hesitance toward love and also represent Toby's logic toward life. Later, at Orsino's request, Feste sings a somber tune about a boy who dies for love. This link between love and death affects both Orsino and Viola as they listen and compare themselves to the boy in the song. For Orsino, the song's "fair cruel maid" (2.4.61) is Olivia, and...
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