“He is the wisest character in the play”. How far do you agree with this interpretation of Feste in Twelfth Night?
This essay will explore the notion that Feste is the wisest character in the play. The definition of wise is “having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment: a wise precaution.” Feste is the epitome of irony, I think a modern day audience would the audience may believe a ‘fool’ to be purely someone to make you laugh and be an idiot. However Feste is very much the opposite; he fits the definition of wise, he speaks profoundly, questions high class characters such as Olivia and almost undermines her with his wit. He is very melancholic, especially about love whereas everybody else is almost controlled by it and the audience may see him to be wise because he avoids love to stay happy.
Feste is a ‘licenced fool’ in “Twelfth Night” and this means that he is allowed to judge people whereas others would be punished for doing so therefore this gives him some power as he is allowed to speak the truth. Olivia, in Act 1, Scene 5, says “there is no slander in an allowed fool.” This suggests to me that Olivia doesn’t see him as a fool or a jester, she sees him as someone who will speak the truth because he is ‘allowed’ to judge people not to be cruel but to offer advice and this suggests that Olivia sees Feste as being wise otherwise she would not come to him to ask for his help or listen to what he says. Alan S. Downer of ‘College English’ says that ''Feste is disguised both in costume and in behavior . . . .His disguise, like Viola's, is a kind of protection; he is an allowed fool and may speak frankly what other men, in other disguises, must say only to themselves.'' And supports the idea that he is an licenced fool and is allowed to ‘speak frankly’ to anyone, he Downer suggests that there are other men in disguises however although they are in disguise even they cannot express the whole truth only Feste can.
Feste outwits the higher class characters in this play and therefore he could appear more intelligent than them as he has the knowledge and wit to do so, for example he undermines Olivia with his wit in Act 1 Scene 5, “Feste: I think his soul is in hell, Madonna. Olivia: I know his soul is in heaven, fool. Feste: The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for you brother's soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen”.
The point Feste is trying to make is that Olivia is a true fool as she is mourning for her brother who is in heaven and not hell. The form of “Twelfth Night” includes many puns and this is used to make Feste appear wise, in this instance he uses a clever pun to make his point as Feste does throughout the play, sometimes to make people laugh to earn money. This also shows that Feste thinks about things the way many people do not, most people would mourn a loved one who they hope is in heaven. Shakespeare has Feste urge the audience to think about this notion and reflect upon it. However some may argue that Feste is being insensitive, not caring about upsetting Olivia as her brother has just died and she wants time to mourn. This could be an argument that Feste is not very wise or he may have thought about Olivia’s emotional state before proving his point.
Feste counsels Olivia throughout the play, she often comes to Feste for his advice, this suggests that she thinks of him as being wise as she is seen to have good judgement as she is a high class character.
“Olivia: What's a drunken man like, fool?
Feste: Like a drowned man, a fool, and a madman: one draught above heat makes him a fool; the second mads him; and a third drowns...
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