Brilliant Folly: The Role Of Feste

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 the song represents what will become of his indulgence for her. For Viola, the song\'s "fair cruel maid" (2.4.61) is Orsino, and the song represents how her unreturned longing for him is killing her. Through the words of Feste\'s songs, Shakespeare tries to indirectly explain the reality of his intricate plotline and emotions of the characters.
During many scenes, Feste can also be found making a humorous, yet meaningful joke. To those around him, the fool\'s comedic ways are amusing for a short time, but soon forgotten. Upon closer inspection of his words, the reader can see Feste\'s honest assessment of character shine through. For example, while jeering back and forth with Malvolio, Feste states, "Sir Toby will be sworn / that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for / twopence that you are no fool" (1.5.77-79). In this proclamation, Feste shows his perceptions of both Toby and Malvolio. He believes that Toby is not a wise man due to the fact that, although the fool is clearly intelligent, Toby does not realize just how crafty Feste truly is. However, Malvolio\'s self-deception is so obviously false that even one such as Toby, who cannot even realize Feste\'s ingenuity, can see through it. Later, while he is fooling around with Toby and Andrew, Feste laughs, "Did you ever see the / picture of "We Three"?" (2.3.16-17). This comparison between the three characters in the scene and the famous painting of "We Three," a picture portraying only two fools, therefore implying the viewer to be a third fool, shows that Feste portrays both Sir Toby and Andrew to be fools, along with himself as the third. One last illustration of Feste\'s whimsical messages can be found while he is speaking to Sebastian. In this instance, the fool reveals one of the play\'s ongoing themes by stating, "No, I do not know you, nor your name is not Master Cesario, Nothing that is so is so" (4.1.5-9). To Sebastian, this statement was simply a sarcastic one, but to the reader, it expresses a very important theme that is present throughout the entire play: appearance versus reality. Feste\'s common, witty remarks show the reader many significant truths about life in Illyria,