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Feste is a jester in the Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night or: What You Will. He is attached to the household of the Countess Olivia. Apparently he has been there for quite a while, as he was a "fool that the Lady Olivia's father took much delight in" (2.4). Although Olivia's father just died within the last year, it is possible that Feste approaches or has reached middle age, though he still has the wit to carry off good fooling as he needs to, and the voice to sing lustily or plangently as the occasion demands. Not only that, he seems to leave Olivia's house and return at his pleasure, rather too freely for a servant. (At the very least he is doing some free-lance entertaining over at the house of Duke Orsino (2.4).) His peripatetic habits get him into trouble with Lady Olivia: when we first see him (1.5), he must talk his way out of being turned out — a grim fate in those days — for being absent, as it were, without leave. He succeeds, and once back in his lady's good graces, he weaves in and out of the action with the sort of impunity that was reserved for a person nobody took seriously. He is referred to by name only once during the play, in answer to an inquiry by Orsino of who sang a song that he heard the previous evening. Curio responds "Feste, the jester, my lord; a fool that the lady Olivia's father took much delight in. He is about the house" (2.4). Throughout the rest of the play, he is addressed only as "Fool".

Contents

The role and nature of the fool

However, despite Feste's playful and outwardly frivolous nature, we see at certain times during the play that he is very capable of taking revenge upon those with whom he is not on good terms. Furthermore he has a darker and mysterious side to him. Malvolio's insulting account to Olivia of Feste's defeat in a battle of wits by a village idiot infuriates Feste and he assists with Maria's and Sir Toby Belch's plot of revenge against the arrogant steward. Feste's opportunity for revenge comes in his confrontation with Malvolio at the end of the play: he disguises himself as a priest and confuses Malvolio even further, although he does enable Malvolio to get out of his sorry state.

It is also possible to see Feste as a slightly tragic character, with an underlying sadness to him. At the end of the play, he sings the famous line, "The rain it raineth every day," - suggesting that every day brings some kind of misery - a somewhat melancholy line for a clown.

Performances

There are instances in the play where we believe Feste to be an almost omniscient presence. Some critics have suggested that there are moments where it seems Feste knows more about Viola/Cesario's disguise than he lets on and certain stage and film adaptations have taken this approach with their portrayal of the fool.

A good example is in Trevor Nunn's film adaptation, in which Ben Kingsley is constantly present in the scenes that reveal the plot — in fact he is the narrator at the start of the film, describing the shipwreck and the separation of the twins. He is then shown watching Viola arrive in Illyria and the film ends with him watching the various supporting players leave Olivia's estate. When Viola removes her "Cesario" disguise he gives her a golden necklace which she discarded when first shipwrecked on Illyria's shores.

Kingsley's Feste dresses in old clothes and appears to be a wanderer of no fixed abode, though he slips in and out of Olivia's estate at his will. He plays a number of musical instruments and, like most of the cast, displays a mixture of comedy and pathos.

Songs

Feste, as a fool, has a repertoire of songs:

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O Mistress Mine

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear! Your truelove's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting.
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter.
Present mirth hath present laughter.
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

Come Away, Death

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fie away, fie away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, when my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

The Rain it Raineth Every Day

When that I was and a little tiny boy
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still 'had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world began,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

I Am Gone, Sir

I am gone, sir.
And anon, sir,
I'll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain.
Who with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries "Ah ha" to the devil.
Like a mad lad,
"Pare thy nails, dad."
Adieu, good man devil.

In Other Works

Feste (now Theopolis) is the main character in Alan Gordon's "Fools Guild" mystery series.

References

Twelfth Night, Elizabeth Story Donno, ed. 1985 (w/additional material, 2003). (New Cambridge Shakespeare)


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