Ilyria was know to Shakespeare and his contemporaries as the actual region off the coast of the Adriatic Sea in what is today Albania. As such, it was a distant land with which the English of the time had very little contact, and therefore a generically exotic setting for a play replete with romance and intrigue, as well as one that offered the preconditions for a shipwreck. A modern audience might find a comparison with Disneyland. A fool can be defined in many ways according to the Collins English Dictionary.
The word could mean ‘ a person lacking in sense and judgement’, ‘a person made to appear ridiculous’, ‘one who professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester or clown’ or someone ‘unwise, silly and absurd. ‘ Shakespeare’s fools cover the broad spectrum of these definitions but the most obvious at first glance is Feste who is defined as the professional fool. Malvolio, Viola, Olivia, the knights â€“ Sir Toby and Sir Andrew also all fit the definitions of a fool and are characters which Shakespeare presents purposely to create the chaotic romantic comedy.
It is evident from the name of the character, Malvolio, that Shakespeare intended him to be disliked by the other characters in the play and the audience as ‘mal’ in French means bad according to the Collins English Dictionary ‘mal-‘ is a combining form for anything that is bad eg. malaria . Malvolio in the Renaissance film directed by Trevor Nunn is dressed in a black suit and a black cloak which stresses the idea that Malvolio is a Puritan. It is likely that the characters in the play and the audience recognise this as for example Andrew Aguecheek says suitor to Olivia ‘If I thought he was a puritan I would beat him for it.
Puritans were a very fanatical group who believed for example that the theatre was a wicked place and that people should only meet together in church. At the time of the play was written Puritan movements were very active and were campaigning for the theatre to be closed. Understandably, Shakespeare did not like the Puritans because of this threat as he would be out of work and would not be able to express his art to people. Consequently, Shakespeare uses the character Malvolio as a device to show his hatred for Puritans and to make a mockery of them in front of a theatre going anti puritan audience.
Through Malvolio’s speech and behaviour Shakespeare crafts an unlikeable character from the start, for example he is offensive to Feste, criticising him as a ‘barren rascal’ who would be outwitted by an ordinary fool’ and is foolishly tactless saying ‘I take theses wise men, that crow so at these set of kind of fools,no better than fools zanies’ which is unwisely insulting Olivia’s father and her also. In Act 2 Scene 2 we see Malvolio as lying, arrogant and self centred as he throws down the ring that Olivia has given him at Cesario’s feet saying ‘ If it be worth stooping for,there it lies, in your eye; if not , be it his that finds it. , he is treating Cesario as if he is above him when he also is just a servant and the dramatic irony of it is that in her true identity Viola is above him. . He is obviously full of his self-importance and thinks he has the authority to change his orders from Olivia to what he thinks best as he incorrectly passes on the message that Cesario ‘ should not be never so hardy to come again in his affairs, unless it to be report your Lords taking of this. ‘ whereas infact Olivia wants him to ‘come this way to-morrow.
A Shakespearean audience would have been appalled with this behaviour from a servant and so Malvolio is a very emotive character. Malvolio’s tone of voice is portrayed to be pompous and snivelling by the Andrew Hawforth from the Renaissance film production which I studied to help with this essay. I think this is appropriate for the play from the way Malvolio treats others and the way in which he acts. The whole charade of Act 2 Scene 5 and Act 3 Scene 4 intensifies the purpose Malvolio is playing in Shakespeare’s desire to mock Puritans and show his hatred of them.
Malvolio has dreams of grandeur and in Act 2 Scene 5 Shakespeare purposely makes a mockery out of the character by having him foolishly speaking aloud his humorous but unexpected inner thoughts. To contribute to the foolishness of his words as a director I would want Malvolio over dramatically acting out actions to his daydream for example on the line ‘Calling my officers about me’, I would want him to be waving his arms about in a pompous manner and on the lines ‘I extend my hand to him thusâ€¦.. egard of control’ to be going through the actions of what he is saying This scene presents a dramatic irony as the audience knows that the tricksters are watching which Malvolio on stage does not. This dramatic irony is present also in Act 2 Scene 5 as the audience knows about the letter trick when Olivia does not. In both these instances the tricksters are present who also know exactly what is going on know therefore this is device forcing the audience onto a par with the tricksters so they are subconsciously being manipulated by Shakespeare to mock Malvolio.
Both scenes are highly comical because of the unprecedented behaviour of Malvolio in his actions and words which lead to the conclusion that he is a fascist and a hypocritical fool as he loses all his prime and proper inhabitants because of his excitement in being desired by a woman. Malvolio gets very excited when he sees the letter on the ground in his ‘lady’s hand’ and says ‘these be her very c’s, her u’s and her t’s. ‘ This statement is confusing as these letters do not correspond with anything in the inscription and could be put down to the Shakespeare’s carelessness, however why does Sir Andrew underline it after if this is so?
According to an assumption by Prof. G. B. Harrison ‘Malvolio is unconsciously guilty of a bawdy jest eg. ‘cut’ meaning the female pudendum genitals. Malvolio in Act 3 Scene 4 continues ironically to make sexual references, he is desperate ‘to bed’ with Olivia and misunderstands her in his excitement. Throughout the play he seems to have created a rather sad and somber exterior, in the film production he dresses in black and carries an expressionless face, however after reading the request of a smile he does not seem perturbed to do so I will smile.
As a director after this line I would have Malvolio with a perfect smile on his face as if he has frequently practised which would make him seem even more as a joke. He is ridiculously stupid to wear the yellow cross gartered stockings and the outfit is a humorous dramatic device to make the audience laugh as after all the play is a comedy. Elizabethan and contemporary audiences alike would find a man’s legs in cross-gatered stockings extremely funny because of the tendency for men to have funny shaped legs.
I think this joke would appeal to a contemporary audience also, because of who the character is which even in a modern world can be associated with eg. the miserable manager. However, the contemporary audience may not find the added comedy of a Puritan acting in this way amusing as that bares relevance to the time of Shakespeare. The Renaissance video provides further comedy by Malvolio putting on a toupe before visiting Olivia which I think is an excellent idea as it perfectly fits in with the context of the play.
It increases the mockery of Malvolio as a puritan as by covering his bald patch he is being vain which Puritans are not ment to be. The mockery of Malvolio carries on in Act 3 Scene 4 as he is thought mad by Olivia ‘this is very midsummer madness’ and comically increasingly gets desperate with confusion repeating the words of the letter as well as if he as read it over and over again. Feste is the character who ‘professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others, a jester or clown. ‘ The job of a fool is to entertain the court. He traditionally would be a crazy man quite often with a physical handicap like being a dwarf.
Feste , is a family fool but not traditional in the respects that he is intelligent, well spoken and dressed in ragged, sombre clothing instead of the garish stripped costumes with hats with bells on as an outward sign to the audience that he is not an ordinary fool. Feste is an ‘allowed fool which means he can say what he likes as long as it amuses. The very best fools were in fact very powerful politicians and could guide their masters by telling them the truth as long as they did it wittily for example relevance today are comedians like Rory Bremner.
Feste is indeed ‘a very best fool’ and has the upper hand on the characters in the play like Maria, Olivia, the knights and Malvolio. . It is evident from Act 1 Scene 5 that Feste is certainly not a fool eg. ‘unwise, silly or absurd’ but highly intelligent, traditionally as a fool having a highly skilful way with words when he engages in quick fire exchanges with Maria who also proves herself to be intelligent as she talks on a par with Feste making him justify his fools and is sarcastically witty with the retort ‘is not that as good as hanging to you? ‘, however Feste still manages to have the upper hand. Maria says to him ‘my lady will hang thee for thy absence’ but his quick, witty reply is ‘let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colours’. He continues to explain the method behind his thoughts retorting to Maria that ‘He shall see none to fear. ‘
This ‘lenten answer’ is not nonsense, as initially I supposed as unless he was ‘well hanged’, the criminal in this period had only too much cause to ‘fear colours’, since the highly skilful hangman would delight spectators by the cutting the halter so swiftly after hanging him that he would live to see the whole scaffold red with his own blood eg. Edward Jennings executed Dec 10, 1592 was not ‘well hanged’ and lived to see the hangman cutting out his heart. This reference would obviously bare more relevance to an Elizabethan audience than a contemporary one because of background. In Act 1 Scene 5 Feste outwits Olivia very ‘ dextrously’ by being brave enough to challenge her to prove that she is a fool.
He produces his argument using a variety of techniques for example he uses mock-logical arguments with reasoning that seems nonsense eg. for give the dry fool drink then is the fool no dry’, and conveys his obvious intellect by using latin quotations eg. ‘cucullus non facit monachum’ the hood does not make the monk reminding Olivia just because he has the title fool does not make him oneand the audience Shakespeares ongoing theme not to judge by outward appearances. He tells her brother’s in ‘hell’ and when she angrily denies it he cleverly proves her a fool by saying ‘The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heavenâ€¦.. Take away the fool gentlemen. Feste also seems to manipulate Olivia for his own purposes.
He knows to get full ‘brownie points’ he must be flattering and polite towards her as even though there is ‘no slander in an allowed fool,’ he still must tread carefully as he is discerning enough to know that he is still the servant. For example in spite of Maria’s announcement ‘here comes my lady’ Feste carries on to talk to himself in a soliloquy while the sudden ‘God Bless thee, lady! ‘ implies that he wants Olivia to think that he is surprised by her presence. He does this because he knows Olivia will be displeased with him for spending too much time at Orcenio’s court and tries to soften her annoyance by fooling out loud, talking to himself as if not aware of anyone’s presence so Olivia will not be aware of his conscious effort to win her over again. Also, even though he is calling Olivia a fool, he is wisely treading very carefully by calling her the flattering name’ good madonna’ and ‘give me leave to prove you a fool. ‘ In addition to Olivia Feste also fools for the knights Sir Andrew and Sir Toby .
Again his intelligence is evident as he adjusts his fooling to the people he is with as he jokes with them as if he too is drunk eg singing. However, even in his apparently foolish behaviour Feste has his wits about him and manipulates the character Sir Toby in his fooling. He says to Toby in the song ‘O no no no no, you dare not’, adding an extra no to the ballad so it is ‘out o’tune’. This is a pun as it could be taken in two ways, as a challenge or as a warning, in the production of Twelfth Night Ben Kingsely plays Feste raises his voice at the end, which suggests this is interpreting the pun as a question.
However, Feste is not always a pleasant character and like many of the other characters in the play he thrives on taunting Malvolio. In Act 1 Scene 5 Feste once again seems to know exactly what ‘buttons to press’ to wind up a character for example, he retorts to Malvolio’s insults that Sir Toby ‘will not pass his word for two pence that you are fool’. He has annoyed Malvolio greatly by mentioning Sir Toby who he distinctly does not like forcing him to become ‘a person made to appear ridiculous. Another occasion of Feste’s unpleasant treatment to Malvolio is when he pretends to be Sir Topaz when Malvolio is locked up in the dark room. As this character he cruelly taunts Malvolio by saying he is possessed by the devil ‘Out, hyperbolical fiend ‘ and trying to make him go mad as he describes the room he is in with ‘large bays windows transparent as barricades’, which is description of an modern Elizabethan house with the latest devices for letting in the maximum amount of daylight.
In conclusion on the character, it is evident, Feste knows everything that is going on in the play. In the Renasscience video production of the director Trevor Nunn shows that Feste knows about Viola as Cesario, Feste knows about the trick and he has also been present at Orcenio’s court so he knows what is going on there too. However, even though when the trick was being plotted he was present he was very passive as if he is watching the play take its course. Feste’s character is created so Shakespeare has a way into the play.
This is why Feste appears to know everything and be controlling the course of events as he is Shakespeare in disguise. He knows how to manipulate the characters well because Shakespeare speaks as a second body through Feste and Shakespeare as the creator of the characters knows all about them. This is likely why Feste is so cruel to Malvolio as Shakespeare is speaking through him. It is interesting to see that Feste ends the play with a solemn song, the last line is ‘And we’ll strive to please you every day. This is the first time Feste has spoken directly to the audience in narrator form. It could be interpreted as Feste telling the audience that fools will try ‘to please’ them ‘every day’ but likewise it could be Shakespeare conveying to the audience that he will ‘strive’ to please them everyday in respect to how much it ‘raineth’ with the threat of the Puritans. Viola is a fool of Twelfth Night also. Like so may other plays such as Comedy of Errors and Midsummer Nights Dream Viola has a twin which bears relevance to Shakespeare having boy and girl twins called Hamnet and Judith.
Viola and Sebastian are separated which also bears relevance to the fact that Hamnet and Judith are when Hamnet dies in 1596, the play was written four years later. Viola arguably is an ‘unwise’ fool as she dresses up as a boy without thinking of repercussions such as the event of female attention. The gender muddle happens in another two of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet and Henry 1V. There were no decent females available to act therefore all female parts were played by young boys. However, it was hard to get a boy acting a believable woman therefore female character’vs dress up as males to combat the problem.
Perhaps the reason for Shakespeare doing this was to create good excuse for male actors playing the female to act the correct sex. Viola is foolish not to sense the attraction Olivia has for her as the signals from as early as the first meeting seem clear – Olivia hints to her she would like her to come again eg. ‘unless perchance you come to me again’, she unveils her ‘curtain’ to show her ‘the picture ‘ , this is especially shocking because of her mourning and she is conscious of how she looks to Viola – ‘Is’t not well done? , which is strong sign of the attraction. In addition, when she talks to Viola she desires to be alone eg. Give us this place alone’ and ‘Let the garden door be shut, and leave me to my hearingâ€¦’ . On the other hand Viola could been seen as being misjudged being called a fool as after all she disguised herself as a man to protect herself from the harm she would come to as a woman. It could also be said that a woman would not find it likely that she would be perceived as attractive by other women in disguise as a man so the problem naturally would not have arisen. Viola as a woman was not able to pick up the signals from Olivia properly that were being directed as if to a man..
Duke Orsino is evidently a very foolish character as from the outset of the play the audience is directed to the fickleness of his moods. For example, when he first orders music to accompany reverie over Olivia â€“ ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ but then suddenly commands it to be stopped â€“ ‘no-more! ‘ Although seemingly steadfast in his suit for Olivia in the first scene, as the play unravels it appears that Orsino is not truly in love with Olivia but in love with his role as an irrational lover immersed in a romantic reverie.
As he seems to revel in long poetic like prose full of romantic imagery eg. the lamb that I doth love of his love for Olivia . This is indeed foolish, as Orcenio does not seem to know his own emotions and intentions. Orsino could also be called foolish to not realise Viola’s intentions towards him as she does make it obvious on some occasions for example when she says she is in love and Orsino inquires ‘What kind of woman is’t’ and she replies ‘Of your complextion’ and continues to say ‘she’ is of his years too.
In the video production Viola played by Imogen Stubbs makes it quite obvious from the way she looks at Orsino that she is in love with him yet he is man not looking for these kind of signals from another so therefore maybe he is not a fool in this respect. Additionally Maria and Toby are also fools as perceptive Feste suggests there is something between Maria and Toby but they are too foolish to act upon it eg. Maria tells Feste ‘ no more of that. Toby obviously holds some affection for Maria as he names her ‘Penthesila Queen of the Amazons half in admiration and half in jest at Maria’s diminutive size. There are certain hurdles which are barriers for them getting together for example Sir Toby’s foolishness in the respects that he is ‘a person who lacks sense or judgement’ and is ‘unwise, silly and absurd’ due to his permanent drunkenness with the other knight, Sir Andrew Aguecheek as observed by Olivia he is ‘half drunk’ all of the time. Both are foolish to feel the social difference is a barrier because in true love barriers can be over come.
Sir Toby combined with Sir Andrew make a very funny comic duo and their humorous antics together are still funny for a contemporary audience as they echo a comedy duo were one bounces off the other in the sketch. The charade of the sword-fight is reflective of a comedy sketch of today and in the play is a good comical dramatic device to get the audience laughing. It is very comical when Sir Toby sets up Viola and Sir Andrew saying to each how much ‘ a devil’ fighter each one is when Viola does not want to fight and Sir Andrew is wimpish.
In Elizabethan times women did not fight and it is humorous, particularly to a Elizabethan audience that Sir Andrew is terrified of a girl. The mix-up between Viola and Sebastian is also highly comical and really shows â€“ up the characters Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and especially Olivia for not recognising a person who she proclaims love. In the conclusion of Twelfth Night every one is happily paired like the madness of the festival time of Christmas ends the madness of the mix-ups and confusion is resolved which is reminiscent of the theme that the path to find true love is never simple and many barriers arise.
However Malvolio is a character who does not get paired off but finishes with saying ‘ I will be reveng’d on the whole pack of you,’ which ironically 40 years later after the time of the writing of the play in the English Civil War the puritans, lead by Oliver Cromwell triumphed over the royalists with Charles 1st. Shakespeare would also not want Malvolio finding love as a Puritan. However Malvolio is a complicated character as even though is arrogant and a kill-joy maybe he did not deserve the long â€“ drawn out cruel treatment that he received from Maria, Sir Toby and Feste .
From a contemporary audience’s point of view, consequently, Malvolio earns both derision and sympathy for the way he is treated, especially from the mean Feste. However, this probably would not be so from a theatre loving Shakespearean audience who have just watched an excellent play which the Puritans would want to ban therefore they would not feel sympathies for a Puritan. In reflection Shakespeare has cleverly presented the fools in the play for many purposes which collectively is to bring humour and wit to the play who’s comedy is timeless.