Discuss the characterization of Feste from Twelfth Night using dialogue, actions and what other characters say about him.
Also include Feste's function in the play.
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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.
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 very much darker and more 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.
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