What is the difference between Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Touchstone in As You Like It?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Feste and Touchstone well fulfill their roles as court jesters. They are both witty and prove to be much more intelligent than the other characters. While both make intelligent, discerning statements as well as comical ones, a major difference between the two is that Feste's intelligent statements tend to point out other characters' vices while Touchstone's statements tend to bring out other characters' virtues.

The play Twelfth Night is a parody of events that were typical in Elizabethan times on the night that celebrates the twelfth day after Christmas, the moment the Three Wise Men arrived bearing gifts to baby Jesus, more specifically known as the Feast of Epiphany. Since Twelfth Night is a parody on the holiday, literary critics have taken note of the holiday traditions presented in Twelfth Night and likened Feste to the Lord of Misrule ("Feste the Clown (Character Analysis)"). A tradition going back to Ancient Roman festivities, the Lord of Misrule oversaw all of the festivities, especially the drunken, foolish behavior characteristic of the holiday. Like the Lord of Misrule, Feste also remains outside of the play's conflicts and comments on his observations of foolish behavior and of human nature in general. For example, Feste points out that Olivia is behaving foolishly for prolonging her mourning period. He also correctly asserts that Duke Orsino's love for Olivia is actually an illusion and that Orsino is actually fickle, as we see in his lines:

Now the melancholy god protect thee; and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind
is a very opal. (II.iv.78-80)

In pointing out the foolishness of the characters, Feste is also emphasizing their vices.

In contrast for Touchstone, literary critics have pointed out that his name actually refers to a "touchstone," which is a stone that could be used to tell if a metal was genuinely valuable ("Touchstone (Character Analysis)"). For example, because of the softness of the metals, if one rubbed either gold or silver against a touchstone, the metal would leave a mark on the touchstone, allowing one to know for sure that the metal was genuine. Similarly, Touchstone also reveals characters' attributes when he rubs them the wrong way. For example, Touchstone has a debate with Corin in Act 2, Scene 3 about whether or not courtly manners are really "good" manners. Essentially, there debate is an argument of relativity. Touchstone asserts that only good manners take place at court and to be without such manners is a "sin." In retrospect, Corin argues that courtly manners in the country would be absurd, even unsanitary, and that, likewise, country manners at court would be equally absurd. For example, he argues that to kiss a shepherds hands like they do at court would be unclean because shepherds milk their ewes. While Touchstone tries to counter Corin's arguments in this scene, ultimately what Touchstone shows is the arrogance of the court. He shows through Corin that not only are manners relative but that there is also life beyond the court. What a shepherd does in the country is just as necessary as what goes on at court; therefore, a shepherd's manners are also just as good or virtuous as courtly manners. Since Touchstone's arguments actually serve to promote the value of country manners above courtly manners, which is the exact opposite of what he intended to do, we see that Touchstone, like a "touchstone," reveals other characters' virtues.

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As You Like It

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