Discuss the character of Feste in Twelfth Night with reference to his words/actions and others' opinions.

Quick answer:

Feste's character is established in the first scene by Maria's admonitions, his actions (absent himself) and dialogue with her. Later, it's reinforced by his banter with Olivia and Malvolio. His wit is used to judge others, as when he tells Olivia she has become a "dry fool" or when he says that Malvolio has been struck "sick of self-love." And his role as court jester gives him license to speak the truth through clowning.

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Viola comments that Feste is "wise enough to play the fool".

He was originally employed by Olivia's father and she has kept him on. Fools had a certain license to tell the truth. They could do this because they were fools and who would believe a fool? Others, of course, could see the truth of the fool's statements but usually the one the criticism was aimed at was oblivious to it.

There are different types of fools in Shakespeare. They could be clowns and buffoons, like Dogberry or Bottom or they could be witty and clever like Feste who is the forerunner of Lear's fool. These fools literally lived by their wits as does Feste.

In Olivia's household, Feste and by association, Sir Toby, represent the fading past. Malvolio, is another type of fool who represents the present. He is humorless. Shakespeare shows the battle between these men. In the end, neither wins.

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Feste (in some versions of the text he's called The Clown) serves the lady Olivia as her Fool.  In Shakespeare's day, a Fool was someone that a well-to-do person might keep around to amuse them with their wit.  And it is this "wit" that Shakespeare uses the character of Feste for in Twelfth Night.

The first time Feste appears on stage, he sets the tone for his witty observations of the other characters in the play.  His lady, Olivia, is in mourning for her brother.  Some might call her mourning extreme, since she has vowed to close herself off from human interaction for seven years.

Feste arrives on the scene (after having been absent for some time) to declare that he is not the "fool," but rather Olivia is -- and that he can prove it.  The upshot of his proof is that, if she believes that her brother has gone to Heaven (where everyone desires to ultimately end up), why in the world is she sad about that?  She should be happy.  So, she is a fool.

It is common for the Fools in Shakespeare's plays to stand outside the action, observing and commenting on the follies and tribulations of the other characters, but never becoming too involved in the circumstances that drive the plot.  And this can definitely be said about Feste.

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How is Feste characterized in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night?

As the play's court jester, Feste is characterized as both a witty and wise person. One of Feste's functions is to illustrate the merry, festive themes of Twelfth Night that are associated with the play's title. The play's title refers to the holiday celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas known as Epiphany. Hence, Feste's name is a derivative of the word festival and his jokes and witticisms are characteristic of the holiday.

However, more importantly, Feste also functions as the play's wise observer, and as a wise observer, he also illustrates the theme of foolish human nature. Literary critics have noted that because Feste does not get involved in any of the play's conflicts, he is able to remain the play's objective observer (eNotes, "Feste the Clown (Character Analysis"). One of the things he observes is the foolishness of the other characters. For example, he notes that Olivia is foolish for wasting her youth and beauty by prolonging her mourning over her brother, especially when she believes his soul to be in heaven, as we see in Feste's lines, "The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen" (I.v.64-65). He even rightly observes that Duke Orsino's love for Olivia is not really genuine and that Orsino actually will prove to be fickle, showing us just how foolish Orsino is for pining over Olivia. We see Feste call Orsino fickle when Feste declares, "[T]hy mind is a very opal" (II.iv.79-80). Since an opal is a stone that changes color easily, in likening Orsino's mind to an opal, Feste is calling Orsino's mind easily changeable, or fickle. Hence we see that as a court jester, Feste is characterized as being both witty and wise with the purpose of illustrating the theme of human folly.

One thing we know about Feste's characterization is that even though he plays the role of a fool, or court jester, he is actually one of the play's only sensible, intelligent, and perceptive characters--the only character who is actually not foolish.

We especially see Feste's wisdom and perception in the very first scene in which we meet him, Act 1, Scene 5. Here, when Olivia, angered by his long absence, declares, "Take the fool away," Feste wisely turns her own words against her, calling her the real fool. Feste's argument is that her prolonged mourning over her brother is foolish and a waste of her youth and beauty, especially because she believes her brother's soul to be "in heaven," as we see in his lines, "The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen" (I.v.64-65). Later, Feste even rightly observes Duke Orsino's love for Olivia to be just an illusion andwisely calls Orsino fickle, which predicts the ending of the play, as we see in Feste's lines to Orsino:

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

Since taffeta is a type of silk that changes color with the light and an opal is a type of stone that also changes colors easily, Feste is declaring Orsino to have a changeable, or fickle, mind, showing us that Feste rightly knows Orsino's proclaimed feelings of love for Olivia are not really as genuine as Orsino would like to believe they are. Since Feste wisely sees the foolishness of both Olivia and Orsino, we can say that Feste is characterized as the only character in the play who is not foolish.

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Describe the character of Feste the Clown in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare.

Feste is Olivia's court jester.  As is traditional, he is an exuberant and foolish character, often speaking in riddles and always wearing "motley" colored clothing.  However, as is typical of Shakespeare, this "fool" is a character who provides insights into human nature.  He is like the chorus of the old Greek plays who serves to illustrate themes and provide analysis for the main characters.  He is intelligent and knows the people of his house well.  He often makes sharp and biting comments about their behavior, categorizing them accurately if a bit harshly.  Removed from the central conflict, he is able to be unbiased.  Even though his comments can be considered rude, the characters don't think so.  It is his job as jester to be witty and humorous, and that is how they take him.  However, for the audience, he is a conscience that illuminates the motives and/or the inconsistencies of the characters.

A more complete analysis of this character is available by enotes.  The link is below.

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Describe Feste's character using what other characters say about him, his actions, and dialogue in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Feste, the Clown, has his character traits established by other characters comments, action and dialogue from his first entrance in Act I, scene v. He and Maria enter and she is admonishing him for being absent too long from Olivia's court. Maria's admonitions reveal that Feste relies upon his fool's wit to save him from trouble ("those
that are fools, let them use their talents"). This is emphasized later when Olivia approaches. He says as an aside:

Wit, an't be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; ...'Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.'

His action of absenting himself when it could risk Olivia's displeasure and lead to being dismissed from court shows he is willing to act out of independence and take risks:

MARIA: [My] lady will hang thee for thy absence.
Clown: Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this
world needs to fear no colours.

This is an important trait as it helps prepare for and explain his bad behavior in the vicious trick played against Malvolio.

The dialogues he engages in with Maria and Olivia show that he is quick to turn a phrase to double meaning, as when he answers Olivia's pronouncement that he is "a dry fool" (i.e., no longer amusing) with the words: "for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry." His dialogue with Malvolio shows that not everyone is a fan of the Clown's commission to deliver clownish wit, though Olivia defends the Clown's rights as court jester to reveal distasteful truth through foolery:

Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste
with a distempered appetite. To be generous,
guiltless and of free disposition, is to take those
things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets:
there is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do
nothing but rail;

In addition, Feste's dialogue with Olivia and Malvolio helps set up the upcoming wicked prank against the vain Malvolio who is struck "sick of self-love."

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