Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming
That can sing both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journey’s 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.
Feste, the amusing clown, plays a most important part in the play. He is able to take on several roles, and is indeed “for all waters”; from serious to comic, learned to nonsensical, the wit or the practical joker; just as the occasion seems to suggest. Because he is a part of both the main and sub plot, Feste is the character, who links both parts of the play together, making Twelfth Night a whole.
The clown contributes towards the humorous entertainment of this play through his numerous puns and jokes. He is a source of laughter, not because we are humored by his “foolery”; for he proves to be no fool at all; but rather because he amuses us with his brilliant wit. Having mastered the art of jesting, Feste is sensitive of his profession, always aware of the circumstances he is in and the appropriateness of this folly.
Feste is able to prevent any delusions of grandeur by a reminder that foolishness is a condition common to all mankind whether one is king or servant. It is Malvolio’s vanity that convinces Feste to take part in the joke played on the steward. As “Sir Topas”, and Malvolio’s `prosecutor` Feste attempted to help Malvolio realize that there was “no darkness but ignorance”.
With Feste’s help, we are able to attain a better understanding of the other characters in the play- revealing their true personalities, which are sometimes unseen, not only by us, the audience, but also by the characters themselves. He shows Olivia how unrealistic and excessive her mourning for her brother’s death has been, he tells Orsino how foolish he is for languishing in a mood of love-sick melancholy for Olivia and points out how mercurial his personality is, and he makes a fool out of the pompous Malvolio. “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun- it shines everywhere” says Feste.
Feste, however, never takes sides with any of the characters, and in this way, he becomes a kind of commentator for the play. He is able to examine the characters, revealing the bare truth about them and he unites the main and sub-plot in a similar way. In his songs, Feste is ever aware of the physical existence of life, death, and love, and his music often brings a touch of reality and solemnity to the play.
Thus, we see that the function of the fool is both serious and comic. It is a paradox aptly summed up by Viola when she says of Feste: “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool”.