In my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, Twelfth Night, I am drawn to Feste’s character. He brings a level of darkness to a generally cheerful play that celebrates misrule and folly. I enjoy the fact that the very figure of misrule, the fool, is not a typically comic character. Instead, he is one of the few characters that seems serious, presenting a sobering world-view amidst the revelry in Twelfth Night.
Feste’s songs that are peppered throughout the play appear to be happy and add a festive musicality to the action. However, when one looks closer at the lyrics they appear to be deeply melancholic. Feste’s final song stands out to me the most as it features the lyric “the rain it raineth every day” (5.1.379). It is interesting how in a play where everyone is acting foolish, the only licensed fool recognises everything will revert back to normality after the Twelfth Night festival, and thus after the events of the play. The rain will continue “every day”, and is a reminder of Feste’s unchanging position. Whilst other characters are in constant flux, moving forward and progressing, Feste is the only character who remains unaffected by the events of the play. He is a figure of stability and serves to remind the audience that despite the festivities in the play, normal life continues after; rain and all.
The rain, too, is a symbol of sorrow and is reflective of the darker aspects of the play. It seems that through life, even when times seem happy on the surface, there will always be hardships that follow. For example, the audience is encouraged to side with characters such as Maria, Toby, and Andrew as they trick and subsequently imprison Malvolio. However, much like the way that the lyricism of Feste’s song masks its melancholic undertones, the playfulness of the more likeable characters masks the truly deplorable way that they treat Malvolio.
His perceptive ability stems from being removed from the class structure within the play, and yet still being confined to it. He is separate from the power struggles and main events of the play, able to comment on the characters as an outsider with insider knowledge. He seems free of boundaries, and yet he is confined to servitude. Despite the illusion of freedom, one must remember that at the heart of his role he is in fact a member of the lower class that is mocked and made to perform foolishly for the entertainment of the ruling class in order to make a living.
When looking at Feste in such a way, his ending in Act 5 Scene 1 should be taken into consideration. The stage directions bid farewell to all but Feste, and he is left to sing his closing song. As mentioned before, this song, despite the happy ending, seems tinged with melancholy, repeating the two lines “With hey ho the wind and the rain” and “The rain it raineth every day”. The final line of the song breaks this repetition and states “and we’ll strive to please you every day.” It seems that Feste’s character is revealing a discontent at his social standing role of pleasing others every day, as he seems to gain no pleasure for himself, being the only character unpaired and left on stage. I suppose, at least, that it is a small reconciliation that he is awarded the freedom to express himself in ways that Malvolio cannot.
The dark undercurrents of such a cheerful play are what make it so interesting. It is enjoyable to watch but clear to me that those that do not conform to the overarching values and ideologies of the ruling class are mocked and alienated like Malvolio, or completely “other” like Feste.
Side note: I’ll be travelling to the USA in the next few days, so expect some travel posts coming up!