The role of Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

One of the integral parts of any story is the roles in which a character fulfills. And how the character is written into the role can really make them stand out from the others and be more likeable or memorable. This essay will be a discussion of the role that Feste plays in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. A role can be defined as the characteristics and expected social behaviors that make up a character in a story. Despite the fact that Feste is portrayed in the play as a Fool, he is often seen as the philosopher in the story.

Being put in the position of a fool can often benit Feste’s role in the play, as he can speak more freely without any Major consequences directed towards him. Moreover, Twelfth night is a romantic comedy about two twins that were separated by a shipwreck. The sister, Viola, was rescued and brought to the shore of Illyria, where she starts to dress as a man.

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This leads to unexpected love triangles and gender confusion between the characters for comedic effect. In this play Feste Plays 3 important roles in the play.

That of the Philosopher, the Jester and the friend. Although Feste is portrayed as a fool in the play, he still can produce words of wisdom for both the characters and the audience. Often he exposes others for the fools that they are. Shakespeare writes “‘Good Madonna, why mournest thou?’ ‘Good fool for my brother’s death.’ ‘I think his soul is in hell, Madonna.

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’ ‘I know his soul is in heaven, fool.’ ‘The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.’ ‘Take away the fool, gentlemen” (I.V.). Proving to the audience that Olivia is more of a fool than she realizes or likes to admit. In addition to this irony, Feste also is able to expose the core issues of many character conflicts and provide the knowledge that leads to the many issues to the characters’ situations to both the audience and the characters themselves. For example, at the end of his fool service for Duke Orsino, Feste says to Orsino “Now, the melancholy god protect thee…for thy mind is a very opal.

I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything and their intent everywhere; for that’s it that always makes a good voyage of nothing…” (II.IV.). Feste pointing this out to Orsino shows him how much of a fool Orsino is. With that being said, it also points out another important role of Feste in the play. Feste has the advantage of being able to be heard by everyone in the play, regardless of any social class boundaries that may lie in the way with other people. Feste is a man of the higher class, but not one of loyalty. Being is the position that he is in allows him to have some sort of impact on the lives of everyone in the play. Therefore generating a unique perspective on his character. One example of this advantage is Feste speaking to Olivia for the first time.

Shakespere puts it like this, “‘Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?’ ‘No indeed, sir; the Lady Olivia has no folly: she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to herrings; the husbands the bigger: I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words…’ ‘This fellow is wise enough to play the fool; And to do that well craves a kind of wit…’” (III.I.). As you can see, there are many examples of which Feste plays the role of a philosopher that acts as a source for wisdom and advice for many characters throughout the play.

However, this isn’t the only role in which Feste plays in the story. He also plays the most obvious role of the Jester. With his position of Jester, he is often able to expose certain truths that the audience wouldn’t have known otherwise. He also uses his position to expose those that love is not what it seems on the surface. And that those who fall in love during the play are more fools themselves rather than him. In the play Feste sings a song to Sir Toby (Olivia’s uncle). The song was supposed to be about everlasting love, but is delivered in a way that suggests the opposite.

Shakespere writes,“‘Would you have a love-song, or a song of good life?’ ‘A love-song, a love-song’ ‘O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming… Journey ends in lovers meeting… What is love? Tis not hereafter… what’s to come is still unsure… Youth’s a stuff will not endure’” (II.III.). Feste exposing young love as lasting not as long as people would like to admit, shows the audience the underlying truths of various characters in the play.

Feste as a paid jester also has the advantage of staying neutral in most conflicts. As well as not feeling as though he had to pick sides with different characters throughout the play. With this in mind, he doesn’t really have any sort of filter when talking to those of a higher social status then him. An example of this is with Olivia. Although Olivia is considered loyalty, he doesn’t hold back to tell Olivia that her uncle is a mad drunk. Shakespere writes,“‘Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and peo-ple dislike it.’ ‘Thou hast spoke for us, Madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool; whose skull Jove cram with brains—here he comes… thy kin has a most weak pia mater.’ ‘What’s a drunken man like, fool?’ ‘Like a drowned man, a fool, and a, mad man: one draught above heat makes him a fool; the second mads him; and a third drowns him’” (I.V.). Being a fool truly allows him to be brutally honest and sarcastic in his songs and conversations. But that doesn’t stop him from being friends with the characters he interacts with.

Although Feste may just seem like a fool for Olivia, he feels as if he is more than just a joke. He is Olivia’s friend and cares for her in such troubling times. He is surprised that Olivia is still mourning for the loss of her brother. He is also surprised why Olivia doesn’t want to marry anyone, or even talk to anybody for Seven years. The friendship also proves the other way around. Shakspere writes, “‘Go to, you’re a dry fool; I’ll no more of you: besides you grow dishonest…’ ‘Two faults, Madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend: for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry: bid the dishonest man mend himself: if he mend he is no longer dishonest… sin that amends is but patched with virtue… As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s flower. The lady bade take away the fool; therefore, I say again, take her away’” (I.V.).

Feste and Olivia’s friendship is apparent throughout the play. However, there is another friendly relationship that seems apparent throughout the play is that of Maria and Sir Toby. Feste tries to convince Maria that Sir Toby is the man for her, if he wasn’t such a mad drunk. Which can also be considered an indirect compliment to Maria. Feste is also helpful and resourceful to both Maria and Toby. when asked to help prank malvolio, he gladly helps. Shakespere writes, “‘Nay, I prithee, put on this gown and this beard; make him believe thou art Sir Topas the curate: do it quickly…’ ‘Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble myself in’t; and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such gown…’” (IV.II.). This has been a discussion of the role of Feste in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. After all of this, Feste is established as a well written, well rounded character that provides wisdom, comedy and a sense of friendship. Despite being portrayed as just a paid Jester.

Works Cited

  • Twelfth Night: Entire Play​,

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The role of Feste in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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