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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Multi-Color Graphics on Shakespearean Themes

"FESTE: TWELFTH NIGHT"
Description of Wood-cut 13 colors 10" x 14"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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Feste, like Touchstone is listed as a 'clown', but their characteristics clearly identify them as fools. There is a difference in the social roles of fools and clowns. Even in the realm of Fools, there are special designations: i.e. where Touchstone is a 'court fool', Feste is a 'domestic fool', a servant in the household of the Countess Olivia, in which job he exercises his foolery and practical jokes, as well as his wit and caustic remarks.

It is Viola who says of him:
"This fellow is wise enough to play the fool".  (III.i.)
He wears the long motley coat of fools, though the collar and crest on his sleeve suggest the livery of a noble house.

Malvolio, the straight-laced steward, as the butt of a cruel joke, has been imprisoned in an under-stair closet; a supposed cure for madness. Feste responds to his complaint of darkness and request for light with:
"Madman, thou errest,
I say there is no darkness but ignorance."
     (IV.ii.)
Thus the Fool becomes the bringer of light. He holds aloft the candle of wisdom that illuminates the dark and secret things hidden behind closet doors. The radiance also highlights the scroll, symbol of knowledge, and the winding stairs behind him, associated with various levels of consciousness.

To the right is a dark and dormant tree silhouetted against a full moon, a lunar phenomenon long conjugated with madness. Yet the luminosity suggests enlightenment', as the roots finger out to. a patch of green, preparing to provision the white veins of the trunk and limbs as they reach up to embrace a balcony with four arched windows: the basic quadernity of the human psyche: Male-Female / Good-Evil.

It is in the experience of self-knowledge that these components, when they are in conflict, can be brought into some kind of reconciliation. The first step is to accede to Folly (as Malvolio has done), who in this case goes by the name of Feste, the custodian of light and learning.

From his belt hangs a ring of keys, to fit the question mark keyhole. His body is bent forward in movement; his right foot taking the first step from darkness to light.

A similar attribute is ascribed to the Fool in the classic Tarot deck. He too signifies the first step in the 32 Paths of Wisdom, according to the ancient Kaballah.

It is cause enough to celebrate, and in this celebration Feste is the Torchbearer. "Feste" is the prefix for "festive" and festive indeed is the Holiday of "Twelfth Night".


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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