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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Watercolors of Shakespearean Characters 
~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~


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FESTE & VIOLA in TWELFTH NIGHT
by Hannah Tompkins
~~

Feste & Viola Watercolor by Hannah Tompkins

 

Feste is a domestic fool, which entitles him to more license in speaking his mind. He is the servant to one Countess Olivia, who does not fool him one bit with her sophisticated deceptions regarding the Duke's love suit. (Instead of an honest declaration, she stalls him with some pretense about mourning for seven years for a brother's death, but like Isabella, M/M, she suddenly rejects her vows when she falls in love and pursues the Duke's page who is really Viola in disguise.)

Feste is nobody's fool. He is a perceptive observer and commentator of those around him. No one, regardless of their rank, is exempted from his good-natured digs. When the Countess calls him a fool he says:
"I wear not motley in my brain."
and tosses the epitaph back at her, intimating as well that she is a hypocrite. As for her drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch, he declares!"
"One of thy kin has a most weak pia mater."
He pegs the stupid Sir Andrew as a knave: he tells the Duke himself "thy mind is a very opal." (changeable, fickle). He even exposes the treachery of words:
Feste: "..words are grown so false, I am loathe to prove reason with them."

Viola: "Art thou not the Lady Olivia's fool?

Feste: "No, indeed, sir, the Lady Olivia has no folly, she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words."

Viola: "I saw thee late at Count Orseno's."

Festes: "Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere. I would be sorry, sir, but the fool should be as oft with your master as with my mistress: I think I saw
your wisdom there."

Viola: "Nay, and thou pass upon me, I'11 no more with thee. Hold, there's expenses for thee."
(extracts from Act III sc.i)
Feste has met his match, for Viola will not take his criticisms of her meekly. At the same time. she expresses a healthy respect for his talent in sorting out the truth and his courage to speak it out.

She says of him:
"This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit;
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labor as a wise man's art:
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit."
(Act III sc.i)
In Feste's own words: "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."

As for Viola, she too is a truth-teller though she is not so quick and ready as Feste to give it voice.
In her disguise as a page, the Duke has sent her to press his love suit to Olivia (another wealthy heiress, like Portia, M.V.) Olivia is haughty in receiving her, almost to the point of abuse. When she removes her face-veil, at Viola's request, she asks in immodest self-conceit "..is't not well done?". To which Viola wryly remarks "Excellently done, if God did all."
Her pedestal shaken, Olivia snaps back "'Tis in the grain, sir,°twill endure wind and weather."

Viola is impressed and this somewhat restores Olivia's balance and former arrogant posture. But Viola gives her another jolt with " I see what you are, you are too proud, but if you were the devil, you are fair."
Olivia: "I prithee, tell me what you think'st of me?" 

Viola: "That you do think you are not what you are."
Olivia, unaccustomed as she is to outspoken candor, is stimulated by the experience which she fashions into an infatuation for Viola, thinking her a man. Unable to restrain herself, she confesses her 'love', and honest Viola replies:
"By innocence I swear, and by my youth,
I have one heart, one bosom and one truth, And that no woman has: nor never none
Shall mistress be of it save I alone:"
(Act III sc.i )
In the confusion of mistaken identities (being taken for her twin brother who she assumes lost in a shipwreck but who has newly arrived in the city,) she is accused of betrayal and thus defends her honesty and principles:
"I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption Inhabits our frail blood."
That's a well-honed declaration and shows more courage than engaging in idle sword play. Her plain-speaking, true-dealing earns her a place in this group.


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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