This fellow is wise enough to play the fool

These are Viola’s words about Feste the fool in 12th Night a play which strangely mirrors the insanity of our own world today. To Viola prior to this wonderful summation of Feste’s talents, he says to her: “Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere”. And almost in the same breath he says “To see this age! A sentence is but a chevril (kidskin) glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward!” Feste is a wise fool because he sees through the masquerades of the world. He sees its supreme stupidity, its lies and inconsistency and he tries with all his wit to reveal the truth of the situations which confront him: the stupidity of Olivia’s excessive mourning; the adolscent self-indulgence of Toby and AgueCheek: “Youth’s a stuff will not endure”.

So the image of the world in the fool’s cap is both a literal image of how the fool sees the world, one which see writ large in the current Trump, post-facts era, but it is also paradoxically, an image of how the folly of the world might be contained, subdued, revealed through the agency of a fool such as Feste. Viola asks Feste “Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?” and he answers “I am indeed not her fool but her corrupter of words”. By which he means, ironically, that his role is to undermine the stupidity that he sees in her behaviour; he needs to corrupt the idiocy of her language, her fabrications about herself, in order that she can see the truth more clearly. During this exchange he adds his thoughts about language: “words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason with them.” Putting it another way, no words are to be trusted these days. Again we are in the era of Trumpism…

What a marvellous reflection this play is on the state of truth in the world then and today!fools-map1590

Blog Topics for Week 10:


You are the fool. Describe in a paragraph the state of the world, as you see it, from a Festean point of view.


See if you can discover the origins and meaning of this image of the world in a fool’s cap. Google World in a Fools Cap… and take it from there.


You are Viola. Describe your feelings being trapped in a triangular relationship being loved by the person you are supposed to be wooing for someone else and loving the person who is asking you to be the wooer! What a knot! How do you experience it?


12th Night is a comedy that conceals it deeper meanings very cleverly. It can be watched simply as a comic satire on human affairs or it can stir the deepest thoughts about the world and about human experience. Write a short paragraph giving your point of view on this statement. 

Critical/ Creative: Create your own topic based on any aspect of the theme of Love and Desire as you have experienced it in the last two weeks of our Shakespearean studies.


  3 comments for “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool

  1. May 12, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    #Shakespeare’s #TwelfthNight

    • May 12, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks Keith, this is a great play. I have just watched the Globe Theatre version with my students. It is a hoot! And it really brings the power of the fool in a crazy world into focus. Thanks for your interest!

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