2 of Crowns - Feste

Dramatis Personae: Feste, a.k.a. Sir Topaz.

Text & Context: Shakespeare's fools are always a little outside whatever play they're in. The fool Feste, whose name is Old French for festival or feast, has about him a melancholic weariness odd in a play whose title directly references the church sanctioned festival Twelfth Night, or Epiphany. The very idea of "epiphany" is itself an odd reference point for a play constructed on duplicity. Oddly too for Shakespeare, even its title is binary. Perhaps more than any other in the author's oeuvre, it is a play replete with direct questions - What are you? What would you? - yet is a contrivance of misdirection and misapprehension.  In Orsino's words, "the natural perspective that is and is not".

 

 In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare does something he never does again: he places the fool at the play's center and has him pass himself off as someone he isn't. Malvolio has been misled by his own ambitions to reveal himself - in false grin and jaundiced garter - for who he really is; and for this he's tossed into oblivion. Feste festoons himself as the curate Sir Topaz, "Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges", for Malvolio had earlier likened Feste's brain to a stone [the pun, admittedly, is no gem].

 

 We hear Malvolio's disembodied voice, bewailing his stygian condition from beneath the stage. Sir Topaz informs Malvolio his darkened cell is actually flooded with light, and quizzes him on Pythagoras' doctrine of metempsychosis - the assertion a soul could inhabit more than one body. Pythagoras could hear the music of the spheres and the soul of a friend in a dog's cry. Because man alone among animals possessed Reason, capable of grasping a universal Truth such as mathematics, Pythagoras believed the spark of the Divine imprisoned in corporeal man could ascend the Latter of Being, and the divided be reunited in the One. This was later taken up by Plato and the Gnostics and reincarnated in Neo-Platonic thought.

 

 All this may seem beside the point, but Twelfth Night is a play in which most of its characters are beside themselves, imprisoned in misprision. The two characters at the play's center, Viola and Feste, are able to move freely between the two worlds of Olivia and Orsino,. They are the play's menders, and shall be - in Malvolio's words - "til the pangs of death shall shake" them. The familiar Shakespearean trope then, of the unparalleled power play and plays have to work on the soul, accomplished here by outsiders who don disguise. In the middle of it all they cross paths and Feste begs of Viola a coin; Viola for her part is less mundane - out, in the fool's words, of his "element". With characteristic enthusiasm she correctly evaluates Feste, "folly that he wisely shows is fit", while of men like Malvolio she deduces, "wise men, folly fall'n, quite taint their wit." Were these mathematical equations [which they are], they would be: a negative and a negative equal a positive, whereas a positive and a negative add up to a negative. This equation is repeated in various forms throughout Twelfth Night, from "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit" to "God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents". The supreme example of this deduction comes as Feste dresses in the beard and gown of Topaz:

 

"'That that is, is.' So I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson; for what is 'that' but 'that', and 'is' but 'is'?"

 

 What this 'that' and 'is' is is a paraphrasing of Parmenides' Way of Truth, which states that there are two ways of inquiry: "that it is and that it is not", the latter of which can never actually be. "To be aware and to be are the same" he says, and "It is necessary to speak and to think what is; for being is, but nothing is not." In short: being cannot entertain not being because if it could, it would, ipso facto, cease to be. Or, a positive and a negative add up to nothing. As Feste confesses to Viola: "I do care for something; but... i do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible." As Feste is a self-proclaimed corrupter of words, his "nothing" may be a double-entendre on "vagina", as soon after are made puns on heirs, breeding, and pandering. Feste, then, may allude to her true identity, which he can see, though it be invisible. 

 Twelfth Night is a play about seeing double, what the Other would vs. what You will, 6 of one half a dozen of the other. Its currency has a dual solution. When Maria asks "Are you resolute then?" Feste replies "Not so neither, but I am resolved on two points." Directly, we are not told what either point is, any more than is answered the question Feste poses musically, "What is love?" Unless, perhaps, it be in the talent Feste professes musically, itself an earthly manifestation of the Musica Universalis.

Subtext: Since the 1560s, Thomas Churchyard had been a soldier and poet in Edward's de vere's service. In 1590, Churchyard moved into lodgings near St. Paul's Cathedral and De Vere made a verbal agreement with his landlord to cover his rent. When de Vere was unable to cover the cost due to his own financial problems, Churchyard took refuge in the nearby Church of St. Bennet's on Paul's Wharf. In the first scene of Twelfth Night's Act 5, Feste begs 3 gold pieces from Orsino, "The triplex, sir, is a good tripping measure, or the bells of St. Bennet, sir, may put you in mind".

Viola: Save thee, friend, and thy music: dost thou live by thy tabour?

Feste: No, sir, I live by the church.

Viola: Art thou a churchman?

Feste: No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house,

           and my house doth stand by the church.

Intertext: Staffs 4 Orsino; Queen of Staffs ViolaCrowns 4 Malvolio; Cups 5 Olivia

Cups 9 Sir Toby Belch.