the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Twelfth Night soliloquy

Viola's soliloquy in 3.1.59-67 appealed to me because of its double meanings. It especially utilizes one of Shakespeare's favorite gag; that is, the Fool actually being the wisest of all the characters.

In most of his other plays, the capability and the function of the jester to acutely point out the Truth behind the actions and words of the play was always present but never mentioned. It is only in Viola's soliloquy, where Shakespeare is able to boast his wit to play a Fool. (By play, I mean using the Fool to show off Shakespeare's wit).

As Viola discourses on how delicately a fool must act, "must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons, and the time," I can imagine Shakespeare finally feeling vindicated on how well he thus far used his jokers to inject veracity in a scene where all the other characters would be acting overly dramatic. When she says "This is a practice As full of labor as a wise man's art," there is a subtle double meaning as Shakespeare is talking about his skill in using fools and at the same time the entire play itself which is a wise man's art.

But the soliloquy is more than Shakespeare's bragging in the middle of his play. Viola is specifically talking about Feste's wit regarding the conversation just preceding this. In all the madness that was going on (cross dressing, sending love notes, preening the confidence of an absolute idiot) it is much more simple to act a fool and to be ignorant of all the lies and flattery floating about. While she is commending Feste's wit, she is also commenting on her own wisdom for playing a fool. Feste might have a way with words, but that doesn't mean that he is wise. The intelligence is more easily ascribed to Viola's forethinking to be a male and for her perseverance to play the male. One of the footnote mentioned about the actions of a certain scene, where Viola was offended by a touch, but as a boy, she had to accepted it as custom and familiarity even though she was uncomfortable with it as a lady.

There is a parallel between Viola and Shakespeare, because Viola talks about Feste's wit while actually meaning herself and Shakespeare uses Viola's soliloquy as he is plainly commending himself.


Blogger Daniel Lupton said...

Christina, I think that this is an interesting post and overall you've done a good job supporting your conclusions with evidence from the soliloquy. Personally, though, I think Shakespeare sees himself more in Feste than in Viola; think about it, the interest in puns and wordplay, the keen observational skills... it makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps he is close to Viola as well, but that seems more because of her messed up psychological state than her wit (which, personally, I don't think she has... the only smart thing I think she says is that Feste is a wise fool).

2:33 PM  

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