Dover Wilson while commenting on the stage Clown or Fool thought that it was “Shakespeare who brought him to perfection”, and that he is “fundamental to Shakespearean comedy”; because they are “at once butts and critics.” He said: “In the Fool. I suspect we come very close to Shakespeare’s own standpoint as a comic dramatist. The idea that the deepest and greatest things in life may be hidden from the wise and prudent and be revealed to children and fools.”
Bradley thought that Lear’s Fool has a sacred place that cannot be given to anyone else. But he thought that apart from Lear’s Fool, Feste is the most loving of Shakespeare’s Fools. We can never laugh at Feste, for he is as sane as his mistress. He is not even eccentric; and he has sharpness of wit. intellectually sharp reflexes, and an insight into character. But it is the joy that he takes in living life that makes him really endearing to us. And he finds these joys within the realm of his own mind. Outwardly his life may be a little better than that of a slave, but within the parameters of his mind he is absolutely free, since his sunny realm requires only his quibbles, incongruities and flitting fancies. These may appear absurd to others, but they give him enormous joy. Since his world is so different from others, and one which gives him so much joy he does not much care for fortune. He is always radiating with the “sunshine of the breast”; it is due to this that we cannot help but love him.
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Apart from being there for the humour of the groundlings of the Elizabethan audience, and otherwise being an integral part of the play. Feste is called upon to play a number of other things as well. He is used as a clergy. Sir Topas, to administer religion to the soul of Malvolio. It is he who brings Olivia on the scene in the last Act. which enables Viola to throw away her disguise and permits Shakespeare to untie all the knots so exquisitely. In addition he is truly the mouthpiece of the dramatist, as most Shakespearean Clowns tend to be. His job of a professional Fool provides him the levity of speaking out of context, without disturbing the balance of the play. This permits Shakespeare to convey so much on a number of issues. Shakespeare wishes us to believe that he is the sanest and wisest man in the play.
That his name in Feste is only evident because it is so mentioned in the dramatis personae. Otherwise throughout the play he is named only once in Act II. Scene IV, line 11, when Orsino’s question requires him to have a personal name. In the text he is called a “Fool” by everyone, though the dramatis personae and the text invariably calls him a “Clown”. His name is from the Latin word festus, which means cheerful or gay – a fitting name for a jester.