Monday, September 30, 2019

The Wise Fools of Shakespeare

â€Å"Infirmity that decays the wise doth ever make a better fool† – though uttered by one of his own characters Shakespeare does not seem to conform to this ideal. The fools carved by Shakespeare in his plays showed no resemblance to the mentally and physically challenged people who were treated as pets and used for amusement during the medieval period. Rather Shakespeare’s fools appear to be in the best of their wits when they are in possession of the wisest minds. Fools whether in their rustic vigour displaying grotesque humour or in the forms of the sophisticated court jesters with their polished puns occupied a substantial position in his plays. Not only they added the element of humour but often alluded a deeper context under their apparent comic facade. Shakespeare’s plays embodied a varied range of comic characters whose treatment obviously differs in those produced by the mature playwright to those depicted in his earlier works. In which we find certain nonsensical clowns appearing just to create ludicrous entertainment. In ‘Love’s Labour Lost’ we find three such characters Costard, Dull and Adrian de Armado who are of very little importance to the plot but as we move on to the ‘Mid Summer Night’s Dream’, Bottom the daft artisan though intended to project humour for his supreme vanity, we see this same attribute of his being exploited by Oberon the king of the fairies to teach his queen a lesson. In this way we notice in Shakespeare’s comic characters a gradual pattern of upgradation from those included just for the sake of insipid humour to the ones actually taking part in the plot. As Shakespeare proceeds to incorporate his oeuvres with further comic elements he chooses humorists over clowns. His comic characters reveal more contemplative and methodical homour which actually camouflages underneath the unsavoury truths. These personas were not only part of his comedies but also his tragedies. In ‘Hamlet’ the two Grave-diggers despite of being represented as clown figures hides beneath their playful conversations the graver insights of the playwright himself. By questioning the justness of Ophelia’s receiving a ‘Christian burial’ they asses the legitimacy of suicide in terms of religious beliefs. Moreover their nonchalant attitude towards death marks its inevitability contrasting it to Hamlet’s vacillating views of ‘to be or not to be’. A similar prudence can observed in the reckless speeches of the Porter in ‘Macbeth’. The Porter in his drunken frenzy claims to be the â€Å"Porter of the Hell Gate† indicating that the horrid incident of Duncan’s murder has equated Macbeth’s castle to the infernal dungeon. Though these characters makes their appearance for a brief period on stage and it is generally apprehended that their foremost purpose is to provide a moment of respite to the audience from the dark and tense moments of the play, their significance in these dramas are no less. A character that cannot remain unmentioned while talking of Shakespeare’s comic characters is that of Sir John Falstaff. Usually acclaimed to be Shakespeare’s greatest comic character Falstaff first makes his appearance in ‘Henry IV Part 1’ and reappears in ‘Henry IV Part 2’ as well as ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. Recognized for his easy ways and buffoon like appearance Falstaff is actually a knight though his conduct speaks contrarily when he marks honour as valueless – â€Å"Can honour set-to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. . . . What is honour? A word†. It is the fact that we find a cunning, fraudulent, corrupt in bulk under the banner of knighthood that is suppose to represent chivalry and honesty is what primarily projects the humour. But yet again arousing laughter is not the only purpose served by this character, along with remaining the unfailing companion to prince Hal until he grows up only to leave him behind as a sign of stepping towards a path of integrity, Falstaff also acts as a foil to the character of Hotspur. A lively person who has abandoned morality and yet displays unconditional affection for the Prince, Falstaff is indeed one of Shakespeare’s typically twisted comic figures who earned himself a place in the audiences’ heart large enough to make him reappear more than once. However the most mesmerizing of Shakespeare’s fools touches his pieces in the form of the court jesters with their precise and caustic wit fabricated by their well bred minds. These fools it is often presumed were sketched from the models of the contemporary court jesters particularly influenced by Tarlton and Armin the royal fools who were not only popular to the audience but also favorites of the Queen herself. One of the foremost reasons of introduction of these jesters in his plays was to impart them with the role of social-critics in the guise of their iridescent costumes. The royal fools in spite of their acerbic tongue that blurted out many a comment against royalty were forgiven for the obvious reasons of those statements being wrapped under their fooleries. Thus the jesters in his plays acted as the representatives of Shakespeare, through whom he can show a glimpse of the real face of the contemporary society to his audience. The first professional fool who made his way into Shakespeare’s plays is Touchstone in ‘As you Like it’ who is probably the most buoyant of his jesters. From his pert speeches it can be assumed that he is serving his namesake, a touchstone giving a peek of the real world in mid of all the dreamy romanticism. In the play upon their arriving in Arden when Rosalind complains â€Å"O Jupiter, how weary are my spirits! † Touchstone is quick to add â€Å"I care not for my spirits, if my legs were not weary†. His decision to marry the country lass Audrey seems more rational than romantic. Again his effortless feat in the brief battle of wits with William in order to win his lady love contrasts his uncomplicated affection from that of the central characters. Touchstone can be best described by the compliment the Senior Duke adorns him with – â€Å"swift and sententious†. After Touchstone the Royal Jesters made their appearances in many of Shakespeare’s following plays but the two most prominent characters identified for their exuberance are Feste of ‘Twelfth Night’ and the Fool in ‘King Lear’. Feste though walking in the shoes of his literary hierarchy Touchstone in his mannerisms, his wits seems to be more targeted at the characters than the generalized views of the former. He appears to be the most mature character in ‘Twelfth Night’ analyzing and realizing the practical mode of the world. In his easy humour he expresses his experienced views when he taunts Olivia – â€Å"The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen†, trying to make her understand that death is a course of nature and the fleeing time is equally mortal and thus valuable. Like his own statement â€Å"Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun – it shines everywhere† Feste’s genial humour spreads a glimmer of intellect all over the play. Feste with his acerbic wit and reflective wisdom not only outshines the insignificant characters of the lewd Sir Andrew and the puritanical Malvolio but also the brooding Duke Orsino, surmising his own point or rather â€Å"Quinapalas’† – â€Å"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit†. The third in the contingent, the Fool in ‘King Lear’ is in fact the most outstanding. Unlike Touchstone and Feste he lacks the comfortable ambiance and yet he balances his foresight, wisdom and shrewdness underneath his playful conduct. The Fool here lacks any specific identity and even his age and background remains unknown because of which it is supposed that his purpose is not just to lighten up the sardonic atmosphere of the play but also to serve as a foil to Lear. Despite of being a fool he identifies Lear’s impetuous decision and thus when Goneril talks of ceasing Lear from having any attendants the Fool sings – â€Å"The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long/ That it had its head bit by its young†, while the prejudiced king is still encircled by his misconstrues. The Fool remains by the side of Lear throughout the play until he mysteriously disappears at the end of Act III, scene vi. This is why it is believed that the Fool acts as Lear’s conscientious alter ego as once he enters the world of lunacy his conscience parts from him altogether. But even after his sudden exit from the stage in the middle of the play, the Fool remains the most significant comic character of Shakespeare’s tragedies. There are other professional fools who only makes shadowy appearances in some other plays, like Lavancha in ‘All is Well that Ends Well’, the Clown in ‘Othello’, Trinculo in ‘The Tempest’ who along with Stephano and Caliban imparts a slapstick humour to the play and at the same time introduces the theme or usurpation by plotting against Prospero. There are numerous such personalities that keep emerging throughout Shakespearean plays who despite of not being elevated characters somehow manages to leave their touch in the play. As Shakespeare’s clowns whether they do or do not occupy much of the stage space have always exhibited through their pert observations a superior intellect and rational understanding of the worldly life. The most noticeable factor is that these characters, be it the rustics, the Grave-diggers, the Porter, the jesters or a spoilt knight were basically modeled on a class of people who were placed in a social rank lower than that of the prime characters. This is perhaps because the most esteemed playwright himself held this ideal, that the practical knowledge of life gained by the commoners from the hazards of their ordinary lives imparts them with a feasible outlook towards it. Unlike those from the superior classes whose shielded lives behind the walls of their enormous castles embodied them with fragile minds. Thus the matters that appears to be of graver importance to the main characters, especially those of romanticism and idealism are treated as a recurring part of life by the wise fools. These individuals to some extent serve as the representatives of Shakespeare himself, what he cannot make his gaudy characters say is exactly what these commoners enacts on his behalf. Their social status which could make the contemporary audience belonging to the ordinary stratum identify with the same and their easy flamboyancy of wit was the exact combination the author required to reach out to his audience and alert them about the social conditions. But whatever purpose these characters might serve or whoever they might have been inspired by, they were transformed into soulful personalities by the dramatist. It was the ingenuity of Shakespeare that turned them into literary figures that were capable of leaving their impression not only in the mind of the contemporary audience but are continuing to do so until the present date.

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