William Shakespeare. Twelfth Night
A study showing how Shakespeare's choice of form, structure and language shape meaning
by Jenia Geraghty
Wit, and't be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man. For what says Quinapalus? 'Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.'
Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed to an audience from different social classes and of varying levels of intellect. Thus they contain down-to-earth characters who appeal to the working classes, side-by-side with complexities of plot which would satisfy the appetites of the aristocrats among the audience. His contemporary status is different, and Shakespeare's plays have become a symbol of culture and education, being widely used as a subject for academic study and literary criticism. A close critical analysis of Twelfth Night can reveal how Shakespeare manipulates the form, structure, and language to contribute to the meaning of his plays.
Through the form of dialogue Shakespeare conveys the relationship between characters. For example, the friendship and understanding between Olivia, and her servant Feste, the clown, is shown in their dialogue in Act 1, Scene 5. In this scene Shakespeare shows that both characters are intellectuals by constructing their colloquy in prose.
Characterising Feste, Shakespeare gives him the aphorism,
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit. [Feste. Act 1, scene 5]
This line illustrates the clown's acumen; and is a delightful example of the way in which he uses language, as well as form to manifest Feste's character. Far from being a fool, the clown is erudite and sagely and able to present the audience with a higher knowledge of the plot than that presented by the other characters in the play. This witty remark is a clear indication of his aloofness from the events of the play. He can look upon the unfolding scenario with...