In this post, we’re going to use “Let’s Play” and the MFFEV5 Cloud Reader to explore Feste the Jester, from Twelfth Night. You can do this exploration on your own, without any other players.
If you don’t know about “Let’s Play” or the MFFEV5 Cloud Reader, then perhaps you should read the following two posts first:
I’ve chosen Feste, because I think he’s a particularly difficult character to get to grips with. He seems to be hidden behind a mask of ‘the professional fool’. And I think using our MFFEV5 Cloud Reader makes it easier to explore him. It makes the close reading that is so helpful, easier.
Before we start, there’s one more thing that needs to be said. Of course, the characters in Shakespeare don’t really exist – not even Falstaff himself! They are just words on a page. However, an actor has to take those words, and make them come alive. One of the ways he has of doing that is to think of the character(s) that he’s creating from the words on the page, so often we may talk of the character of Falstaff, or Feste.
There is another school of thought to which I also adhere, which says don’t worry about the character, just say the lines in the way that they are written, and the character will come out, all by itself! If you want to explore that approach, the best way I know is to watch John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare. I think both approaches are valid and complementary.
So let’s pretend we’re an actor who is going to play the role of Feste. What do we know about him? Actually, not very much. He’s a jester and singer, and he spends most of his time jesting and singing as a ‘professional entertainer’. But there are one or two scenes when he comes out of his ‘professional entertainer’ role and let’s slip a little about himself. We’re going to explore those scenes, and the great thing is you can do it on your own, without any other players (though of course, it’s more fun to play these scenes with others reading the other parts). Of course, it’s most fun if you if you read the whole play, which needs around 3 hours and 10 or so people (Sunday afternoons are great for this).
So where does Feste ‘let slip’ a little about himself. I think in three main scenes:
Feste has been away – absent without leave – and Maria tells him that Olivia (his boss) is pretty upset. It’s quite clear that Feste is worried (“Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!”) – he wants to impress Olivia. How does he go about that? By trying to make a fool of her, not the way most people would go about appeasing their boss. But don’t listen to me – click on the link above and read the script (at least until Malvolio’s first speech) and preferably reading Feste’s lines out loud.
When you’ve read the scene, do you think you’ve learnt anything about Feste?
Much later in the play, Feste meets Viola – as Cesario – outside Olivia’s house and they talk. Of course, they’ve met earlier, when Feste was singing songs to Orsino, and Orsino seemed more than interested in the ‘boy’ – in fact that scene is often played as if Orsino and Cesario (Viola) are falling in love and Feste has observed that. He’s also seen Olivia fall in love with the same Cesario. Does he feel protective towards Olivia, or just confused? He definitely doesn’t like Cesario – “n my conscience sir, I do not care for you:” and he seems to suspect that he may be a she – “Now Jove in his next commodity of hair, send thee a beard.”
But the whole little scene is worth reading for its revelations about Feste’s character, so click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph, and read it – again, out loud is best, – until after his exit and Viola’s speech about him, which tells us more about him. And when you have done that, have you learnt anything about Feste the man?
Further on again, in A4S1, Feste meets Sebastian, Cesario / Viola’s identical twin brother. Of course he thinks that Sebastian is Cesario, which Sebastian vehemently denies. Feste begins to think that he, Feste, is going mad, and again perhaps reveals things about himself, whilst trying to hang on to his sanity.
So, as with the other two scenes, click on the link at the beginning of this section, and read the scene (out loud) until the entrance of Andrew, Toby, etc. Does the scene reveal things about Feste?
Of course, Feste appears in other scenes, but in them he is usually acting as a professional entertainer trying to entertain his audience and so is less revealing about himself. Certainly the actor, when deciding how to play Feste, needs to build a convincing portrayal of the character Feste in these three scenes above.
One final point. I hope this post demonstrates that one can use the MFFEV5 Cloud Reader and “Let’s Play” to explore scenes and characters in Shakespeare’s plays, and it is a useful tool for encouraging close reading of the text, and playing the scenes, both essential for deepening one’s appreciation of the text. The “Let’s play” scenes we’ve used so far have been configured by Players-Shakespeare.com. However you can configure “Let’s Play” scenes yourself, so school teachers, drama lecturers, play-reading group managers, and directors, etc, can set up their own scenes for use by their students, etc. Next week, in February, we’ll start to show you how.
I hope this may have whetted your appetite to explore other scenes of Twelfth Night so we’ve put up a couple in our “Let’s Play” section. They do require more than one player. They are:
So now we’ve outlined how you can play-read Twelfth Night. And you are not limited to that. We’ve published 9 plays so far, and there’s more in the pipeline, and there’s maybe 18 or so scenes from those plays that you can play. Plus you can configure more scenes yourselves. You can see the plays and scenes we’ve made available at the following links:
“Let’s Play” extracts for 2 players
“Let’s Play” extracts for 3 players
“Let’s Play” extracts for 4 players
“Let’s Play” Complete plays for 10 players