Cultural roles are sociological constructions through which we perceive and obtain meaning. These constructions change as the world around them changes. By studying the words and actions of the construct/role "fool," its
articulated philosophy,
theatre history, and
inversionary responsibilities,
we acquire the opportunity to understand its function as a reality maintenance construct. One useful in understanding how knowledge and power work in our present world.

A textual examination of the fool in its:
social roles,
character study,
theatrical scenes,
philosophy, and
should help us observe the nature of change within and among cultural constructions themselves, and hopefully allow us to compare these changes to contemporary social processes. The power intentions and inter-connectedness of meanings inherent in both fool image and philosophy will inform us not only about our place in society and our connections to a cultural framework which provides us with perceptions, experience, and knowledge, but also, about the affect these changes have on the ability of the individual to perceive and develop identity.

The movement in contemporary culture has seen powerful structures of meaning such as family, education, and theology relinquish important social and philosophical responsibilities. Abstract concepts such as: truth, justice, honor, loyalty have become increasingly relative and have lost their ability to validate and ground an individual with a stable sense of identity. Individuals, overcome and confused by the complex demands of modern life, exist burdened by a lack of higher order thinking and communication skills leading ultimately to the loss of fundamental social bonds.

The Enlightenment projected a model of man imbued with the reason of successful rationalism. The Modern world has accepted this as the predominant structure for discerning value, along with its predominant process analysis, as it restricts and marginalizes all other structures of meaning. This modernization consists of two processes:

1) a structural differentiation--The specialization of tasks
and how this specialization affects related institutions
as the philosophical and cultural framework within which modern societies exist in social discourse has become increasingly abstract. (technology)


2) a generalization of meanings and values--An understanding of subject positioning which leads to a relativism that demands "analysis" on a case by case basis. (bureaucracy)


Modernization has left us a disquieting legacy of alienation and hopelessness. As we attempt to transition to the Information Age where many systems associated with modernization and the consequent power relations must be reconsidered, we begin to understand that the rationalism which the modern world has accepted as "reality," complete with a quality of life (services) only drempt of by previous generations has taken us to the edge of cultural insolvency. The paradox of the contemporary episteme is that we have the power to destroy all life on the planet, yet cannot provide human beings with the stability to support social structures which provide its members with identity, dignity, and meaningful experience.

The "fool" in its unique roles: socially, psychologically, historically, and culturally, and in its relationship to power structures can clarify modern worldviews as his/her peculiar inversionary stance, from both inside and outside cultural institutions, comments on our everyday "reality." The fool can effect and voice distinctions within a culture which are unthinkable from "reasonable" postures. Is it anyone but a "fool" who can provide scopers-pective on the ambiguities, ironies, and paradox of today's world? The changes in the world (social, economic, and cultural) inherent in our present world are much the same as the ones which ushered in the "modern" world, and only a fool can comment on them reliably.

Related to this idea is the discourse of folly, the traditional epistemological system of the fool. Rationalism has subverted and displaced folly, marginalizing it as an accepted conduit of meaning removing it to the periphery of social consciousness where it is perceived as "mere" childishness or irresponsibility. But, the high spirits enacted through the innocence and naivete of folly which supported traditional societies can also help us to understand and re-define present day cultural constructions. Those two main discourse of modernization, technology (specialization of tasks) and bureaucracy (generalization of meanings) have much to learn from folly.

It is ironic how little modern man understands about modes of experience and engagement other than rational thought structures. We are at a disadvantage in appreciating and understanding what a "fool" might do for us. Puritanism, the secularization of belief systems, and the intellectualization of the modern world denies us the ability to clearly evaluate other alternative systems of thought, experience, and reality management. We are decidedly one-dimensional in determining "new" worldview possibilities. A look at the construct "fool" will lead us to a more complete understanding of the modern era, an era replete with its problems of identity, isolation and confusion in the face of changing abstract principles whose control determines our potential as individuals.

The power/knowledge relationships of modern mechanized society have changed and we must re-evaluate all conduits to power/ knowledge if they are going to substantiate individuals overcome and confused by the complexity of modern life, individuals who exist burdened by a lack of basic communication skills and social solidarity as these fundamental social bonds lose their authority and legitimacy. We are at the edge of a biological, psychological, and sociological disorientation and lack the grounding that traditional societies afforded to their members, a grounding which is then reflected and implanted in the worldview of each individual. Maybe it is the philosophy of folly and the persona of the fool who can teach us how to not just exist but thrive in the future? A character ready to uncover and address the darker truths which underpin not only the world of our "reality," but also the world of our dreams, hopes, and revelries. It just may be this egalitarian clown who will point out and help us to reconstruct the proper balance in our lives, as we are precariously positioned between reason and unreason.




Feste is the most agile-minded of all of Shakespeare's clowns. His awareness of his own role-playing and the limits it imposes on him and us make him the perfect role/character for the audience to view themselves and to understand their function in their own time as he understands his. He acts out:

1) the limits of fellowship,
2) the fine line separating wisdom from folly or imagination from madness,
3) the inconstancy of words and people,
4) the confounding of identity, and
5) the problems of love relationships.

Feste is an ironic, cynical idealist, sadly aware of the passage of time who by his existential realizations and by using an exclusive blend of sense and nonsense arbitrates realities for the audience of the theatre and their world. His "madness," folly, is a deliberate disruption of decorum that exposes elements of self and society but eventually leads to a reintegration of these back into accepted social structures. He reflects Shakespeare's concern for the difference between fantasy and reality, "seeming" and "being," by occupying the moral space between hope and hopelessness which engages the concerns of the Elizabethan audience and is definitely a concern for a modern audience.

It is not until this century that Feste has moved from the periphery of Twelfth Night into its heart. Although the "fool" in contemporary times is still a marginal reality construct, his questions strike deeply into the consciousness of the present. The margins of reality have shifted and the modern era reflects and creates another whole world of cultural, social and psychological possibilities, ones which have always been Feste's concerns. Feste can open up our eyes to both his world and ours. Dressed in his iconographic outfit he may be the most sensible, open character/role to help us explore and explain the quixotic nature of modern life that strikes at the very core of present experience.