During my chosen lockout from the reminders of a daunting thesis proposal whose threat I still deny sometimes and King Lear reading assignments, I tried to placate myself and avoid total unproductivity by rereading Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, one of his most acclaimed comedy which I did not find arguable.
Okay, a long introduction. It seems like I am already into writing mode that I gleefully think compares to the way one imagines Denis Johnson when he writes his megabook “Trees of Smoke”: under a succubus’s spell in a fallout shelter—hair long, unshaven, chain-smoking, frenzied to get the words out.
I first read Twelfth Night during the holidays, and what an apt time that was, because the Twelfth Night is about, following the British tradition, the twelve days of Christmas beginning on the 25th where boundless celebration is the flavor of the time, verging on utter disregard of conventional norms and expectations — the slaves letting go of that dark designation, even for a while, and they could treat their masters as equals, chat with them, play cards with them, toast champagne with them. But sadness lies in the idea that no matter how festive the atmosphere could be during these twelve days, everything will return to where they were on the 6th of January. And paradoxically, the more festive the twelve days were, the more haunting will be the reversion to normality, the more painful would be that reminder: Hey, we are slaves again; they are our masters again. Just another embittering paradox of life.
While love and petty attraction seems to be one of the more dominant themes of the play, I share with other readers the special attention given to the idea of foolishness. Situated in that context of twelve days of merriment, albeit a known foolish one, there has to be something, or someone guarding the entire flow of lunacy, lampooning the events and making people check their own so-called sane dispositions. In the play, there was Feste, who happens to be my favorite because he seemed to be the one who played that role – the satirical commentator about the oddness of people while they bask in the twelve days of limitless possibilities.
Feste was looked at with contempt because of his so-called inherent foolishness. They say it has not nothing to do with the twelve days; he’s just plain foolish. But Feste maintains his ground, dismissing the contempt and went on with his witty antics, which at several points, seem to effectively challenge the positions of characters who think of themselves as “sane.”
In an interesting exchange with Olivia, the primary female protagonist in the comedy who despised Feste for his “foolishness,” Feste only had sardonic retorts: “Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.” Feste then continued his smart verbal frolicking, asserting that he can prove that Olivia, and not him, was the fool one. He asked why Olivia was mourning and she said that it’s because of her brother’s death. Feste then replied that he thinks her brother is in hell to which she answered that she believes he is in heaven. And then goes Feste again, returning something to Olivia that insults her argument: “The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.”
And where are we left, but perhaps at that dazed position, perhaps taken aback and murmuring with incredulity, “Hey, the ‘fool’ has a point.” And so further we ask, who is more foolish now?
Feste plays on the incredibility of appearances primarily through the slipperiness of language, one of the chief medium by which we negotiate what appears to us. And Feste’s satires burn and hit, making us see the flaws of our own statements.
Then I ponder on it: Is not satire one of the cleverest forms our freedom of expression takes? It is subsumed in that freedom and cannot be excluded just because it calls attention to itself while undermining certain propositions, exposing the filth in certain actions. Will someone file a libel case on me because of this? When does libel begins; when does satire lose its biting wit and when does freedom of expression end?
These are questions hovering in my head because I really feel the urgency to clarify them, especially now that people call someone “pandak” or “penoy” or “inutil na pangulo” and get no libel case filed against them.