When Fools Push Back: Identifying Subversion in "King Lear" and "Twelfth Night"

Faculty Sponsor

David Western


Christ College



ORCID Identifier(s)


Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-4-2017


The court fool of Shakespearean drama made snarky comments, sang nonsense verses, played tricks, and revealed weaknesses all at the expense and amusement of his superiors. Had any other character attempted such subversive acts, they would likely face punishment. However, because rulers sanctioned the fool’s positions in the court, his foolery was not seen as subversive. By employing Jonathan Dollimore’s three part model of social power (consolidation, subversion, and containment), and Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, I argue that the stock fool character falls in the category of consolidated power not subversion since he is licensed in his foolery. The fool can only be labeled subversive if he breaks beyond his job description. In "King Lear" and "Twelfth Night" the viewer meets two fools who actually prove to be subversive. They go outside of the bounds of their role as fool and push back against the authority over them. Through close analysis of what they say and do not say, do and do not do, I examine how Lear’s Fool and Feste break beyond the power exerted over them.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Victoria Bruick is a senior English and music double major from Bakersfield, CA. As a junior she studied abroad at Anglish Ruskin University and was excited to study Shakespeare in the context of the playwright's homeland. With a particular interest in Bahktin's theory of the carnivalesque, she explored subversion and foolery in her research. In April she presented this research in Memphis at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research through the support of Christ College.

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