Getting It Wrong: Twelfth Night and the Broken Jest
Twelfth Night, like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, is built out of a series of events and characters defined by their mistakes or errors. My talk focuses on the social and semantic form of the jest as a potential expression of this pattern of error, using Sir Andrew Aguecheek in particular to explore the place of stupidity both in Twelfth Night and in contemporary criticism’s encounter with the formerly obvious, but now obscure humor of early modern England. Taking myself as a model, I attempt to locate the place of idiotic error both in a contextual/historicist and in a formalist reading of Twelfth Night. Along the way, I discuss the specter of stupidity — silence and incompetence — in comic form, in historicist philology, and in my own pedagogy and scholarship. Wise fools and winking jesters have no place in the argument: instead, I attempt to find a place in Shakespeare studies for unreflective error and deep, unforgivable blockheadedness.