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"No darkness but ignorance:" the Fools in Twelfth Night

Teachers' Rating:
  3 ratings

December 2011
Rebecca Hranj teaches English at Joppatowne High School in Joppa, MD

Plays/Scenes Covered

Twelfth Night, entire play

What's On for Today and Why

Students will apply ancient definitions of the term "fool" to the characters in the play in order to discuss how all of the major characters make fools of themselves. They will then build on this discussion, connecting it to their own personal experiences and back to characters in the play.


This lesson will take approximatley 90 minutes, not including time to work with technology.

What You Need

Folger edition of Twelfth Night
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

"Everybody plays the Fool" handout



Computer with internet access


Everybody Plays the Fool
What To Do

1. Ask students to define or give an example of a proverb. Share samples of proverbs from different cultures. Use the samples to create a class definition of a proverb.


2. Explain that in the Bible, the Book of Proverbs points out five different types of fools.While we look at Feste as the fool of this play, by the biblical definitions, many other characters can be considered fools as well.


3. Distribute the handout, "Everybody Plays the Fool" and discuss the different types of fools, noting the similarities and differences among them.


4. Have students work in small groups to decide which characters are fools.


5. Have students discuss their choices as a class, justifying responses with examples from the text.


6. Have students complete a focused free write about a time in which they acted foolishly. They should explain what they learned from the experience, both about themselves as people, and about how to behave in the future.


7. Assign students to use this free writing activity as the basis for an autobiographical essay in the medium of their choice. They may create a PowerPoint, Photostory, digital comic, etc., showing the story of their experience, what they learned from it, what type of fool they were, and which Twelfth Night character they identify with as a result.


8. As an alternative to #7, students could be assigned to work in small groups with a selected scene from the play, and present their scene as the fool they learned about in the handout.


8. Have students present their autobiographical essay or selected scene to the class.


9. Debrief after the presentations:

Which type(s) of fool were most common in the students' stories and/or scenes? Which type(s) of fools are likeable? Which are not? Which characters do students appear to identify with most? Which type of fool best fit the character portrayed in the scene?

How Did It Go?

Were the students able to define a proverb?

Were students able to connect a character to each type of fool using textual evidence?

Were students able to write about a time when they acted foolishly?

Did students use multimedia to present their personal experiences?

Did students connect their personal experience back to a character in the text?


This activity would make a good segue into a college application essay. It can be adapted to most of Shakespeare's comedies, most notably Love's Labor's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Much Ado About Nothing


If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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