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A Short Analysis of Feste’s Song from Twelfth Night: ‘The rain it raineth every day’

This song, from one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, is sung by the Clown or Fool character, Feste, at the end of Twelfth Night. Some critics have expressed doubts over Shakespeare’s authorship of the song, which may have been written by Robert Armin (who played the fool characters in the original productions of many of Shakespeare’s plays) or may be an earlier song that predates the play. It uses wind and rain as symbols of life’s hardships, and thus concludes the poem on a somewhat bittersweet note. All revels and festivities – such as those enjoyed at Twelfth Night – are short-lived intervals in life’s daily grind (‘the rain it raineth every day’, after all). The song is also the only good poem we know that features the word ‘toss-pots’.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Into each life, as Longfellow reminded us, some rain must fall. And ‘the rain it raineth every day’ might be interpreted in this song as a reminder of the fact that every day we are faced with trials and hardships, things which inconvenience us or dampen our spirits, rain on our parade. It might be dangerous to analyse the words of a Fool’s song too closely; nonetheless, it’s worth pausing to consider whether there is any deeper meaning to Feste’s song here.

The even lines of each verse are the same: ‘With hey, ho, the wind and the rain’, ‘For the rain it raineth every day.’ These refrains prevent us from – invite us to refrain from, we might say – falling into the trap of thinking this a mere jolly number to conclude the comedy of the play, with its happy endings. Instead, the repeated references to wind and rain threaten to put a dampener on things, to remind us that the couples having partnered off ready to be married will not signal the end of all trouble for them.

In the five verses of the song, Feste takes us through the passage of his – and, by extension, every man’s – life. ‘A foolish thing was but a toy’ has been analysed as a bawdy piece of innuendo: for ‘foolish thing’ read ‘Fool-ish thing’, between the Fool’s legs, which he plays with like a ‘toy’. When he grew up and became a man, he found that he was outcast from society, dwelling – as a humble Fool may be expected to – among ‘knaves and thieves’. When he married, he found that his ‘swaggering’ wouldn’t be tolerated by his wife, and the reference to ‘beds’ in the next verse implies that he has perhaps been hopping from the marital bed to other women’s beds (or drinking and kipping over at his friends’ place after too much booze). Feste ends by saying that the world began a long time ago, but that doesn’t matter now, and the play is over. The implication is that in the grand scheme of things, one man’s woes don’t matter.

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A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on October 7, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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