In a recent comment, I was accused of making myself look like a fool; for the life of me I can’t figure out why this is anyone’s business other than mine. It is my blog and if I want to make a fool of myself then I am perfectly entitled to do so and I certainly don’t need the self-righteous indignation of others to determine my behaviour, foolish or otherwise. I've made a fool of myself many times but if anyone was really was concerned about me making a fool of myself, then they should have been here about 7 years ago, when I was on the receiving end of what can only be described as the nuclear bomb of foolishness. (Of course, it was a man, isn’t it always?)
Anyway, for my foolishness, I paid a high price because not only did it cost me my honour’s degree but the fall-out from it, is something I will have to manage for the rest of my life. (Some of which is a result of his actions first time around, when I was but a naive teenager-what a guy!) But you live and learn, so they say. I can only hope, but then ’we are all fools in love’….or so said Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice.
Anyway, as fools go, there is a long and noble tradition and the figure of the fool or jester is a staple found in cultures throughout history. As I found out from my research, (Yes, imagine, I even managed to do my own research too!!) there is more to the ‘fool’ than meets the eye!
Italics and comments in brackets are mine -
Fools or jesters ‘ are viewed as having been dumb people who were adept at clownish activities such as juggling or gymnastics and who wore flamboyant outfits. Though some may have fallen into this category, many jesters were quite smart, using their wit as a tool to help diffuse tense situations at the royal court. The clothes stereotype has the most support, however, as many jesters did wear clothes that made them stand out from the crowd. Comical costumes and three-pointed hats are thought to have been the common outfit of the jester, but the three-pointed hat was probably an allusion to earlier times when jesters would instead wear donkey ears and a tail. (alluded to in the story of Pinocchio, my favourite Disney film)
The Functions of a Medieval Jester
Jesters in Medieval Europe were more involved with affairs of state than in other time periods. Oftentimes, a monarch or high ranking official would search for a jester to keep at court. The court jester of medieval times was usually allowed to speak his mind freely, while everyone else had to wait for the monarch's permission to speak. Many times, the jester would use his chance at free speech to criticize the monarch openly, where no one else could. Thus, a function of the jester was to act as a critic, and many stories exist to support the fact that kings did pay heed to the criticism of the court jester. (Might be a good time to think about bringing them back…maybe into Parliament?)
The jester's ability to speak freely also came into play when tense matters were being discussed. Quite frequently the jester would diffuse heated discussions by inserting humorous statements, thereby avoiding any unnecessary confrontations.
Famous Jesters in Medieval Europe
The comedic nature of jesters contributed to their popularity among the common people. Many jesters were the subject of stories that were distributed among the public, and they became popular icons King Henry VIII employed a jester by the name of Will Sommers, who gained such fame that he was the subject of literature and drama almost two centuries after his death. King Charles I employed a jester named Jeffrey Hudson who gained the nickname, the "Royal Dwarf" because of his height. One of his infamous pranks, was to hide inside of a giant pie and then leap out. The most famous jester in the history of Poland was a jester by the name of Stańczyk. After his death, Stańczyk became a national symbol in Poland's struggle for independence from Russia. He has been the subject of numerous paintings, works of literature, dramas, and even movies though he died in the 16th century.
The End of the Medieval Jester
The tradition of the medieval jester met its end in England as a direct result of the English Civil War (Yah boo sucks!). After Oliver Cromwell rose to power, he had no tolerance for the comedy of the jester, (miserable old sod!) and even after Cromwell was overthrown (hurray!) and Charles II claimed the throne in the Restoration period, the tradition of the court jester was never reestablished. (awwww!) The medieval tradition of the jester lasted longer in other countries than it did in England, (hurray!) but by the 18th century, it had died out in almost all European countries, only two or three excepted (awwwww!).
Since jesters were granted freedom of speech, they could speak out if they chose, against their ruler's ideas. It was the jester's nature to speak their mind, regardless of any consequences. Since they were rarely in any type of position to pose any kind of power threat, their outspokenness was not to be taken seriously since they had nothing to gain by their words.
Jesters were not only hired to amuse the master and guests but to criticize them as well.
Jesters held a freedom of speech privilege. They were one of the very few people in the court that could speak their mind freely and use humor to joke about the nobles, ladies and lords without causing offense. Most jesters were well educated and they came from diverse backgrounds. Although they were granted quite a bit of freedom, excessive behavior commonly resulted in a jester being whipped. (Ohh!)
There were two types of jesters, or fools. The first type was a natural foolthat was moronic and nit-witted and could not help what he said. The second type was the licensed foolthat the courts gave leeway too. Both were fully excused by the courts within reason. Another job of the jester was to deliver bad news that no one else would...’
So there you have it, a brief history of the jester or fool. But as Mark Twain said, ’It is easier to fool a man than to convince him he has been fooled’. Then again, the person who said it was commenting on a post on my blog, so who is the bigger fool, the fool or the fool who follows them?
History Of The Jester https://owlcation.com/humanities/History-of-the-Medieval-Jester