This essay was written in 2004 in college. I thought it was still relevant and that you might enjoy some of this foolish history.
Me as a classic pirouette clown
A man walks behind a fellow, making faces behind his back. Silly, rude gestures come flying and dancing around the fellow, the audience laughs. The fellow turns quickly to look behind him. There he sees is a funny looking man, leaning against the wall, whistling. A fool could play this game for hours, mostly because he is entertaining himself, although he will always ham it up for an audience.
Everyone recognizes a good fool, and will carry one in their heart if they are wise. This archetype has been used for over four thousand years. In fact, since the time of the Pharohs in Egypt to modern day, fools have been creating laughter. A fool, whom people recognize these days, would be the “Cap’N’Bells” fool, which, is found in a card deck and is normal used as the rule breaker card. This image of a joker depicts a crazy looking man, with a huge smile, and mischievous eyes, pointy ears and a silly hat. His clothes are patterns of each suit in the deck, patched together to make a array of colour. This goes back to Renaissance, 1500-1700 AD* during the times of kingdom and court. The model jester did not begin there, as he has more history throughout time than most popular religions. Although he seems basic, the unique characteristics which a fool is composed of, creates a seemingly childish entertainer, whom appeals to all mass, threatens none and creates a reflection of human instinct.
The word fool often has a negative connotation. The Latin origin ‘follis’; meaning “pair of bellows”* Someone who had bellows, in colloquial terms is like calling someone an airhead. This itself comes from an observance within society. Someone lacking intelligence would really be considered a natural fool. The term has stretched so far that any man who differs from the norm, including deformed or handicapped persons, would be considered a fool. These people, seemingly needing care were often taken in for entertainment purposes. The natural fools created an art of being comedic entertainers. Stultitia in The Praise of Folly has no shame of who she is when she speaks:
“An ungrateful lot of men, these rascals, who though they’re entirely of my faction, yet in public are so ashamed of my proper name that they hurl it against other as a term of ultimate insult. Don’t you think we could best call these people, who are actually superfools but want to look like wise men, by the title of ‘foolosophers?’” (9)
A natural fool entertains, or an entertaining fool acts natural, and they both do inherently the same archetypical behaviour. They mock, tease, provoking thought and acting childishly, with a seemingly ironic stance in life, as if to mock the world. Walter Kaiser, writer of Praisers of Folly notes, “The self-love with which Stulititia praises herself is shared by Falstaff, and claims of both of them are the same: each is the source of wit, cause of love, the leader in battle – the world itself”. They do represent the world (or at least humans which lie within), and all that it encompasses it because this art is really just a mocking of a civilized world.
Shi, a dwarf jester from China, died in 660 BC*, was noted to be the first of all to speak of a fools’ freedom of speech. Fools had a unique ability, unlike most persons, to offer complete honesty. Often, dwarves, persons with deformaties or people with obvious handicap would be used as jesters in these ages, as they were of no threat to a ruler in fact; they depended on the ruler for a happy carefree life. They were thought to have little mind left, because they had no care for the consequence of what happened if they spoke the truth, good or bad. In fact, they cannot seem to know the difference between right and wrong, but balance between the two. The carefree fool does not intend to hurt anyone, and would much rather provide jest and entertainment because that is what extends from their heart. His or her ultimate goal is to keep everyone happy. They often became best friends with rulers whom they were entertaining. Beatrice Otto, whom wrote an article in History Today states “Jesters ands dwarfs were the lowest of the Zhou dynasty entertainers’, but jokes and humorous indirect advice even they could prod the government to reform.” The pity, which was first extended to dwarves, would offer them a large influential role to a monarch. The fool, mocking himself for his own faults, offers those men who pity themselves something else to laugh at and humiliate. Offering himself as a lower class individual, and accepting his own faults helps establish relationship with those around him. Those who consider themselves above such folly, will laugh at such lower class nonsense, those who know they are not above such folly empathize with the character. People began to befriend the character, because of their honesty; they’re joy for life and his own ability to accept himself.
As this character developed through the ages the Romans and Greeks deemed what is to be known as a holy fool. This holy fool is a character, used in plays or sketches to depict a moral truth. The fool is the greatest character for the job because of his honesty, because of his non-threatening demeanour, and his joy for entertaining. Jesters often use impromptu skits, mocking songs and little plays to offer advice or just provoke more questions, such as King Lear’s Fool in Shakespeare.
“mark it nuncle:
Have more than thou showest,
Speak less than thou knowest,
Lend less than thou owest,
Ride more than thou goest,
Learn more than thou trowest;
Leave thy drink and thy whore
And keep in-a-door,
And thou shalt have more
Than two tens a score”(1.4 line 120)
This playful riddle is not just meant to provide moral riddles, but to proves that speaking about moral things may mean nothing, although it seems to be sound advice. Thus, he mocks the wise, dances and glides across the room with beautiful grace then stumbles over a stone to fall on his face. He gets up laughing every time, as everyone who surrounds him does also.
The fool is a tempter. Fools tend to be indulgent to their ever whim, like a child would be. Fools laugh, drink and frolic merrily about enjoying the simplest things in life. Food and love are the basis of man, and what a simple fool strives for in his life. In Praise of Folly, written by Erasmus (translated Robert. M. Adams) he compares the two tempters:
“In the war between God and the Devil for the soul of a man, it is he who tempts a man with indulgences of nature to surrender to the prince of darkness. And though he may, and invariably does, have his moment with Everyman, ultimately he must be rejected for the way of salvation.”
The fact is that fools are who they are when they are, not wearing any masks, and going on their every whim and temptation it is known to not follow a fool to closely, as he would be living the eternal damnation. Stultitia says, “I use no make-up. I don’t wear one expression on my face and hide another in my heart. I’m always exactly like myself…”(pg 9). On the other hand, fools are thought of as protected by God himself, and that they are provided for some moral teachings. How would someone with such handicap survive if not for the Supreme Being intervening? The truth is he dangles somewhere in between the two, as most humans do. All who have seen a fool love him, because he struggles with the same things people do, often choosing instant gratification, creating a whirlwind of folly.
Charlie Chaplin, a more recent screen fool, is seen as an average poor man in his character. Charming and witty as his character is, he is often getting himself into trouble, not watching where he is going or what he is doing he creates a slap stick adventure throughout his movies. This average man leading a seemingly trivial life goes about quite innocently, yet creatively and attempts at getting what he wants. If he doesn’t get what he wants his emotions rise, and he begins to fight, pout or run. The character seems quite childish and mindless, and makes most people see the infant in themselves.
In fact, the fool is a child in many ways. In a general Tarot deck, you will find that the Fool is the only unnumbered card, although modern cards will use the number Zero. The basic meaning of him being the first in the deck, is to represent the beginning of life, as to say that everyone was once a fool to all they master now. A child fumbling innocently, speaking out of turn, or displaying raw emotion is not uncommon, but for a grown man to behave this way is uncivil, or irrational. Civilizations create a reflection of a fool and represents the child within us all. He speaks to all the yurns and wants that wise men would not speak of. Following human instinct leads me to think that there could not be a culture, without their being a fool.
The childish state, which the fool tends to dwell in, leads to some torment and conflict for the fool. He stands between the Yin and Yang of truth, between the good and bad of honesty, and between seriousness and joking. The only place he knows he stands is in the moment. [Stultitia says, ]This duality that the fool faces is a reflection of mans battle between good and evil. Most men, although they would pronounce themselves wise, often just speak of wisdom, rather than live it, or own up to their own faults. The fool, who owns up to his own faults realizes that he is caught between the two, and lives neither one nor the other. He places himself either as the world entirety, or not involved with the world at all. “It is also egotistical because to exempt yourself from the world implies that you have a higher opinion of yourself than you have the rest of the world.”
The wise do not want to see their own folly and fools are smart to play dumb.
*these moments were intended to be cited, but in this version I do not have the proper bibliography. Apologies to those Encyclopedia’s to which this information comes from, as 10 years later I wouldn’t begin to know where to look for this information once again.
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