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Everybody Plays The Fool Sometimes April 20, 2012

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, People.

Wikipedia ~ Will Sommers (in Public Domain)

Kate delved into the past with her signature finesse in a recent post, Yorick Unplugged, which touched upon King Henry VIII and his favorite Court Jester, Will Somers.

That’s Will Somers in the 17th Century engraving to the right –>

Having watched The Great Castles of Britain (which highlights the rapidity at which Henry VIII cycled through wives, one of whom still roams the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court), I thought:

How brave to jest when in the midst of ill-tempered kings prone to swinging axes!

Kate returned my volley with the reasoned and reasonable conjecture that the bravado of Court Jesters may have led to the crafting of the word . . . “foolhardy.”

* * *

Wikipedia ~ Court Jester (in Public Domain)

FUN facts about FOOLS: 

* European monarchs employed jesters, jokers, jokesters, fools, wit-crackers, pranksters, or buffoons to tell jokes and provide general entertainment.

* Fools came in two flavors:  natural and  licensed.

Natural fools were nit-witted, moronic, or mad.  Licensed fools acted the part with leeway given by the court.

Both were excused for their behavior ~ the first because he “couldn’t help it,” and the second by decree.

* In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Feste the jester is described as “wise enough to play the fool.”

Wikipedia ~ Court Jester (in Public Domain)

* The tradition of court jesters came to an end in Britain when Charles I was overthrown in the Civil War.

As a Puritan Christian republic, England under the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell had no place for such things as jesters.

English theatre also suffered and many actors and entertainers relocated to Ireland where merriment fared better.

* In Tarot decks, Death is often shown in Jester’s garb because “The last laugh is reserved for Death.”

Just as Jesters ridicule everyone, Death humbles everyone . . . regardless of social standing and class.

Everybody plays the fool sometimes ~ there’s no exception to the rule.

But, before you do anything rash (i.e., foolhardy!) . . . Dig This!

Aah . . . that’s better!


1. Piglet in Portugal - April 20, 2012

I suppose modern day jesters are clowns?

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Some, perhaps. But see Lisa’s comment (#2) ~ I expect that she’s correct in her assessment. Comics/comedians address volatile issues in politically incorrect ways . . . with our sanction.

Piglet in Portugal - April 20, 2012

Yes, comics is a better description. However, in the UK comedians joking about certain topics is not PC and people take offense too easily

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Aah . . . that’s the point of being “fool hardy” . . .

“Jesters” must be willing to stand behind their commentary EVEN if people are offended and start “swinging axes.” 😉

2. Lisa Wields Words - April 20, 2012

I would argue that modern day jesters are actually comics (like the SNL variety). They are allowed to say anything in the name of laughter, and approach topics that threaten, just like some of the “wise fools” who hid behind their foolishness to state what others dared not say. I think there is wisdom in folly.

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

I agree, Lisa . . . George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Lorraine Newman, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Jay Leno, Tim Allen, Bob Newhart, Dave Letterman, etc., all used humor to soften the blow when they held up the mirror to reflect our “idiocy.” 😆

3. Team Oyeniyi - April 20, 2012

Nancy – totally unrelated to your post here – but I want to link to an older article of yours – the one about “entitlement” – can you send me the link please?

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

I’m not sure I know which article you mean . . . can you be more specific?

4. Team Oyeniyi - April 20, 2012

It was about three couples in a commune and how they expected the others to bail them out- it is very applicable to my article today and I want to point people to yours because I thought it was great!

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Gotcha, Robyn! Here ya go:

I’ll look forward to your article hittting the presses.

Team Oyeniyi - April 20, 2012

Thanks – that was it!! If you want to delete these comments, feel free! I will not be offended – totally off-topic! But I wanted that article!

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Good post. Louis C.K. did a routine that is relevant to this post AND our growing sense of entitlement. You can find it here:


5. CMSmith - April 20, 2012

Interesting post, Nancy. The unmitigated power of monarchs in days gone by is truly terrifying. Henry the VIII is an enigma. I have a book about his wives.

I never really thought about jesters before and how brave they must have been, or foolhardy. The line between humor and insult can be a fine one, as modern comedians can attest.

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Jesters had to walk a fine line, indeed. Same with our modern day “independent thinkers.”

6. Sandra Bell Kirchman - April 20, 2012

Actually, I have always been fascinated by the fools of kings’ (and queens’) courts. Brave and outspoken describe them, but also knowedgeable about people’s moods and what they needed to make them feel better. I think they were a combination of stand-up comedian and Dr. Oz (well, maybe not quite so much medical information).

What I’m trying to say is that often a fool’s life depended on his assessment of what the king and his court needed at any given time…political satire, merry anecdotes, slapstick comedy, you name it. If they guessed wrong and the king was testy, the fool could be, and sometimes was, thrown into a dungeon. Being a fool was no laughing matter.

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Thanks, Sandra! No laughing matter is right ~ jesters had a precarious existence, dependent on remaining in the good graces of “his or her grace.”

On an unrelated note, I read a short blurb by Dr. Oz recently about packing children’s lunches. He suggested Dark Chocolate kisses instead of cakes, cookies, or pie! Go, Dr. Oz!

7. Julie Hedlund - April 20, 2012

Very interesting about fools. I guess they had no other career choice? Otherwise, seems like quite a dangerous occupation…

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

I’m sure some had other choices available . . . but they enjoyed the challenge of living by their wit and witticism.

8. thirdhandart - April 20, 2012

Can’t believe that I still remembered the words to “Everybody Plays The Fool” by The Main Ingredient. At least I’m not a natural fool… yet. No telling what the future holds though. Totally agree that “The last laugh is reserved for Death.”

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

As soon as I titled this post, the Main Ingredient’s song popped into mind . . . like you, I remembered the words.

Yes . . . Death has the last laugh.

9. sufilight - April 20, 2012

For some reason I don’t get the sense that Fools of yesterday may have enjoyed what they did for a living. That’s my story! 🙂

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

You may be right, Marie. Perhaps it was forced indenture.

10. Three Well Beings - April 20, 2012

I was thinking about the Smothers Brothers, and in a way they played both kinds of fools…Tommy more the natural, and Dick the licensed. I always thought they were just brilliant, and they certainly challenged “the court” while they entertained. Of course they were eventually removed from prime time, but at least they kept their heads! Debra

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Yes! Great example, Debra. The Smothers Brothers were wise “fools,” indeed. Paula shared a skit they did approximately 40 years ago about “contemporary problems” . . . NOTHING had changed in the intervening years.

11. kateshrewsday - April 20, 2012

Nancy, what an amazing post! Full of links and tidbits to match together – I had forgotten that beautiful quote in Twelfth NIght. Fools needed wisdom indeed. Thank you for the extravagant mention, and for taking the business of fools into directions I never would have anticipated. As you can imagine I just LOVED this post. And that picture of Will Somers is one of my favourites pictures of the period…

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Thanks, Kate! This post is a bit of patchwork quilt . . . drawn largely from your post, Wikipedia, and youtube (for the musical finale). 😀

12. kateshrewsday - April 20, 2012

A final thought: the other kind of fool from Monty Python…

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Bwahaha! No one does the wise fool and village idiot better than MP’s FC!

13. Andra Watkins - April 20, 2012

I’ve always wondered what sort of person played these fools, the practiced kind. Most of the people I’ve known in theater who gravitated toward comedy did so to mask real pain. I wonder whether that’s always been the case? Were the practiced fools also people who made others laugh to keep from crying themselves? Interesting to ponder.

nrhatch - April 20, 2012

Wonderful thought, Andra. I expect that many comedians in this day and age (as well as in days of yore) use laughter to prevent a hardening of the attitude and resulting insanity. 😆

14. bluebee - April 21, 2012

I’ve always thought there to be something rather sinister about jesters and clowns but never knew about the connection between jesters and death – I agree that it would require someone very courageous or foolhardy to take on the role of jester for many of these psychopathic kings in history

nrhatch - April 21, 2012

Indeed. Maybe the role was foisted upon them . . . rather than being a mantle they assumed.

15. William D'Andrea - April 21, 2012

Sinister Jesters? Like the one in “Rigaletto”? Or the pathetic one in “Pagliacci”? How about the courageous one in “King Lear”?

Do any comedians today have anything real to fear, when they’re exercising their constitutional rights to free expression? How many unbelievably foul things were spoken about President Bush on late night television; that got laughs and cheers; and nobody who said those things got in any kind of trouble? As a matter of fact, their salaries were increased, and contracts extended. There was even a movie produced, about a hoped for assassination of President Bush, and nobody got in trouble for that.

That led me to think that our freedoms were firmly intact.

Now something has happened that makes me wonder. The entertainer Ted Nugent made a comment saying that he feared that “I’ll either be in jail or dead.” if President Obama is reelected.
After saying that, Mr. Nugent was actually interviewed by the Secret Service; to make sure that he wasn’t threatening the President.
I know that the Secret Service is required to investigate all threats against the President, whether real or imagined; however, many people hearing about this incident on the News, might wonder if our basic freedoms are being threatened.

nrhatch - April 21, 2012

Few comedians today land with their heads on the chopping block.

16. Paula Tohline Calhoun - April 22, 2012

Wonderful post! Makes me think of one of my all-time favorite movies – “The Court Jester.” Here’s a clip with star Danny Kaye singing one of his signature songs, “The Maladjusted Jester.”

(The song begins at about the 4 minute mark, if you want to skip ahead!) Enjoy, and give Tigger a hug for me… .

nrhatch - April 22, 2012

It seems like AGES since I wrote this post . . . and it’s only been two days. I’ve never heard of the movie OR the song. I’ll check it out.

Chevy Chase refers to “Danny “F***ing” Kaye” in an angry monologue in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:

Tigger is seeming a bit perkier. Maybe some of the antibiotics are getting absorbed BEFORE he tosses his biscuits.

17. eof737 - April 23, 2012

Comedians like th old court jesters play an important role of forcing us to consider our frailties under the guise of humor… In jest we sometimes speak the truth… 🙂

nrhatch - April 24, 2012

Indeed we do! I kid you not! 😆

18. Team Oyeniyi - April 24, 2012

In jest and.. in vino veritas!

The original comedians, really, with a political message.

nrhatch - April 24, 2012

So true, Robyn. The jesters needed to be carely NOT to over indulge in wine, mead, and ale . . . or they might have ended up on the chopping block!

Team Oyeniyi - April 24, 2012

Very very true. I think a few came close in the old days!

nrhatch - April 24, 2012

Close enough to lose “the cigar.” 😯

eof737 - April 24, 2012

That was good! 😆

nrhatch - April 25, 2012

Here’s to the healing power of LAUGHTER!

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