The Royal Fool
We are all familiar with the idea of the court jester or the royal fool, but where did the originate and what purpose did they serve?
The idea of having someone around the court of the monarch to make them laugh and to entertain goes back to ancient times. That person in ancient times known as a fool or jester was there for the purpose of making the people in the court laugh. As time went on, in the Middle Ages the idea of the Court Jester had taken hold and the people expected to see someone in that place of honor around the court. In Medieval times, the jester had become more then entertainment, he was the erson that delivered bad news to the monarch and was one of the few people in the court that could say whatever they wanted to. Though some historians doubt the political impact that jester might have actually had, the fact that jester were at times fired for overstepping their bounds so they had to have boundaries set at some point. By the Renaissance, the Jester was a professional job. A job that brought with it lots of prestige and a certain amount of power.
Natural Fool vs Professional Fool
There is a distinction drawn in history between the Natural Fool and the Professional Jester. The natural variety had a certain wit, a certain ability to make people laugh. This might be a commoner that crawled up the ranks and was known to be funny be people in the court. This might be someone with a certain physical look that made the people of the court laugh (at times a physical deformity or a physical condition could get one a job as a jester – a sad time in our history). The professional archetype of the jester was much different. An entertainer that had honed their craft for years, might audition for the role at court. The skills of the jester are those of the busker or the street performer – juggling, acrobatics, witty banter and other such skills. By the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the natural fool had been pushed out in favor of the trained professional jester.
The Death of the Fool
Seldom is it easy to spot the exact time when an idea of concept in history ended. With the Court Jester we can point the diving rod at Oliver Cromwell. With the ousting of Charles I, Cromwell’s puritanical government had no place for the frivolities of a court jester. When Charles II came back to the thrown after that revolution, he never reinstated the court jester. In Britain, at least, that is where the court jester ends. A long line of court jesters no longer had a place to practice their trade.
If you would like to read a great short story about a more malicious version of the court jester, go check out Hop-Frog by Edgar Allen Poe. Great story, kinda tragic, a little spooky, very good.