We’ve all seen the outfits… the historical prototype of the modern clown with the piebald outfits who told jokes and sang songs and did various creative feats of skill.
The court jester figures throughout history and literature as the character sometimes loved and sometimes hated. Although on occasion the jester was more the village idiot (which I won’t discuss here because his behavior was excused due to biology and misfortune preventing the person from following standard social etiquette), the more interesting figure is the licensed jester.
The licensed jester was hired by nobility and royalty to provide entertainment. The fool told stories and jokes, sang songs, did magic tricks, and performed juggling and acrobatics to entertain the employer and the employer’s guests.
While none of us wants to be a fool, the licensed jester got away with a lot of things because of his skills:
- Psychology: The jester had to know people to tell jokes and stories that made sense and did not get him ousted without further employment. He also had to be able to find ways to criticize those he was entertaining without getting undue negative attention and punishment.
- Politics: The jester had to understand the way people interact to wrestle for power and position. If your joke or story made an enemy for you, you might find it difficult playing to the crowd in the future.
- Current Events: The jester had to understand all the contemporary people and happenings in his corner of the world to be able to tell stories and jokes and sing songs that would both entertain and educate without the listeners even being aware.
- Communication: Not only did the jester have to have a mastery of the language in which he was performing, he had to read the non-verbal cues that told him the audience was bored or he pushed a boundary too far.
- Wit and Wisdom: The fool had to be creative in selecting songs, stories and jokes to remember and share. He also had to sometimes create songs, stories, and jokes that satirized the life and times of his patrons.
Maybe, in getting to the root of the jester, playing the fool isn’t such a bad thing after all.