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What Is The Role of The Fool?

Updated on February 24, 2013
The Court Fool is no dummy
The Court Fool is no dummy | Source

The Foolish Power of Words

Words have power.

A king's power is like the power of a sledgehammer. It is not subtle. He commands. He orders. He dictates. Orders are meant to be obeyed – they are rarely remembered or ingested. It is the way of things. When we hear the king's words, they are forced upon us. We know there is a law to do something or not to do something and we follow that law. When we follow those dictates we do so because we feel we have to and that not following them comes with punishment.

These are the words of a king.

While we have seen the obvious power of world leaders and politicians, they do not have the true power of persuasive influence and clever repartee. Some words spoken are irreverent, yet they are as welcome as forbidden fruit. Such words that come without fear and wheedle their way through a person’s ear and into their mind have a subtle and more permanent effect than a man with a bludgeon.

Those are the words of the fool.

When I say “fool”, I mean “jester”. Normally, when we use the term “fool” we mean the term “nit-wit”, “half-wit” or “pea brain”. That does not mean those fools do not have influence. In the IT world, we have coined this phrase:

“Those who have termed something ‘fool proof’ have completely underestimated the capabilities of a true fool.”

In those cases, IT developers need to develop around the idiocies of what a fool can do. These fools provide stupidity. We need to know what real stupidity is because stupidity is a condition that everyone slips into from time to time. When it happens we need to know how to deal with it and take steps as a preventative measure.

Those fools are not jesters. They are people who have no sense of intelligence and do rash, impulsive, and impractical things that have a bad endgame. In that case, they do things “foolishly”.

No, what I’m talking about is what they referred to in medieval times as a “licensed fool”. This fool would juggle, do tricks, and entertain the king. The fool’s power would be his allowance to speak his mind (without over reaching himself – a line in the sand that ebbed and flowed, depending upon the mood of the king). The fool’s words were never to be taken seriously as he was not supposed to be taken seriously and was viewed as a joker.

What he said was always meant to be taken as humor.

A True Fool

What happens when you label a man as a fool, a comedian, or a clown?

What happens is you give him carte blanche to say almost whatever he wants. As I said before, there is a line written in sand. So, in order to be a true fool, you had to either be very brave or very stupid. If you were very stupid, it could be said that you were a fool, anyway. The difference between a fool and a wise ass is that the fool did not know or care where the line was or was concerned with the consequences of his words.

How brave would a man be to challenge the king with words like “tyrant”, “usurper”, “liar” or “murderer”? That man had better be very funny pretty damn quick. If he were not a fool, he would need to be a fearless genius with a talent of on the fly evaluation to know when he was overreaching himself. A true fool would have to mix his kingly critiques with enough jokes and witticisms to keep his ruler in hysterics so that the really biting critiques had gone unnoticed in his royal ear.

In those times, fools that had gone too far were whipped. Fools who were not severe enough were rebuked. How crazy would you need to be to do such a job?

Fools that were loyal to the king or queen were there to entertain. We need to remember that there was no television back then and books were rare – even rarer were people who could read them. The challenge for the fool was to keep the king or queen from being bored. The advantage was that there was some leeway as to how irreverent the fool could be. In doing so, he was more free than the average subject.

Who do you think fills the role of "the Fool" best?

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Modern Fools

When we think of the court jesters we think that they were bumbling clowns of the past who wore interesting costumes with bells on them. That assumption is clearly wrong.

The role of the fool grew to be the role of the political satirist. Men like Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Denis Diderot challenged the powers that be with their unique brand of humor and entertainment during the years of French enlightenment. That role then went to the political cartoonist. The Thomas Nasts of this world brought down corrupt political figures like Boss Tweed with their outrageous drawings that ranged from subtle to brazen. The beauty of the political cartoonist is that the reader didn’t have to be literate. A picture of a known political figure stealing money from a group of orphans was enough to get the message across.

Today we have late night comedians who openly critique our leaders. Men like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien make millions of dollars a year putting their reputations and necks on the line with their unique brand of humor against the political machine.

Rachel Maddow had asked Jon Stewart what his role is in all of this. And he had said that while he has to observe all of the political events and news that is going on, his process is always that of a comedian and closer to what Jerry Seinfeld does to articulate an intangible feeling that people have.

When we look at comedians like Jon Stewart and the team of The Daily Show, we are not meant to take them seriously. They are today’s fools. They are the ones that are bringing the humor and the ridiculousness of the current powers and expose them to the light.

Officially, it’s entertainment.

Final Words

How many of us have heard a really good joke and repeat it to another person? If it’s a really good joke, and executed properly, your friend will tell it to another, and then to another.

Originally, Martin Luther had gotten his message by using a printing press and circulating his 95 Theses to the masses. Each was communicated en masse. The people who could read got that word into their heads. They were influenced.

Today, we have late night TV.

In a Tarot deck, the first card of the major arcana is The Fool. He doesn't even have a real number. It is card number 0. In reality, the Fool represents the very beginning of wisdom. It is the empty cup where all knowledge will be collected and experienced. It is the very beginning of a protagonist's journey. He will learn more after that.

While kings make laws and are expect to be obeyed, they do not substantially change the way people think. When a president makes an inspiring speech, that feeling stays with us. We become inspired. When a president fails to inspire, the pundits and fools come out and attack the wounds inflicted upon our country like ethereal antibodies. That cure comes with laughter or awareness of what the problem is and where the change may need to be.

The ear that welcomes humor and cleverness will get new inspiration. With that inspiration, minds and thoughts are changed. That humor comes from our modern day fools. We know there are problems. We will either find them funny, offensive, or irreverent – and in finding those problems some of us are moved to act on them.

The king has the power of a sledgehammer. He pounds at his kingdom and forces it to work.

The fool has the power of a scalpel. A funny word here, a joke somewhere from a friend that heard it the night before that sneaks into your consciousness and makes a change happen without your realizing that he had placed a new thought or idea there in the first place.

Who has the real power?

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    • cperuzzi profile image
      Author

      Christopher Peruzzi 4 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      Thanks. It's a quote we used to use often when I was doing IT back at Merrill's NYC Data Center, working help desk. It was a tie between that and "You've taken your first step into a larger world."

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      I love your hub and your last quote.

      Brilliant and we watched A New Hope last week so remmebered this one.

      A great hub and keep them coming.

      Eddy.

    • cperuzzi profile image
      Author

      Christopher Peruzzi 4 years ago from Freehold, NJ

      "Who is the more foolish? The fool? Or the fool who follows him?"

      - Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV "A New Hope".

    • Kenja profile image

      Ken Taub 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Ah, t'is a wise man who writes about the Fool. A perennial favorite of mine, whether in Tarot symbols or Woody Allen. Nice background information and overview, Chris. A Hub worth reading. best, Ken

      So who is wise? Surely the fool...

      "A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool."

      William Shakespeare