Remembering Shakespeare’s Fools

Happy Fool’s Day folks!

As we grow older and hopefully wiser, we come to realise that being the fool isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

Accepting and owning that tag can be extremely freeing (as is true of most tags).

The Fool finds pride of place in Shakespeare’s writings. One cannot but love him in all his varied avatars. He can be a conscience keeper, a loyal advisor or even a narrator talking directly to the audience. He might simply be loveable and funny or turn evil under the garb of humour.

He really can be anything at all.

Our favourite by far, however, is the Wise Fool.

The Wise Fool

… seems like an oxymoron. However, being utterly free from societal niceties, he can offer honest opinions, despite them being unpleasant. He can take liberties no one else would dare to take.

In King Lear when the king decides to divide his kingdom between his two older daughters, it is the Fool who sees through his error and is quick to point it out, even in the presence of his daughter. 

Later, the king disowns Cordelia, his youngest, when he doesn’t like what she’s saying. And yet, he allows the fool to have his say. That speaks volumes of his value in the King’s eyes. The Fool remains loyal right up to the end, staying by the King’s side when his daughters cast him out.

We encounter the Wise Fool in Twelfth Night too. Feste who works for Olivia, knows how to say it as it is. Not only is he witty and smart but also offers an incisive insight into the happenings and the world around him. Olivia often looks to him for advice. In one of the sequences, Viola (disguised as Cesario) remarks: 

This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool, And to do that well craves a kind of wit.

Oscar Wilde famously said, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” 

The Wise Fool manages to do just that and get away with it.

Shakespeare’s Fools came in other forms too.

The Unsuspecting Fool

Remember Nick Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The man with a donkey’s head? Puck, the sprite, puts a spell on him turning his head into that of a donkey’s and then another spell on the Queen on Fairies, Titania, so that she falls in love with him. There you have your unsuspecting fool. He’s funny yet loveable. 

The Smart Alec Fool

Our pick is Lancelot from The Merchant of Venice. Though he isn’t specifically characterised as a classic fool, he certainly behaved like one. His wordplay was phenomenal and his malapropisms had us in splits.

The Evil Fool

as in The Tempest. Trinculo is simply the court jester gone bad as he sides with Stephano and Caliban against Prospero.

Humour truly comes in many forms – satire, irony, sarcasm. It needn’t be slapstick, which is also fun when done properly. If one can journey from being laughed at to laughing right back at the world life would be so much better.

One Reply to “Remembering Shakespeare’s Fools”

  1. The way you have categorised Shakespeare’s Fools is wonderful! As you have said, the Bard’s Fools were never foolish, but often more sensible than the men around them. Looking forward to your posts. All the best!


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