Family first

Family first

During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713-56), his beloved consort (and one of the most famous in Chinese history), Yang Guifei, showed great...

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The source of life

The source of life

Here the ever bold lady Folly makes her irrefutable claim to be the source of life.  Yet another brazen statement by this folly goddess.  And the...

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An equation of survival

An equation of survival

Rubinstein was the astonishing, funny and heart-rending fool of the Warsaw Ghetto, bracingly witty, and perhaps as mad as he was brilliant, or just...

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Dispelling disorder

Dispelling disorder

An outright statement of a jester's using humour to offer corrective advice. `Although at that time jesters of the Liao court were numerous, there...

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Betting on a king

Betting on a king

One class of stories about jesters concerns their capacity to make the king concentrate on doing his job rather than being distracted by perhaps...

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Reductio ad absurdum

Reductio ad absurdum

Bakhtin sums up a form of humour sometimes deployed by jesters seeking to enlighten the ruler.  Rather than remonstrating to change behaviour, they...

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Portrait of Madalena Ruiz

Portrait of Madalena Ruiz

The female dwarf Madalena Ruiz served at the Spanish court from 1565 for some forty years.  See also the portrait of her alongside the Spanish...

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Jester in a fool’s cap

Jester in a fool’s cap

This enigmatic painting by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem (1562-1638) features a fool with the cap so often attributed to European jesters, though...

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Ceramic Egyptian dwarf

Ceramic Egyptian dwarf

The earliest reference I have found to a possible court jester concerns a dwarf at the Egyptian court in the 3rd millennium BCE.  It appears that...

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Painting of Birbal

Painting of Birbal

Birbal was a Hindu courtier, described by some as a Minister or of similarly high rank, at the court of Akbar the Mughal emperor (r. 1556-1605). ...

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The nature of the buffone

The nature of the buffone

Writing during the latter part of the European jester's heyday, Giulio Landi (1498-1579) defined the buffone as one without limits to their...

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Ding-dong ding-dong

Ding-dong ding-dong

A common technique among Chinese jesters was to put together a skit to get a point across to the Emperor, in this resembling something...

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An aristocratic fool

An aristocratic fool

This is from a superb and absorbing trilogy which chronicles the self-induced decline of the Hungarian aristocracy in the years leading to the First...

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Sing along with the Duchess

Sing along with the Duchess

A charming moment described by Galeazzo da San Severino (c. 1460-1525) in a letter to Isabella d'Este (1474-1539), in which he recounts a journey in...

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Exposing bribery

Exposing bribery

Following the practice of Chinese jesters to cook up a simple skit in order to draw the emperor's attention to what's really going on, here a group...

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Pile it on

Pile it on

Jesters, like other entertainers or courtiers, could enjoy the generosity of the ruler, and there are many such examples in anecdotes...

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Speaking out boldly

Speaking out boldly

Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 was known as a jester to Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), although this tricky character covers a spectrum...

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Take him off my hands

Take him off my hands

There are some surviving anecdotes on the informal and meritocratic way in which jesters could be recruited.  Sometimes they were...

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Currency exchange

Currency exchange

A frequent feature of Chinese jesterdom was the pre-prepared skit, which could be said to have been precursors, or at least...

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Folly is a divine state

Folly is a divine state

There, doesn't that make you feel better?  However, note that in being a divine state, you are no more entitled to be proud than ashamed of it. 'It...

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Fedor’s fools

Fedor’s fools

Giles Fletcher was appointed English ambassador to Tsar Fedor I (r. 1584-98) on 6th June 1588. His account of his stay in Moscow was one of the most...

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Displacing the virtuous

Displacing the virtuous

Two Italian Renaissance writers lament the fact that jesters were admitted to the courts of the nobility in preference to the virtuous and the...

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Course correction

Course correction

Another example of jesters using the skit as a vehicle for influencing the emperor's behaviour or policy.  Immortal Revelation Ding...

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The refuse of human nature

The refuse of human nature

A rather damning reaction by Lady Montague (1689-1762) towards the dwarfs or dwarf-jesters she encountered in German courts.  Note that while...

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Onomatopoeic criticism

Onomatopoeic criticism

In this account, the Chinese emperor is put to shame by the jester In Full Streamer (Huang Fanchuo 黃幡綽) who creates a ringing bell onomatopoeia by...

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A jester steps in

A jester steps in

One class of jester anecdotes concerns their intervening on behalf of others, cajoling or otherwise eliciting random acts of forebearance or...

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Do you know everything?

Do you know everything?

Another example of a jester interceding to mitigate cruelty or suffering. Here the legendary Nasrudin corners the great Tamerlane (1336-1405) to...

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How to top a top minister

How to top a top minister

A charming tale of a prominent jester's landing himself in the bad books of a powerful minister but being saved from wrathful retribution by the...

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In fear of his wife

In fear of his wife

There is a whole class of jester stories involving rhyming or other witty ditties to make fun of or entertain the ruler.  Here a jester uses one to...

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