A fool and a dwarf

This is one of two double portraits featuring Estanilao, a dwarf who served in the household of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1517-86), a leading...

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...

And along came the jester

Court jesters and dwarfs would sometimes accompany the nobles they served on their travels; among other examples, we know some of the Spanish court dwarfs...

Healing through laughter

From an excellent study of Pueblo Indian clowns in North America, this is a beautiful and limpid summary of the role of clowns, as apparently...

A stinging riddle

At the court of the Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), two jesters would regularly fire off riddles at each other in front of...

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 superb...

Time to choose a new chief

The court jester often has a certain closeness to the boss he serves, challenging them, criticizing them, but not normally getting them chucked out.

Ritual...

Unlimited licence

A commonly mentioned feature of the court jester is their acknowledged but informal and ill-defined 'licence' to speak out, mock, criticize, tell the truth.  Here...

A lady’s women jesters

GAP MAP:  A gaping hole in our knowledge of jesters, at least in materials available in European languages, concerns examples from Russia. It would do...

Bum revolutionaries

Delighted to encounter these bum revolutionaries, the Jewish jesters who flourished in Eastern Europe, entertaining people at weddings and barmitzvas while stirring things up with...

A cure for carousing

A common theme in the interactions between fools and kings is the need to rein in regal carousing or other forms of distraction from the...

Pillow talk

One of the most famous jesters is Talhak, whose name may be derived from, or have spawned, the Persian word for jester (dalqak).  He is...

Meet Rubinstein’s wife

Always up-ending our expectations, no surprise to learn that the ever resourceful Rubinstein, de facto jester in the Warsaw Ghetto, nimbly solved the problem of...

Clearing out the court

An interesting example of a king who didn't want a court full of mutes and dwarfs, and so had them sent away when he ascended...

Were these not great men too?

This ringing endorsement of the effectiveness of court jesters seems a good way to launch a website celebrating them across time and space.  It comes...

A bag of rice

Jesters and jester types were regularly rewarded by the king or other head honcho for their services.  In addition to accounts of such gifts and...

How to up the game

This account of a Chinese jester is from what may be the earliest study of their exploits. It highlights a common technique for influencing behaviour...

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Book cover - Beatrice Otto - Fools Are Everywhere - University of Chicago Press

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