Feigning folly

Feigning folly

Folly, as Shakespeare taught us, can be used as a stalking horse, providing useful cover so that you can launch arrows of wit or criticism without...

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The history of the elite

The history of the elite

This website and the book which inspired it both seek to address this complaint, attributed to the perhaps real but probably fictive 17th century...

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Dogging his steps

Dogging his steps

Generally speaking, jesters enjoyed a widely recognised licence which included the latitude to be irreverent.  However, they were dealing with very...

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How to live in peace and joy

How to live in peace and joy

Marcolf is the eternal folk fool, paired with a king noted for his wisdom, Solomon, whom Marcolf always manages to best.  Tales of his irreverence...

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The costume of the skomorokh

The costume of the skomorokh

The skomorokh is a Russian term which spans entertainers, musicians, buffoons, jesters, harlequins, minstrels or actors.  This is a 19th century...

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Moote Ram the Dwarf

Moote Ram the Dwarf

A curious drawing, from the late 18th century, of a named dwarf dancing in the presence of a pair of Indian soldiers ('sepoys' in the title of the...

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And along came the jester

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...

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Meet Rubinstein’s wife

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...

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A fool feigned or real?

A fool feigned or real?

This sketch of an individual, done by an Anglo-Indian artist around 1790, has the intriguing title of 'A fool named Gungarum'.  At first I wondered...

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Dwarf at the Turkish court

Dwarf at the Turkish court

There were many dwarfs and mutes at the Ottoman court, and so I was intrigued to find this painting of a dwarf from the early 17th century.  There...

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How do I feel now?

How do I feel now?

The Chinese jester Huang Fanchuo (黃幡綽 In Full Streamer Huang) is mentioned in a musicological work, the Tang dynasty Jie Drum Record (羯鼓錄), for...

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Busy with his jester

Busy with his jester

The 14th century Persian poet 'Obeyd Zakani complained of the favouritism the king showed his jester.  In his Biographies of the Poets (Tazkirat...

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A dancing dwarf

A dancing dwarf

A lively portrayal of a dancing dwarf, accompanied by a piper, this is from an album of 102 drawings, with the dwarf resplendent in a striped silk...

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Chinese entertainer

Chinese entertainer

This endearing character leapt out of his glass case to grab my attention the day we spent 4-5 hours cramming in as much as we could of the Art...

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Verse to shame an emperor

Verse to shame an emperor

Many jesters were adept at improvising verse and there are accounts of Chinese jesters doing so whether to make a point or just to make fun.  A...

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A one-legged fool

A one-legged fool

One of the fun things about walking around with a radar permanently programmed to scan the world for fools is the random pleasure of stumbling upon...

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Edgar approaching Lear

Edgar approaching Lear

This arresting drawing, by the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli) (1741-1825), depicts Edgar feigning madness and approaching King...

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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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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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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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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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