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 good.  It may be that they felt their own class to be sidelined in preference for fools and buffoons and this was galling to them. 

Ariosto (1474-1533) said jesters were more welcome than the virtuous and the good (`Più grati assai che ‘l virtuoso e ‘l buono’), and Tommaso Garzoni (1549-89) gives a lengthy description of all that might feature in a jester’s repertoire, adding that jesters had become so highly prized that the tables of nobles were more encumbered with them than with any kind of virtuous person:

Hor ne’ moderni tempi la buffoneria è salita sì in pregio, che le tavole signorili sono più ingombrate di buffoni, che d’alcuna specie di virtuosi.

See also a damning comment by Lady Montague (1689-1762) on the freedom of speech and access afforded dwarfs in 18th century German courts.


Source: Arturo Graf, `Un Buffone di Leone X’, in Attraverso Il Cinquecento (Torino: Chiantore, 1926), p. 302; Tommaso Garzoni, La piazza universale di tutte le professioni del mondo, quoted in A. Luzio and R. Renier, `Buffoni, Nani e Schiavi dei Gonzaga ai Tempi di Isabella d’Este’, Estr. Nuova Ant., series 3 (1891), part 1, vol. XXIV, p. 622, trans. William Dolby.


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