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 too much risk of reprisal. A number of jesters ‘faked’ folly the better to enjoy the freedoms it could provide.
In 1710, the Duchess of Orleans, Isabel Carlota (Liselotte, 1652-1722), wrote an account of her meeting the French court jester, L’Angeli, providing us with a rare explicit admission of pretending to be madder than you really are:
I knew Angeli. He was not a fool, but he acted like one. He knew German very well. When he saw me, he said, `I know, because I have been warned, that Your Royal Highness fears fools. Well, do not be afraid of me: I am not mad, I just feign it, but don’t betray me’.
(J’ai connu Langelli. Ce n’était pas un fou, mais il simulait la folie. Il savait fort bien l’allemand. Quand il me vit: `Je sais, me dit-il – car on m’en a prévenu, – que votre Altesse Royale craint les fous. N’ayez pas peur de moi: je ne le suis pas, je feins de l’être, mais ne me trahissez pas.’)
Source: Isabel Carlota (Liselotte), Duchess of Orleans, Correspondence (Paris: 1890), vol. 2, p. 315, quoted in G. Kalff, Opkomst, Bloei en Verdwijning van de Hofnar (Amsterdam: De Poortpers, 1954), p. 64.
Image credit: Isabel Carlota, Duchess of Orleans, portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1713), Château de Versailles, public domain